When James Skalski failed to make All-ACC last season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was not happy about it.
“I’m not sure how Skalski didn’t make it,” Swinney said back in December. “He’s one of my top votes, for sure. I don’t think he even made honorable mention.”
Though Swinney was surprised, Skalski wasn’t. He felt he could have played much better in 2019, despite the fact he finished second on the team in tackles.
“I’ve missed tackles when I shouldn’t have, just coverage things, just the flow of operations at certain points, just quick fixes during and before plays that I’m responsible for, just little stuff like that,” he said.
In his first year as a full-time starter, Skalski did not disappoint. An All-ACC Academic selection, he started all 15 games for Clemson. 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 position.
“If I’m correct, I don’t think Isaiah Simmons made honorable mention [in 2018], and he’s won Defensive Player of the Year,” Swinney said. “That just goes to show you … he was pretty good last year, too. That is kind of how it goes.”
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).
“I give a personal shout-out to Skalski because I think he’s a war daddy and has had as good of a year any linebacker we’ve had,” Swinney said.
The Tigers also finished second in tackles for loss and were in the top 10 nationally in several other defensive categories.
“You know, on paper it looks like this great defense that we’ve put on, this great performance we’ve been putting on,” Skalski said. “Personally, I’m kind of disappointed in how I’ve played [last] year. I think I’ve left a lot of money on the table per se. But, overall, yeah, we’re playing really well. Personally, I think I’ve kind of let myself down a little bit. I don’t think I’ve played as well as I could.”
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