Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott noticed a different demeanor in wide receiver Frank Ladson during spring practice this year as opposed to last year when he was a true freshman trying to learn the ropes, take everything in and get acclimated to playing for a big-time college football program.
“The way he walks around the building now, he’s got his head up, he’s got his chest out and he’ll engage more,” Elliott said recently. “He was really quiet just because he was trying to figure things out, but now we got a little thing where me and him will joke back and forth, and I can just tell that his confidence is building. So, we’re going to need that, because you’re going to need all those guys to be ready to go.”
Ladson himself feels like a much different player heading into the 2020 season than he was in 2019, when he hauled in nine passes for 128 yards and three touchdowns in 254 snaps across 15 games.
“I’m more physical, stronger, faster, my hands are a lot stronger,” he said. “So, I feel like I took some big steps since last season.”
Typical for a freshman, it took time for Ladson to learn the playbook and offensive system last year. But now that he is familiar with the offense, the fast-paced tempo of Clemson’s practices wasn’t as difficult for him to handle this spring.
“That’s one thing that hit me my first spring practice as a freshman, how fast practice was going, how much you install — every day, we’re installing plays,” he said. “So, that’s one thing. It’s just a lot to take in, but this spring I’ve gone through it, got the hang of it, know how to take care of everything.”
A former highly touted recruit, Ladson is known amongst his coaches and teammates as being one of the fastest players in Clemson’s receiving corps. His speed and deep-threat ability, to go with his 6-foot-4, 197-pound frame, has earned him comparisons to a couple of former Tiger standouts.
“With Frank, he’s a guy that just in our building, has drawn some comparisons to Martavis Bryant just because he’s so big and so fast,” Elliott said. “He’s a guy that’s got that Sammy (Watkins) type of explosiveness — maybe not quite Sammy, but he’s got some really good explosiveness and then he’s got some jets.”
Ladson hit the proverbial “freshman wall” near the end of last season, but with a full year under his belt now, he is better equipped to endure the mental and physical fatigue that comes with a long college football campaign.
“I think what happened to him last year, like any typical freshman, you get down toward the end of the season and that monkey jumps on your back and you’re just kind of, ‘Oh, let me get to next year,’” Elliott said. “But now he understands, having gone through the season, what it’s going to take this offseason.”
Ladson has a lighthearted personality off the field but is serious when he steps on the field and often picks the brain of veteran receiver Amari Rodgers in an effort to improve his game.
“Personality, he’s a little playful,” Rodgers said of Ladson. “Sometimes he may play too much, but that’s just his personality. He’s a very fun guy to be around. He’s one of my closest friends on the team, him and Joseph (Ngata). And he loves to work hard. He’s always asking me questions about how he can be better route-running or his blocking or anything. He’s always asking questions, so he’s hungry to be better, and that’s just him. He comes from a very well-rounded family that grew him up very well and he’s very respectful, and that’s why I love being around him.”
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