On Tuesday, Sports Illustrated put Clemson’s defensive line on the front of its weekly magazine in its annual college football issue.
Granted this was the first time Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins were on the cover of a magazine. In fact, their faces have been on just about every national and local preseason magazine this summer, including The Clemson Insider’s Back with a Vengeance edition.
However, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated is a little different. SI is the oldest and the most prestigious sports magazine in the country.
“It’s cool now, but I think we will appreciate it more when we are in our 30s and are 40s, when we are done playing the game and we look back and maybe say ‘we had a good little run’ or whatever. Not just us four, but the whole D-Line,” Wilkins said following Tuesday’s fourth day of fall camp. “It is something when we look back, we will definitely appreciate it more, but right now, and it was cool, I’m just focused on the season and trying to get better for sure.”
Wilkins and the other three “Power Rangers” have to get better and have to stay sharp and can’t get caught up in their celebrity because there are others on the team waiting for their opportunity in the sun. Clemson’s defensive line is filled with veteran players such as defensive ends Chris Register and Richard Yeargin, as well as defensive tackles Albert Huggins and Nyles Pinckney that are ready whenever their numbers are called on.
There are also younger players such as Xavier Kelly, Jordan Williams, Justin Foster and Logan Rudolph that are ready to make a name for themselves. Then there are true freshmen Xavier Thomas, K.J. Henry, Justin Mascoll and Darnell Jefferies that are the future of the defensive line.
“It is very competitive out there,” Ferrell said. “That is just kind of the coaching. Regardless of how talented you are, how much hype you got, the guys out there playing, they are trying to expose you. We take that with a grain of salt.”
As for the freshmen, so far, Thomas, Henry and Mascoll are living up to the hype, at least in practice.
Bryant says Thomas, the No. 3 overall player in the 2018 recruiting class, is already ahead of where he and Ferrell were when they came to Clemson back in 2015.
“He’s just a really good athlete. He’s smart, diligent, and a hard worker,” Bryant said. “I know he’s going to be a really good player here one day. I told him that he came in here way further along than Clelin and I did as freshman physically. He’s way ahead of the curve in that sense.”
Henry is also a smart football player who came into Clemson well coached.
“He continues to put the work in, just like Xavier did when they first got here in January,” Bryant said of the freshman. “All the older guys, myself, Clelin (Ferrell), Rich (Yeargin), and Chris (Register), we have taken them under our wing. We know that when we leave here, they have to carry on the tradition of a great defensive line.”
As for Mascoll, Bryant says he is big, strong and fast.
“He is everything you look for in a defensive end, he has it,” the senior said. “He’s diligent and hardworking, and that is all you can ask for in a young guy.”
Or in a defensive line that seems loaded for greatness for years to come.