When James Skalski started getting serious and decided he wanted to play college football, he looked at Clemson as the place he wanted to be.
At the time, the Tigers had the No. 1 team in the country as future pros like Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Mackensie Alexander, Jayron Kearse, Carlos Watkins, Stephone Anthony and D.J. Reader made life difficult for opposing offenses.
The program was also in its early stages of becoming one of the elite programs in college football.
[Defense is] the reason I came here, not only because of the kind of coach and man Coach [Dabo] Swinney is and has created, but the kind of coach [Brent] Venables is,” Skalski said. “I wanted to be a part of that.
“From the outside looking in as a young high school player, seeing them with the number one defense in the country when I was a junior and senior in high school, these just dominant teams. I was like, ‘Dang, man! I want to play for this guy. I want to be a part of something special like this.’”
And he is.
Skalski was the Tigers’ starting middle linebacker last year, finishing second on the team with 105 tackles, including 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. As the quarterback of the defense, he helped Clemson finish third nationally in scoring defense (13.5 pts./game) and sixth overall in total defense (288.3 yds/game). The Tigers also finished second in tackles for loss and were in the top 10 nationally in several other defensive categories.
Here is a look at what the Clemson depth chart could look like at the middle linebacker position going into spring practice. Clemson starts spring practice on Feb. 26.
James Skalski, *Sr., 6-0, 235: In his first year as a full-time starter, Skalski did not disappoint. An All-ACC Academic selection, Skalski started all 15 games. For his career, he is credited with 166 tackles, including 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and six sacks. The senior can also play weakside backer and can run the defense from either inside position.
Jake Venables, *So., 6-1, 230: Venables has become someone his dad can trust with the defense. He understands the ins and outs of it, which is why when Skalski was ejected from the national championship game due to a targeting call, Venables stepped in as his replacement. Last year, the redshirt sophomore tallied 38 tackles, while playing in 14 games. He also had 9.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks, while breaking up one pass. Like Skalski, can play weakside backer as well, and will cross train there in the spring.
Kane Patterson, *So, 6-1, 235: Patterson avoided a redshirt last year after playing in all 15 games, mostly on special teams. The rising sophomore was credited with 11 tackles, including a sack while playing 64 snaps. In all, he took defensive snaps in 13 of the 15 games. Patterson seems to be the future at middle linebacker.
Spring practice is just around the corner. Get your official Clemson gear right here!