Clemson not only lost All-American players on the football field in Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and Mitch Hyatt, but it also lost their leadership in the locker room, away from the Allen Reeves Football Complex and in everyday life.
“It is critical. I think the two most underrated things on any team is chemistry and leadership. It is as simple as that,” head coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday after the Tigers opened spring practice. “It is easy to look at a roster and see talent, experience and all of these things. Leadership and chemistry, it is not as easy to see that. That’s nurtured. That is taught. That is developed. There a lot of things that have to go into it.”
Swinney said identifying and molding leaders is always a hug priority for them. He feels like he has a lot of leaders on his 2019 roster, they’re just in different spots. The Clemson coach identified those areas on the offensive line, the secondary, linebacker, wide receiver, running back and quarterback.
“Who is it going to be? You don’t have to be a senior to be a leader,” Swinney said. “The day Christian Wilkins got here, he was a leader. So, we will see. It is a process that you have to go through, but it is critical between now and August, when we get back together, that it starts to shape, and guys emerge.”
Through a self-check test, Clemson’s coaches have already identified a few players as potential leaders. Swinney mentioned right guard Gage Cervenka as one candidate, as well as cornerback A.J. Terrell, safety Tanner Muse, safety K’Von Wallace and linebackers Isaiah Simmons and Shaq Smith.
“Shaq is an unbelievable leader,” Swinney said. “Shaq is one of the most respected guys on this team. We do some internal things that gives me really good feedback on what is our DNA, kind of a DNA test if you will, that I do every year to kind of see where we are and what the team’s thoughts are.
“Shaq, even though he has not played as much, he is one of the best leaders we have had. He is an incredibly committed guy on and off the field. He is amazing.”
The reason guys like Cervenka, Terrell and Smith have not asserted themselves or been mentioned as leaders in the past is because of the dominant personalities Clemson has had and still has on its roster. The difference now is they know it is their time to step up and lead this team.
“We have a bunch of guys that are excited to step into that role,” Swinney said.
Swinney also mentioned offensive lineman Sean Pollard, right tackle Tremayne Anchrum, left guard John Simpson, running back Tavien Feaster and wide receiver Amari Rodgers as potential team leaders this coming season.
–Above photo by Bart Boatwright/The Clemson Insider
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