It might come as a surprise, but this is the most fun James Skalski has ever had playing football.
Skalski, who is decorated from head to toe in honors and accomplishments and has more rings than he has fingers, is having the time of his life as he wraps up his final season as a Tiger.
It’s not the season, that he or anyone else envisioned — one that’s been filled to the brim with adversity — but Skalski wouldn’t trade his experience this season for the world.
He talked to reporters on Monday, coming off the heels of a comeback victory on the road against Lousiville. Clemson plays pretty much the same game every week at this point — one which comes down to the final play or possession — and yet, the Tigers have continually fought through adversity to get the job done.
“Obviously, we didn’t want to be in that situation,” Skalsi said regarding Clemson’s game-winning goal-line stand during Monday’s media availability.“They made two pretty amazing plays. I thought [Mario Goodrich] was in good coverage on that first bomb they threw and then fourth-and-1, they converted. I don’t know how [Louisville wide receiver Justin Marshall ] caught that ball.”
The ball was on the 2-yard line. Louisville had four downs to score.
“We muscled up and made some huge plays,” he said. “We pulled it out and it was great to be a part of that.”
When in need of a big play or a goal-line stand for that matter, Clemson’s defense has risen to the occasion just about every single time.
“I think it’s just will, man,” Skalski added. “The will to keep people out of the end zone. I’ve been a part of countless goal-line stands now since I’ve been here, which is pretty cool…we just made a decision that we were going to give everything we got and whatever happens, happens and we’re coming out on the right side of it again.”
As the bonafide leader of the team’s defense Skalsksi gave reporters an inside look of what those huddles prior to a do-or-die goal-line stand looks like.
“We’re screaming, yelling. I can’t share some of the words that were actually said,” he quipped. “I mean, we knew [Malik] Cunningham was their go-to. They were gonna get the ball to him. Once we got him to fourth-and-goal, I think we were pretty comfortable with what was coming next and that we could stop it.”
They stopped Cunnigham right in his tracks with the game on the line. Lousiville’s junior quarterback was unable to get a pass off as Skalski and Clemson’s defense prevailed, yet again.
It encapsulated Clemson’s season to a T.
A season that has been anything but normal for the Tigers, and a relative first for Skalski, who hasn’t exactly experienced this level of adversity throughout his storied Clemson career.
“My first five [seasons] and it sounds weird to say, but pretty smooth sailing as far as being 12-0 a lot of the time, ACC Championship, know you’re going to the Playoff, compete for national championships,” Skalski said. “And, this year’s been a little different. Every single game has come down to the last possession and it’s fun. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a hell of a time playing football this year, probably the most fun I’ve had since I’ve been here, to be honest with you.
“Maybe it’s not the season we’ve hoped for, but I love the guys we got in the room. I love the chemistry. I love everything about what this year’s brought. I don’t think we’ve learned anything new. I just think it’s validating the foundation we’ve built and validating what it takes to win a game and how hard it is to win consistently for a very long time. That’s just what we’re gonna keep trying to do.”
Skalski hasn’t allowed himself to think about what’s next for him as Clemson continues to focus on the task at hand. That being said, he sounded a little surprised when asked about what it’ll be like to play one of his final home games against UConn at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
“That’s crazy to think about,” he said. “That’s crazy. I played a lot of football in that stadium. So, it’s gonna be weird knowing it’s the last couple. It’s going to be emotional. You may see me cry out there…but it’ll be awesome, though. It’s been a great ride. I’ve enjoyed every second of playing football here, playing in that stadium. I’m just gonna try to end it the right way.”