Though he was sad to see his friend and teammate unable to play in the College Football Playoff, Albert Huggins also knew this was the opportunity he had been waiting for.
Clemson defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was suspended for both the Cotton Bowl Classic and the CFP National Championship after he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug during a random drug test by the NCAA.
Huggins had been a backup to Lawrence the last two seasons on the Tigers’ defensive line, but he was not an inexperienced player by any stretch. Prior to the Cotton Bowl, the Orangeburg, S.C., native played in 45 games and had two starts. So, he was no stranger to playing in big moments.
“It was a great opportunity to go out there and show everyone that I can play football,” Huggins said.
Huggins showed just how good he is on the second play of the Cotton Bowl when he shrugged off a block and tackled Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams for no gain.
It was the only tackle Huggins made in the game, but it was enough to prove to the Irish they were not going to run the ball against him.
“I can actually handle myself on the field,” Huggins said. “I guess that was the main question. It was a great opportunity. I am very thankful for the opportunity. All I had to do was go out there and play my game. I knew if I played my game, I was going to be fine.”
He was fine. Huggins helped Clemson limit Notre Dame to a season-low 88 rushing yards.
The next test was the biggest of all, Alabama.
Alabama’s offensive line is a different beast than anyone else in college football. They are big, fast, tough and very physical. However, Huggins was determined to make sure they were no different than any other offensive line.
Like Notre Dame did, the Crimson Tide tried to run at Huggins. And like he did against Notre Dame, he showed them that was a bad idea.
Huggins responded with five tackles as helped the Tigers shut out Alabama in the final 44 minutes. With Huggins up front, the Tigers dominated the line of scrimmage, limiting the Bama running game to just 40 yards in the second half.
“It was not any different than any other game,” Huggins said. “We knew what Alabama was capable of and we knew what we were capable of. This is a great Clemson team. One of the best ones I have been on. I love these guys.
“I handled myself well. The running backs and offensive line were really good, but we were also good. As a team and me personally, we were just fine.”
Huggins finished his career at Clemson with 83 tackles, including 11.5 for loss. He also had seven sacks and 23 quarterback pressures.
This past season was his best. The senior recorded 30 tackles overall, 3.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks. He also had 11 quarterback pressures.
In all, Huggins played in 47 games in his four-year career and started four.