On Saturday afternoon, when Clemson takes on The Citadel at Death Valley, freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei figures to see plenty of playing time after Trevor Lawrence leaves the game, assuming the Tigers have a comfortable lead.
Uiagalelei has learned a lot from Lawrence since arriving on campus in January and will try to approach the 4 p.m. tilt against the Bulldogs with the same mentality that Lawrence enters every practice and every game with.
“Right when he steps on the field, it’s like he has a business mindset and he (believes) every single rep matters and every single rep counts – no matter if it’s a walk-through rep, you can see that he makes sure he’s accountable on everything he has to do and he just takes it super seriously,” Uiagalelei said this week. “He wants everyone to know that he’s the leader on the team, and everyone knows that. But it’s how accountable he is, and I think that’s one thing that I try to work on is I want to be just like him, how accountable he is to the team.”
Uiagalelei, of course, was a highly coveted five-star recruit who had offers from virtually every top program in the country and could have played basically anywhere he wanted to.
While most prospects of his stature would have decided to go somewhere they could be the starter from the get-go, Uiagalelei chose Clemson even though he knew he would have to sit behind Lawrence for a year.
But the quarterback situation clearly didn’t deter Uiagalelei from coming to Clemson – instead, Uiagalelei viewed Lawrence’s presence as a great learning opportunity for himself.
“For me, I didn’t really (care) if there was a quarterback like Trevor,” Uiagalelei said. “For me, coming over here and being able to learn from him, I feel like that’s probably a bigger accomplishment than going into a place and starting day one just because I feel like I’m right behind the best quarterback in the country and the best player. So, for me, I get to pick his brain and see how he does it and just learn from him. So, I feel like that’s a great step.”
Uiagalelei compared his situation to the situation Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was in when he first entered the NFL, having to wait his turn behind Hall of Famer Brett Favre until he moved on to play for the Minnesota Vikings a few years later.
Uiagalelei considers Rodgers a great player and believes he might not have developed into the elite quarterback he is today had he not had the opportunity to learn from Favre.
That’s one of the reasons why Uiagalelei wasn’t discouraged from signing with Clemson because he knew he would have a similar opportunity to grow as a player behind Lawrence.
“I mean, Trevor, he’s the best quarterback in college football. He’s definitely the best player in college football,” Uiagalelei said. “So, me being able to just learn under Trevor and see the things he does on and off the field, I’m just trying to take notes and trying to see what he does and just trying to pick his brain here and there, see what makes him great. You see every day the way he works, different sacrifices he makes on the football field and off the football field and just how he organizes his time. There’s a lot of great things that I try and take in so I can be as good of a player as he is.”
At the end of the day, when Uiagalelei was going through the recruiting process, he wasn’t focused on teams’ depth charts and quarterback situations but simply trying to find the program that best fit him.
“For me, I didn’t really look into who’s the starting quarterback,” he said. “ I just wanted to find a program that fit what I was looking for, and whoever that program was, I just wanted to go there. That (the QB situation) didn’t really matter to me.”
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