There are always one or two players to keep an eye on that no one is really talking about in the preseason.
For Clemson, one of those players is wide receiver Ajou Ajou.
By the end of the spring, the sophomore appeared to have things figured out, or was at least close. In Clemson’s Spring Game, he tied for the team lead with six receptions, while leading all pass catchers with 102 yards, including a 35-yard grab. He also hauled in a 16-yard touchdown pass from Taisun Phommachanh in the fourth quarter.
“He can make plays. I mean, he’s a natural when it comes to attacking the ball and his confidence is at an all-time high,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said this past spring. “He’s just like you want from everybody. He’s progressing and he’s the best version of him that we’ve seen, and you saw something out there today that we’ve seen on the practice field from a confidence standpoint.
Swinney said Ajou was not perfect this past spring, but he is doing what he is supposed to do.
“He still makes some mistakes, you know. He busted a couple of times out there today, didn’t run the right route or converted when he shouldn’t have converted, but here’s what I love about him … He’s playing full speed.”
Swinney said Ajou was one of the most improved players of the spring, and he expected him to be.
Earlier in the spring, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said he wanted to see more from the 6-foot-3, 215-pound receiver, especially off the field. He wanted to see Ajou be more consistent on how he handles things in his everyday life.
Elliott believes once the sophomore gets those things down, then it will help him become an even better football player.
“You saw him start to make some plays. But we all know, having done this for a while in dealing with college aged guys and having this experience, when he is more consistent with the little things off the field then it is going to transition to the field,” Elliott said. “For him, it is not the big things. The guy can run, jump, he can make every catch. He is physical. He has got even bigger. It is just the consistency to be able to do that play-in and play-out and that is where he has to grow up.”
It appeared by the time the spring was over, Ajou had taken Elliott’s advice.
“He had a long way to go before really becoming a truly functional, dependable, confident receiver,” Swinney said. “But the light has really come on for that young man. He is making some strong strides, so I am super encouraged from what I have seen in him from where he was when he first got here last summer. I mean, he has made a ton of progress.”
Ajou has the speed, quickness and physical attributes that can make him a great wide receiver one day. Just go back and watch the fourth quarter of last year’s Georgia Tech game when he caught a short pass from backup quarterback Hunter Helms and turned it into a 35-yard touchdown pass, while throwing off multiple Yellow Jackets on his way to the end zone.
Everyone will get to see how much Ajou has improved when the Tigers kick off the season on Sept. 4 in Charlotte against the Georgia Bulldogs.