As he went through spring practice this year, fifth-year senior linebacker James Skalski was impressed by the plethora of promising young talent he was surrounded by on Clemson’s practice fields.
Fifteen early enrollees from Clemson’s acclaimed 2020 signing class were able to take part in the nine spring practices the Tigers got in before everything was shut down due to the coronavirus, and they looked as advertised according to Skalski.
“I think they’re living up to their class rank,” he said this spring. “Pretty impressive, honestly. But nothing I haven’t seen. When I was a freshman here, I had guys like Christian Wilkins and Dexter (Lawrence) here, and it kind of feels like that again with the talent. Just some real freaks out there. We’re still young, we’re still learning, but really promising first couple weeks.”
Three of the true freshmen that enrolled early are linebackers in Sergio Allen, Trenton Simpson and Kevin Swint, and Skalski saw flashes of their potential while working with them this spring.
“All three of those young guys are really good football players,” he said. “So, I’m excited to see what they do.”
Skalski did his best to show the aforementioned trio the ropes during their first college practice action and is trying to be like a coach on the field that the younger players can learn from.
“The young guys started calling me ‘Sensei,’” Skalski said with a smile. “Some of the young backers call me ‘Sensei,’ just messing around. We’ve all got little nicknames for each other. But I feel like an extension of Coach V (Brent Venables). I mean, I’m a fifth-year. I better know my stuff. I’ve had plenty of time to learn what everyone around me is doing, but I take a lot of pride in that. I just love football, so any time I get a chance to teach, I’m with it.”
Swint — a former four-star recruit who racked up 41.5 career sacks among the 359.5 tackles he had during his career at Carrollton (Ga.) High School — earned his nickname before he even stepped foot on the field.
“We’ve been calling Swint ‘Earthquake,’” Skalski said. “Like, we gave him that before he even strapped the pads on. He’s definitely been living up to that. Kevin’s been playing really well.”
The highest-rated of the newcomers at linebacker is Simpson, an original Auburn commitment who flipped to Clemson on Dec. 14 and signed with the Tigers four days later.
A former five-star prospect who didn’t start playing linebacker until his junior year of high school, Simpson has a lot to learn but also has a bright future ahead of him.
“Freaky talent,” Skalski said. “The guy can run and is explosive, plays downhill. A guy who’s really not sure of himself because he doesn’t know the system. But once he gets it down, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with.”
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