Swinney's message to future Tiger: 'Clemson will always be this Clemson'

Swinney's message to future Tiger: 'Clemson will always be this Clemson'

Recruiting

Swinney's message to future Tiger: 'Clemson will always be this Clemson'

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Among the Clemson commitments in the 2022 class who were on campus for their official visits this past weekend was three-star offensive tackle Mason Johnstone from Greenville’s Christ Church Episcopal School

Johnstone, who pledged to the Tigers in June, will join the program next summer as a preferred walk-on. He just finished up his first season playing offensive tackle and is still coming into his own right.

The 6-foot-7, 250-pound senior caught up with The Clemson Insider on Monday night and detailed his official visit experience and what he heard from the coaching staff during his return visit to Tiger Town.

“It was awesome,” Johnstone told TCI. “We did a lot of fun stuff and it was just great to see everybody.”

This past weekend’s group compared to the official visitors for Clemson’s game against UConn was a mixed bag. The Tigers saw scholarship commits, walk-on commits and uncommitted prospects as well. There were nine total prospects in attendance.

Some of Clemson’s scholarship commitments in the 2022 class took their official visits this weekend, including the newest commit — who Johnstone has mutual friends in Greenville with — Dutch Fork (Irmo, S.C.) four-star wide receiver Antonio Williams. He was joined by East St. Louis (Ill.) four-star cornerback Toriano Pride and Jesuit (Tampa, Fla.) three-star linebacker Wade Woodaz, as well as Clemson preferred walk-on commits such as Johnstone, Daniel High School tight end Griffin Batt, Dabo Swinney’s youngest son, Clay, and Mickey Conn’s son, Brodey.

As well as Clemson punter commit Jackson Smith of Saraland (Ala.), who announced that he was being placed on scholarship.

“I think it was interesting because we all blended really well,” Johnstone said. “I had talked to Wade before and had known him a little bit. And then Antonio, he’s a great guy. It was awesome. It felt like we were all teammates.”

This says something because there were two uncommitted official visitors as well in Jennings (La.) four-star running back Trevor Etienne and Pike Road (Ala.) four-star defensive lineman Khurtiss Perry, who both made their way to Tiger Town for the weekend.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was finally able to sit down and deliver a message to some of his future players, including Johnstone, regarding the departure(s) of Brent Venables and Tony Elliott to Oklahoma and Virginia, respectively.

“His whole thing was like the foundation here has already been set,” Johnstone said. “We’ve all bought into that and I think he knows that. He was just reassuring everybody that no matter who’s here, Clemson will always be this Clemson.” 

Beyond that, what was the overall message that Johnstone received from the coaching staff during his time on campus?

“They actually said they were really pleased with my film and how my projection went throughout the season,” he said. “I kind of started off rough, but then, towards the later half of the year, I really started to pick it up. My whole goal by the end of the season was to show the best possible version of myself to them. I think I did that.”

Remember, this was Johnstone’s first season playing tackle. 

While on campus this past weekend, he had a coach’s meeting with Robbie Caldwell. It gave Johnstone an opportunity to go through his film with the longtime Clemson offensive line coach and pick his brain and certain things.

“There’s a lot that I have to learn, especially just having a dialogue with him, I can tell that there’s so much more that I’ll be able to learn,” Johnstone said, “and I think they see that too. Being able to pair that with my natural athletic ability plus gaining weight, I think they think that I have a lot of potential at the position.”

How has Johnstone’s relationship with Caldwell developed?

“It’s actually been great,” he said. “He’s helped me so much, even just my family. He’s a great guy. He’s someone that just talking to him is great and just getting his wisdom. You can tell how much he cares about the people that he’s recruiting and their families, and also his players.”

For Johnstone, that goes a long way.

“I don’t think anywhere else in the country that a walk-on would get the treatment that they do at Clemson,” Johnstone said. “I’ve talked to other schools that have tried to tell me what being a walk-on means, but that definition is completely different at Clemson. You’re just as important as everyone else. You may not be on scholarship, but they know that you’re a valuable piece to the program. They treat everybody as such. They’re still hyping me and telling me all the things I want to hear.”

They did tell him something that he definitely wanted to hear during his visit.

According to Johnstone, his timeline to get a scholarship “probably increased over this past season.” He attributed that to his improved play and the roster numbers game that comes with valuing offensive line depth.

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