Even before Justyn Ross was ruled out for the season, Joseph Ngata was already making a move to become a more consistent playmaker in 2020.
Ross, who was supposed to be Clemson’s top wide receiver this coming season, had surgery on June 5 to repair congenital fusion and a bulging disk on his back and spin. The surgery was a success and Ross has already begun his rehabilitation.
However, the Tigers will be without their superstar wideout in the fall, coupled with loss of Tee Higgins, who has moved on to the NFL. That means Ngata is the man now at wide receiver, and though he is a true sophomore, he feels like his ready to step up and meet the challenge head on.
“I thought I ended last year on a good note, so I’ve got a lot of confidence going into the season,” Ngata said this past spring.
Ngata gained a lot of valuable experience as a true freshman last season, playing in 304 snaps across all 15 games. The former five-star recorded 17 receptions for 240 yards and caught a touchdown pass against Charlotte, Louisville and Wake Forest.
His first career touchdown catch came against Charlotte on Sept. 21, when he led the Tigers in receptions (three) and receiving yards (62) that night.
Ngata, who also averaged 23.2 yards on 14 kickoff returns and shared special teams player of the game honors on a couple of occasions. The Folsom, Calif., native said he worked hard on “a little bit of everything” to improve his game during spring practice.
“Explosiveness, just catching the ball, finishing, trying to make big plays in practice so I can make them in the games,” he said.
Dabo Swinney liked what he saw from Ngata during the nine spring practices the Tigers were able to get in before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The Clemson coach said Ngata had a “great spring” and was “very steady, very consistent.”
“Physically, he is pretty special, and mentally, he is caught up,” Swinney said. “Technically and fundamentally, he has made a huge step. I’m pleased with him.”
Ngata worked at the field and boundary positions in spring practice and wants to be as versatile as possible so he can contribute wherever the Tigers need him. With Ross now out of the season, Ngata will slide into his spot as the starter at the boundary position.
“I’m really trying to learn all of it just to know it, just to know the concepts, be smarter and be ready for whatever happens,” he said.
Ngata was officially listed as Tee Higgins’ backup in 2019.
“I mean, nothing really changed from last season,” he said. “My mindset hasn’t changed. I just want to be better than I was yesterday. The way I felt last year is the way I feel this year – just pick up on every opportunity and get better every day.”
—Gavin Oliver contributed to this story
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