Monday Morning Quarterback
In 2009, C.J. Spiller shocked everyone when he decided to return to Clemson for his senior year. At the time, some questioned whether he made the right move.
As we later found out, he did.
Spiller went on to have one of the greatest senior seasons in Clemson history. He won ACC Player of the Year honors, was a unanimous First-Team All-American, graduated and later was picked No. 9 overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Spiller’s decision to come back to school and “finish what he started” laid the groundwork for head coach Dabo Swinney in citing that coming back to school for a senior season can pay off for a high-profile player.
All-American defensive end Vic Beasley proved the same thing in 2014, when everyone expected him to leave after his junior year. Beasley ended up setting the Clemson career record for sacks, was the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year, graduated and was the No. 8 overall pick by the Atlanta Falcons in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Of course, Swinney also has the Power Rangers example, as Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant returned for one more season in 2018 to help lead Clemson to another national championship, which they did. They all earned All-American status, graduated and, of course, led the Tigers to the 2018 National Championship.
Ferrell (No. 4) and Wilkins (No. 13) were both selected in the first-round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Bryant was not a first-round pick, but he was later drafted by the Lions in the fourth round. All three are currently playing in the NFL.
But no NFL Draft has proven the fighting spirit of Clemson players than the one that wrapped up this past Saturday. Though different circumstances in all three cases, running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell all proved how far a fighting spirit will take you.
Like Spiller’s decision in 2009, everyone was surprised to see Etienne come back for his senior. They thought he could hurt his draft stock, though he had just a second-round grade following his junior season.
Etienne was already the school’s all-time rushing leader. He was a two-time ACC Player of the Year. He was a two-time All-American and won a national championship. What else could he really accomplish by coming back to school?
He thought there was a lot, and there was.
By coming back, Etienne broke the ACC’s All-time rushing record. He became the all-time leader in scoring in conference history. He became the league’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns. He set an NCAA FBS record for most games in which he scored a touchdown. He set the Clemson records for receptions and receiving yards by a running back in a single-season and, most importantly, he graduated.
Late Thursday evening, Etienne’s decision to return to school paid off when the Jacksonville Jaguars selected him No. 25 overall in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Rodgers’ third-round selection (85th overall) by the Green Bay Packers was an example of not giving up on your dreams, no matter the obstacles. Rodgers overcame a torn ACL in the spring of 2019, to play the majority of the 2019 football season.
Feeling he still had work to do and things to prove, Rodgers return for his senior year and his persistence paid off. He led the ACC in receptions in 2020. Already a Clemson graduate, he was a First-Team All-ACC selection and is now an NFL wide receiver.
It would have been easy for Powell to leave Clemson years ago, especially in this era where players can leave and pretty much go wherever they want. But he chose to stay and compete with some of the best wide receivers in college football, knowing it was going to make him better in the long run, which it did.
Powell’s senior year at Clemson was the best of his career, as he became a serious playmaker for the Tigers in 2020, while earning All-ACC honors in the process. He earned his degree as well and this past Saturday his dreams of playing in the NFL came true when the Kansas City Chiefs selected him with the 181st pick in the NFL Draft.
Powell, like all the examples above, proves running away from a challenge is not the way to do things.
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