Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables sees a lot of similarities between fifth-year senior linebacker James Skalski and a former Tiger All-American and fan favorite.
During his weekly interview with the media this week, Venables compared Skalski to Ben Boulware, who left a legacy at Clemson after helping the Tigers beat Alabama in the 2016 national championship game for what was the program’s first national title in 35 years at the time.
When Venables watches and observes Skalski – the heart and soul in the middle of Clemson’s defense – he sees a player who is very comparable to and shares plenty in common with Boulware, a second-team All-American in 2016 who won the Jack Lambert Award as the nation’s top linebacker that year and earned Defensive MVP honors in the national championship game victory over the Crimson Tide.
“Intensity levels, pretty much identical,” Venables said. “But he (Skalski) is a little bit calmer. Very intense – super intense – just not as loud as Ben. Ben was awesome.
“What they both shared – their passion, their love, their intensity for the game. They’re perfectionists. So hard on themselves, so demanding of themselves. Never, ever, ever satisfied, and then they have this uniqueness of making everybody around them better, and that’s what the great ones can do. Whether they know they’re doing it, whether they’re intentional about it or not, they just make people better.”
Along with the aforementioned qualities, the type of desperate and relentless mindset that Skalski has – and former players like Boulware had – sets an example that teammates tend to take notice of and follow.
“And when you have success as well, that validates,” Venables said. “Because players pay attention, and they’re like, ‘Man, that guy shows up in the game, he makes all the same plays he makes in practice.’ Because he’s out there trying to dominate practice with a mindset and a sense of desperation that if I screw up on this play, we’re going to lose every other game the rest of the year.
“Just having that fight-for-your-life mentality – like somebody’s holding you down under water and trying to drown you, you’re fighting for your success, you’re fighting for your life – and when you have that, man, you can’t help but get better. The strain is going to make you better. So, hopefully that rubs off on guys.”
While Skalski is the unquestioned leader of Clemson’s linebacker group, Venables is high on the unit as a whole, the chemistry it has and the makeup of the players within the unit.
“We have a great core group,” Venables said. “That’s what I love about our linebacking corps, man – they are so hungry, humble, tough, cohesive. They have love, respect for one another. They’re all about their business. But that doesn’t happen because of me. That happens because we’re recruiting the right kind of guys and have the right kind of leadership and have a lot of buy-in by the guys.”
Another championship season is underway for the Tigers. It’s time to gear up for another year of Clemson football.
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