As a freshman last year, R.J. Mickens was one of only two players from Texas on Clemson’s roster, along with senior tight end J.C. Chalk.
Chalk has since moved on from the program, but now Mickens has another Lone Star State native with him in the Tigers’ safeties room – Andrew Mukuba.
Mickens (from Southlake, Texas) and Mukuba (from Austin, Texas) have formed a strong bond since the latter arrived on campus in January as a midyear enrollee, and as a rising sophomore with a year of experience under his belt, Mickens has taken Mukuba under his wing and tried to be a brother-like figure for the true freshman as he gets acclimated to college.
Mukuba was impressive this spring and turned heads during practice, so Mickens felt for him when he broke a bone in his arm last Monday and didn’t get the chance to play or showcase his talent in Saturday’s spring game.
“Andrew’s my guy,” Mickens said. “It really hurt whenever he broke his arm, I was kind of sad for him. He just got here. He’s an early enrollee, so far from home. I’m just being like a big brother to him. He’s a great guy. One of my best friends on the team so far. So, it’s been awesome.”
While Mukuba was unable to suit up in the Orange & White Game, Mickens did take the field and provided one of the defensive highlights of the day when he ranged over from midfield to make a leaping interception of quarterback Taisun Phommachanh near the sideline early in the second quarter.
“I just saw the quarterback looking over there, saw him kind of roll out,” Mickens said. “The pressure got to him, and there’s only so many places he could throw it. So, as soon as he threw it, I knew where to go.”
RJ Mickens comin' outta nowhere! pic.twitter.com/dh6797CtNz
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) April 3, 2021
Mickens enters the 2021 season having played 36 career snaps in 10 games with two tackles during his freshman season last year.
Heading into this summer, Mickens has a lot that he wants to work on improve upon as he looks to earn a bigger role in Clemson’s secondary this season.
“Obviously I need to get stronger, to start off,” he said. “I’ve got to be better tackling. I feel like that was my biggest weakness. But jobs aren’t guaranteed for anybody. I’m always trying to compete for a spot. So, I’m just trying to go out there and compete this fall camp and work hard over the summer – get stronger, get faster, get more explosive, become a better tackler, get healthy and compete for a spot, of course.”
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