The Clemson defensive ends are chomping at the bit for their opportunity to prove themselves.
Last year Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant, now in the NFL with the Raiders and Lions, respectively, shocked the nation by returning for their senior seasons and thus delaying an opportunity for highly touted high school recruits like Logan Rudolph, K.J. Henry, Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas.
Defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall remembers when he faced a similar situation at Alabama and knows the feeling of guys eager to make their mark on the program without striving to emulate those who have gone before.
“I was in that same situation as a player at Alabama. My mindset has always been if I get an opportunity I won’t even look back because it’s my job,” Hall told the media Tuesday at the Clemson Football Media Outing.
Now, the likes of junior Foster and sophomore Thomas embrace the same mantra in hopes of following in the legacy of great Tiger defensive ends while making their own unique statement on the field.
“I’ve shared with the guys that it’s your job to lose — you’ve waited for the opportunity to prove yourself, now don’t mess that up,” Hall said. “They are hungry and excited about this chance.”
Foster has sat patiently for a couple of seasons now, playing 84 snaps as a freshman and registering 180 last season with 17 tackles, six tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Now he enters fall camp first on the depth chart and prepared for a breakout season.
Thomas burst on the scene last year after entering the year as a five-star talent from IMG Academy and is already on the radar of many in the college football world. He played in all 15 games last season with 43 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Now he is ready to take his game to the next level and start his first game in a Tiger uniform.
The Florence, S.C., native is best known for his speed and quickness off the edge in getting to opposing quarterbacks, like the highlight-reel hit he had in the Syracuse game that sealed Clemson’s comeback victory over the Orange and ultimately the Tigers’ unblemished record.
For Hall, a hands-on approach that empowers young leaders is crucial without the veteran leadership the Clemson defense has grown accustomed to. He has also made it a point not to talk about guys who have moved on to the next level.
“I don’t talk about Clelin and Austin. I don’t want them to be Clelin and Austin,” Hall said. “I want Logan to be the best version of Logan Rudolph and so on.
“At the end of the day football is football. We have a job to do and we will execute.”