ARLINGTON, Texas – The news that the NCAA upheld the suspension of Clemson defensive tackle and All-American Dexter Lawrence after a failed drug test has rocked the college football landscape.
The Tigers found out on Thursday of last week that Lawrence, Zack Giella and Braeden Galloway tested positive for a substance known as Ostarine during a mandatory NCAA drug test. The news could not have come at a worse time as the second-ranked Tigers gear up for the Cotton Bowl Classic with No. 3 Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff Semifinal Saturday at 4 p.m. EST.
The timetable for a possible appeal is dubious and leaves Lawrence’s eligibility for a potential CFP National Championship Game, very much in the air.
Since learning of the looming suspensions, the team has prepared as if Lawrence will not be available for the game to comply with the NCAA’s current stance giving an opportunity to junior Albert Huggins to step up and fill some massive shoes on the defensive line.
Huggins did not start a game during the 2018 season and the last time he did was against Florida State and the Citadel while Lawrence recovered from a foot injury in November 2017. Those are the only two starts of his career until he potentially gets the nod on Saturday for just his third start in a Clemson uniform.
He totaled a career high 24 tackles this season in another high 307 snaps with 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles-for-loss. Lawrence played 460 snaps this season starting all 13 games and totaling 44 tackles, 7.5 tackles-for-loss and 1.5 sacks.
Huggins told members of the media, Thursday at Cotton Bowl Media Day in AT&T Stadium, that he and Lawrence have a close relationship and Albert was sad to hear the news but is familiar with Clemson’s next man up mentality.
“We are taking it day by day and it’s next man up, whatever happens, happens but I’m grateful for my opportunity I’m about to get,” Huggins said. “That’s my guy, he got here right after I did, we communicate every day and I’ve let him know everything is okay whatever happens, and he lets me know the same thing.”
While he does not have much experience as a starter this is Huggins third straight trip to the College Football Playoff, and he knows the magnitude of the moment. He sat behind some of the best and got action in CFP games against Ohio State (Fiesta Bowl 2016) and Alabama (Sugar Bowl 2017).
“I realize the opportunity that I have, everybody has come up to me and informed me of the opportunity I have,” Huggins said. “I didn’t want it like this, but it is what it is.”