ARLINGTON, Texas — When he walked into the room Monday afternoon to hold his arrival press conference for the 83rd Cotton Bowl Classic, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney did not appear to be a guy that was about to drop a major bomb on the media.
Instead, Swinney was very jovial and relaxed.
“Wow this is legit,” he said smiling as he walked into the press conference room inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. “If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have dressed up.”
Swinney then gave an opening statement, introduced linebacker Kendall Joseph and wide receiver Hunter Renfrow to the press and then delivered the news that has everyone talking in college football.
All-American Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was one of three players who failed a mandatory drug test last week administered by the NCAA. Tight end Braden Galloway and reserve offensive lineman Zach Giella also tested positive for a performance enhancing drug known as Ostarine, which can be found in every day hair products or other everyday items.
As of right now, all three men will not be allowed to play in Saturday’s Cotton Bowl against Notre Dame.
“We do have an issue that we’re dealing with. And, you know, I think that the best thing is to just be transparent in that,” Swinney said.
Though Swinney was firm in his reporting that one of his best defensive players could miss the Cotton Bowl, he handled the situation in an upbeat and positive way.
“Obviously, Dexter is a starter and a very, very significant player on our team,” Swinney said. “Even though Zach hasn’t played as much and Braden is a freshman, they’re still missing out on an opportunity that they have worked extremely hard for.
“And, again, I don’t know how — if it even is in their system — how it got there. But I do know that these three young men have not intentionally done anything. And there’s, again, plenty of precedent where the same thing has happened across the country with other people. So, you know, there’s a process in place. And we’ll work through that.”
Clemson is expected to know the results of the second test on either Wednesday and Thursday of this week.
This is not the first time Swinney has had to deal with a player failing a drug test or getting into trouble in postseason play.
In 2015, just two days prior to the Orange Bowl, Clemson sent wide receiver Deon Cain, kicker Ammon Lakip and tight end Jay Jay McCullough home after failing a drug test. In 2011, Swinney sent running back Mike Bellamy home the night before the ACC Championship Game for a violation of team rules.
The Clemson coach also suspended star wide receiver Sammy Watkins for two games at the start of the 2012 season after he was arrested in the off-season for simple drug possession.
In each case, Swinney handled them differently. He was fast, and he was through in his decisions. More importantly, he was fair.
However, in this case, Swinney wants to make sure everyone understands this is not a normal case in which some young men have failed a drug test because they took a street drug.
In August of 2017, the USADA issued a warning to athletes that ostarine, a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM), is not approved for human consumption, but has been the cause of numerous positive doping tests involving sports supplements.
“It is one of the reasons why Dabo made the statement that he did,” Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said. “This is not a street drug. It can come from a number of different sources, hair products, protein, energy drinks, a lot of different things might have trace amounts of this that were indicated.”
According to the site called Natural Products Insider.com, the warning of ostarine is on the label and sometimes it is not. In its July 25, 2017 advisory, USADA reported a recent uptick in supplement contamination and supplement-related incidences involving ostarine.
“The letter from the NCAA said they had a slither of ostarine,” Swinney said. “I have never heard of it, but we may all in this room have a trace of something in us. It comes from anything and they thought it was a joke when I called them in. It comes from hair products, crème, protein, something online, it could be anything.”
Swinney said there was just a trace of ostarine in the three players.
“I think it’s just best, again, to be transparent and honest,” he said. “Because I don’t want there to be any speculation at all on what we’re dealing with. That’s exactly what we’re dealing with. And I don’t really know what else I can say about it other than I love all three of these guys.
“They’re three special young people. And, again, I know they’ve not intentionally done anything. And, again, this is a hair of a trace of whatever this substance is. So, we’ll deal with it accordingly, hope for the best, hope that the B sample will come back and they’ll be cleared to play. But, if not, we treat it as an injury. We’ve got to get ready to move forward. And our goal has not changed, just to play the best four quarters of the season.”