Expectations were high for defensive end Xavier Thomas last year. One can argue they were maybe a little too high.
After a stellar freshman season, the thought was Thomas was going to take over and dominate offenses like All-Americans Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant did during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Though he had a good season overall, in 2019, Thomas was slowed by an injury that caused him to miss three games.
Earlier this spring, Thomas admitted he did not live up to his own expectations last season and his goal is to prove to himself that he can be one of the best defensive ends in the country.
“It’s mostly my body that I’ve been working on,” the junior said. “I got into some bad habits last year, so now I’m really just working on my body weight. I’m trying to get down to 255, I’m weighing in at about 257 right now.”
Thomas came to Clemson with one of the best set of credentials in Clemson history. The former 5-star was rated as the No. 1 defensive end in the country coming out of high school in 2018 and the No. 3 overall player according to 247 Sports. Known for his size, speed and physicality, Thomas was an All-American at IMG Academy in Florida his senior year.
Though Thomas has shown flashes of his potential here and there in his Clemson career, consistency has been his biggest issue. He hopes by taking care of the little things and paying more attention to the details, he will get over the hump and become the kind of player he feels he can be.
“We’ve been working on improving my knowledge and technique and obviously timing,” Thomas said recently. “Just basically being more physical and focusing on my knowledge aspect of the game. I’ve been watching a lot of film and examining my technique.”
During his freshmen season Thomas was productive. He tallied 43 tackles playing behind Ferrell and Bryant, including 10.5 for loss, 3.5 of which were sacks. He also broke up a couple of passes and had six quarterback pressures.
Of course, the highlight moment for Thomas came during his freshman campaign came against Syracuse, when he came off the edge untouched late in the game and de-cleated quarterback Eric Dungy to seal the victory. In the 2019 CFP National Championship, against Alabama, he registered three tackles, including a half sack.
“I definitely hold myself to a higher standard than I showed last season,” he said. “I didn’t achieve what I wanted to last year, but you’ve just got to get back to work and keep going. Whether I go out there and do great or bad, you’ve just gotta keep working.”
Though he missed three games due to injury, Thomas was still named as a third-team All-ACC selection. He finished the season with 31 tackles, including 8.0 tackles for loss and two sacks.
“He is still grading as a winner, what we call a winner,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He still isn’t consistent enough, but he is right there, he is right on that line. He is a little over and sometimes a little under in his minuses.”
However, Swinney feels Thomas is right where he needs to be in terms of his development and maturation.
“He’s probably ahead of Isaiah Simmons (in his second year), but more probably like an Isaiah as a redshirt sophomore,” Swinney said. “He is unbelievably productive. I mean like production points. He makes plays even when he is in the wrong spot.”
Swinney mentioned Thomas got a minus on the game-winning stop against North Carolina. He said Thomas was in the wrong spot and did no execute the play. However, Thomas still was able to make a play on North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell, stopping him short of the goal line on a 2-point play that could have possibly won the game for UNC.
“Just the little things on where his eyes are supposed to be and just be more in detail, but he is made of the right stuff,” Swinney said.
Thomas thinks so too. Now it’s just about going out and proving it in everything that he does.
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