Does Clemson have a tight end to reach Bennie Cunningham’s lofty standard?

Does Clemson have a tight end to reach Bennie Cunningham’s lofty standard?

Football

Does Clemson have a tight end to reach Bennie Cunningham’s lofty standard?

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Or the standards set by Dwayne Allen and Jordan Leggett

For the longest time at Clemson, the standard for playing the tight end position was Bennie Cunningham. There is a strong argument he still is the standard, despite the big numbers Dwayne Allen and Jordan Leggett both put up in the last decade.

From 1973-’75, the late Bennie Cunningham caught 64 passes for 1,044 yards and scored eight touchdowns on his way to being named the first two-time First-Team All-American and the first Consensus All-American in Clemson history.

Cunningham was ahead of his time.

At 6-foot-5, 250-pounds, the Seneca, S.C., native could do it all – block, catch and run. Also, he did it in an era when running the football was the primary mode of operation in college football. In those days, Clemson ran a split-veer triple-option offense.

From 1973-’75, the late Bennie Cunningham caught 64 passes for 1,044 yards and scored eight touchdowns on his way to being named the first two-time First-Team All-American and the first Consensus All-American in Clemson history. (file photo)

Even though Cunningham played on Clemson teams that were not always good, he was. He led the Tigers in receptions in 1973 and ’74 and in both catches and yards in 1974, his first All-American season. He had another All-American season in 1975 and was later picked by the Pittsburgh Steelers with the 28th overall pick in the 1976 NFL Draft – still the only tight end in Clemson history to be taken in the first round of an NFL Draft.

But could that change in the years to come?

No disrespect to guys like Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen and Jordan Leggett, but Clemson appears to have maybe its greatest collection of tight ends at one time.

Led by another Seneca product in Braden Galloway, the Tigers are potentially as talented at the tight end position as they ever have been. Behind Galloway is Davis Allen, Jaelyn Lay, Sage Ennis and Jake Briningstool.

Do any of those five have the talent and skill to be the next Cunningham? Maybe so. Maybe not. Time will tell.

However, there have been glimpses that show, at the very least, Clemson potentially has another Dwayne Allen and Jordan Leggett on the team.

Galloway (6-4, 240) is a quick-twitch, very fluid receiver. A former basketball player, he is athletic and fast and uses that to his advantage in the passing game, similar to Leggett (2013-’16), who holds the tight end records for career catches, yards and touchdowns at Clemson, as well as single-season marks in yards. He also tied Dwayne Allen’s record for touchdowns in a single season by a tight end.

From 2013-’16, Jordan Leggett set Clemson records for a tight end with 112 catches for 1,598 yards and 18 touchdowns. He also holds the single-season mark for yards (736), which he set in 2016. (file photo)

“In fairness to (Galloway), and he said it, he did not start playing football until his sophomore year (of high school),” Clemson tight ends coach and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “He played wideout, he played quarterback and so a lot of the stuff he is doing, even from a receiver perspective is still some new stuff to him. But he is very fluid and can run.

“I would say he is probably as fast, if not faster than Leggett. But he is not quite as tall and as big.”

Still, in just his second full season, Galloway caught 27 passes for 369 yards and two touchdowns. That was ahead of Leggett’s mark in his second season when he hauled in 14 passes back in 2014 for 161 yards and one touchdown.

Davis Allen is very similar in stature, size and technique as Dwayne Allen (2009-’11). The junior stands 6-foot-6 and weighs 250 pounds.

Like Dwayne Allen, who was a Consensus First-Team All-American and Mackey Award winner in 2011, did in his second season at Clemson, Davis Allen showed tremendous development as a pass catcher. He went from five catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns as a freshman, to 16 catches for 247 yards and four touchdowns in 2020.

“He is the standard of what you are looking for at the point of attack, from a tight end perspective,” Elliot said about Davis Allen. “He is very versatile. He can play the H or play what you call the Y, the attached guy, and be very productive. You can isolate him one-on-one with defensive ends and he is going to hold his own.

“I think if we can get him up to speed on where he needs to be from a receiver standpoint, because you have to look at him. He played defensive end (in high school). He was in a run-oriented tight end kind of position in high school, so I think that the potential to be like a Dwayne Allen is there. We just got to develop him a little bit more.”

And who knows. Maybe one of them will become the next Bennie Cunningham. Of course, being the next Dwayne Allen or Jordan Leggett is not too shabby, either.

Dwayne Allen finished his Clemson career as the Tigers’ all-time leader for a tight end in receptions (93), yards (1,079) and touchdowns (12). He still holds the single-season mark for catches (50 in 2011) and touchdowns (8 in 2011). Allen was a Consensus First-Team All-American in 2011 and won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s best tight end. (file photo)

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