This time last year A.J. Terrell was an unknown freshman just trying to find a way he can help a team that was coming off a national championship. He knew getting into the starting lineup would be a challenge, so he wanted to find a place where he could fit on the team.
Clemson had seniors Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond returning, along with veterans Trayvon Mullen and Mark Fields. A former 5-star out of Westlake High School in Atlanta, Terrell is long and athletic. He can be physical to boot, the perfect dynamics to be a starting cornerback in Brent Venables’ defensive scheme.
Because of injuries to Edmond and Fields, Terrell played more than he thought he would as a freshman, playing in all 14 games. He tallied 15 tackles, one tackle for loss and recorded the first interception of his career.
“I’ve been trying to focus more on the playbook and the weight room,” Terrell said. “I think that’s what I need more than anything, the weight room.”
This past spring, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound sophomore took the next step and moved up the depth chart. He ended the spring listed as the co-starter with Mark Fields at the field-side cornerback position.
“I’m going into camp, and I’m taking every rep,” Terrell said. “Every time I come out here, I know why I’m out here. We are all competing and at the end of the day it’s the coach’s decision, but I can only do my part.”
Terrell says the competition with Fields, a senior, has been fun. He says they both push each other to be the best they can be and they never take a play off. Venables says Fields is having the best camp of his career and that is only making Terrell better as well.
“We push Trayvon too,” Terrell said. “We are trying to get the young guys on board too and all play together. During the season, we are going to need more than us three.”
Those young guys are freshmen Mario Goodrich and Kyler McMichael. They were both highly touted cornerbacks coming out of high school, and like Terrell, they are long, athletic and physical.
“They came in at a good size,” Terrell said. “We’ve got to get them right in the film room… get the plays down fast so we can have depth. That will be a big improvement if we get them knowledgeable.
“I tell them when we go home at night, to look at the play book. With the other corner, to know your job and know what you have to do. That will translate over to us getting to both sides. When you know both sides your confidence will go up.”
Clemson also has redshirt freshman LeAnthony Williams, another tall and athletic corner, and sophomore Brian Dawkins, Jr., to provide depth.
“I like our guys. I think we have good depth at corner,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You can say (injuries happen) at any position. You go and get two or three injuries – you can get thin real quick. I like the guys we have.”
It helps to have a player like Terrell, who is ready to take the next step and become the shutdown corner everyone believes he can be.