Once again Clemson has made it back to the College Football Playoff. And like every year, the Tigers do it with strong leadership from veteran players, while a couple of younger players emerge as potential stars for the future.
Though Clemson has star players like Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, Amari Rodgers, Tyler Davis, James Skalski and Derion Kendrick, it also has young playmakers everywhere as well.
In recent weeks, freshman wide receiver E.J. Williams has flashed his potential. As has running back Chez Mellusi. On defense, defensive tackle Bryan Bresee and defensive end Myles Murphy have dominated opponents all year, while other freshmen such as Malcolm Greene and Trent Simpson have come on strong at the tail end of the season.
“We say it all the time when you get to this part of the year, freshmen are not freshmen anymore,” Skalski said.
Especially at Clemson, where it plays a lot of its young players, more than anyone else. Because of injuries or COVID related situations, the Tigers have played 23 different players in a significant role on defense this season. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says they usually play about 16 players during the course of a normal year.
Of those playing this year, few have played as well as Greene and Simpson. Both were all over the field in the Tigers’ win over Notre Dame last Saturday. Greene has been playing more of true nickel position, as well as an extra defensive back when the Tigers’ show dime looks. Simpson has helped veteran backer Mike Jones at the strongside position.
“Those guys (have played) 10 games, your whole season. You’re ready to go,” Skalski said. “Trent is extremely talented. Malcolm, that guy practices so hard. That guy celebrates a play in practice and in scout work. He practices so hard it is like he’s in a game. And it shows up on game day, it shows up.
“I love, I love watching Malcolm and the other guys work and it’s been nice seeing them kind of learn how to study the game. A lot of the older guys help them through that process.”
And now Clemson hopes it pays off in the Sugar Bowl when the second-ranked Tigers face off against No. 3 Ohio State as part of the College Football Playoff on New Year’s Day.