In Clemson’s victory at Georgia Tech last week, defensive end Xavier Thomas found himself coming off the bench early in the game for the top-ranked Tigers.
The junior, who fought off COVID-19 and later strep throat this past summer, returned to the football field the week before in Clemson’s win over Miami. Against the Yellow Jackets, he played 22 snaps, while recording one tackle and a half tackle for loss.
“That was a great next step for him. But he is still working himself back to where he needs to be,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said after Wednesday’s practice. “He is getting his body back where it needs to be. Even not hundred percent physically, he is still a gifted football player.”
It has been a long way back for Thomas, who reported to camp out of shape and still reeling from COVID-19. The plan was to originally redshirt the 6-foot-2, 270-pound defensive end, but when the NCAA granted an extra year of eligibility to all student-athletes, the coaches changed their plan for Thomas, hoping to get him on the field as soon as he was ready, instead of waiting until the last few games of the season and the postseason.
“He is a work in progress,” Swinney said. “But I love his mindset. I think he has really turned the corner. I just watched him out there today. Tuesday and Wednesday practices are tough around here. They are not easy, but this is where you get better. Tuesday, Wednesday practice, you get a game-rep mentality. That is how you get better. He is putting the work in. Man, to get a guy like him, right now, is a big shot in the arm for us.
“Hopefully, he stays the course and keeps progressing and keeps fighting through.”
Swinney cannot give a percentage on where Thomas is at physically, but he likes where he is at mentally heading into Saturday’s game against Syracuse at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.
“He was not able to have any kind of off-season like he wanted to have and needed to have. So, it has kind of been picking it up,” the Clemson coach said. “He spent a lot of time, all of camp and all of those first several weeks of the season, off to the side with our trainers and strength people and just getting back to where he could get back in practice. Now, he is in the season, trying to play himself, almost like camp, play yourself into game shape and football conditioning.
“He is progressing, but I don’t know a percentage or anything like that. I know this, he is pretty good. He is not a hundred percent. Any percentage of Xavier is still pretty doggone good.”
A great gift for any Tiger fan. Just one of many great items available from Clemson Variety & Frame