Entering the 2019 season, Dabo Swinney says he does not have two true starters at defensive end, but rather a handful of co-starters. There is no separation at the position right now, according to Clemson’s head coach, who says it will likely still be that way once the season begins.
Among the pack of D-ends vying for playing time this fall is freshman Justin Mascoll. The former top prospect has been competing with Xavier Thomas, Logan Rudolph, Justin Foster and K.J. Henry in fall camp.
“It’s been great competition,” Mascoll said after Monday’s practice. “One thing about our group is we try to compete every day, uplift each other and just grind every day, work hard every day, get better every day.”
Mascoll believes he is a better player than he was when he arrived on campus a year ago. The product of South Gwinnett High School (Snellville, Ga.) has started to settle in after redshirting as a true freshman in 2018.
“I’m way more comfortable with the playbook,” Mascoll said. “In the spring it was kind of rough because that was my first time actually being in the playbook and actually having to study and really get into it and stuff like that. But I feel way more comfortable. I’m playing faster.”
A highly regarded national recruit coming out of high school, Mascoll made his Clemson debut last October vs. No. 16 NC State, playing eight snaps in the lone appearance of his redshirt season.
Fast forward to now, and Mascoll has made strides in terms of his strength and pass-rushing skills, thanks to help from defensive ends coach Lemanski Hall and the Tigers’ strength & conditioning staff.
“I came in at about 245, 250, now I’m about 260,” Mascoll said. “Just with ‘Power Hour’ and stuff, grinding day in and day out, being on scout team, having to give that best look every rep, lifting every day … I just thank Coach (Joey) Batson for working with me every day, Coach Smo (Adam Smotherman) and the guys in the weight room working with me every day, and the older guys teaching me different techniques, Coach Ski teaching me different techniques.”
Mascoll learned a lot from veteran defensive ends like Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant before they moved on to the NFL after last season, and the standard those guys helped set for the team serves as motivation for Mascoll and the next men up on the D-line.
“They really taught us how to grind in the weight room, grind on the field, how to get better day in and day out,” Mascoll said. “Just seeing their success and getting that feel, how it tastes to be a part of that group, it opened a lot of eyes and made us want it even more — want to get it even more, grind every day, grind harder.”