CHARLOTTE — When Dabo Swinney approaches the podium this afternoon at the Westin in downtown Charlotte, as part of the 2019 ACC Football Kickoff, his Clemson team will once again be the favorite to win the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Tigers have won each of the last four ACC Championships and twice have gone on to win the national championship, including last year’s team. However, getting to that point might not be as easy for Clemson has some people think.
As Swinney likes to remind everyone, each year is a different year with a whole new set of different issues. A team has to earn the things his other teams have accomplished and right now the 2019 team has not accomplished anything.
Sure, the Tigers have plenty of star power on the team to make them the favorite to win the league for a fifth straight year. But, as they head into a new year, there is one thing missing … leadership.
“It is different just because, if you look at our roster, we have hundred and twenty on the roster. Eighty of them are freshmen or sophomores and then forty of them are juniors or seniors,” Swinney said. “You have to train a little different in the summer because there is just a lot to teach.
“It is our job to meet them where they are. It is not their job to come to us. We have to meet them where they are in their developmental process, as a person, as a player, strength and conditioning or whatever it may be. So, when you have a team like this, then it has to be a little more coach led in certain cases.”
Last year, Clemson was player led. They were led by All-Americans like Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence and Mitch Hyatt. They had great senior leadership and when something needed to be addressed, Swinney and his coaches just had to give a little nudge and the players made sure things got corrected.
This year, things are going to be different because it is a younger team.
“That team last year, we just kind of bump them here and there to kind of keep them on target, but it is great when you have … we had thirty something guys that are not here anymore,” Swinney said. “That’s a lot of guys to roll off a roster. That is the most seniors we have had. They were so committed. They were unbelievable leaders. They had complete ownership of our program.
“To have a guy like Cle teaching Xavier Thomas and K.J. (Henry) and (Justin) Mascoll, these guys that rolled in here last year. They have a very clear picture. So, they are young, they’re sophomores, but they have a very clear picture of what it looks like. So, that is still here, but now a lot of those guys have to go and do it.”
And as coaches, they have to keep their hands a little more on the wheel and make sure they steer the course a little more with this young football team. In other words, the Tigers will not be on automatic pilot as much as they were last year.