CLEMSON — Missing the season’s final two games, including the bowl win against LSU, was more painful for Bashaud Breeland than surgery to repair his groin injury in late December.
The occasional tug near the scar serves as a persistent reminder as Breeland, a redshirt junior cornerback from Allendale, pushes through spring practice at Clemson.
“I would say I’m not 100 percent where I should be this spring, but I’m working to get there,” Breeland said. “I didn’t want to sit out. I really pushed myself, getting the groove back.”
After the surgery, he returned to the weight room with the same determination that elevated him to starting quarterback and safety as a high school sophomore and a starter in the Clemson secondary midway through his redshirt freshman season.
“I saw him grow up between his sophomore year and junior year, when he realized he had a chance to play college football,” said Allendale-Fairfax High coach Eddie Ford, “socially and academically.
“As a freshman he could have started for us at middle linebacker, that’s how tough he was. But we had some good linebackers, so we decided to play him at safety and he took off from there.”
Breeland was a quarterback in the Wing T and seldom left the field.
“When you’re coaching (Class) A football and a kid has to play both sides of the ball, you have a chance of finding out what a kid’s about,” Ford said. “He was such a weapon we had to keep the ball in his hands.
“He was always a smart kid. He was our coach on the field even as a sophomore. He would audible in and out of plays. That was something we normally wouldn’t trust to a sophomore. He caught on to what we wanted, fell into our philosophy and he rock and rolled. It carried over to what he’s doing at Clemson.”
As defensive coordinator Brent Venables and new assistant coach Mike Reed began stitching a together a secondary shredded by disappointment and tattered by injury, it’s evident they need help. It was addressed with the number of corners and safeties signed with the incoming freshman class, but guys such as Breeland — players with experience — need to produce.
“I want to see it. A year ago I thought those guys were pretty solid,” Venables said. “We’ve got to be better there than we were a year ago.”
With three walk-ons among the group of nine practicing this spring, Breeland said he’s received plenty of work and “hopefully it will pay off.” He started five of the first seven games last season before the injury. When the groin became intolerable, he sat down after five snaps against N.C. State and didn’t play again.
“He’s coming back. He’s done some good things,” Venables said. “We can win with him.”
Winning has marked Breeland’s athletics career since he joined the varsity track team as an eighth grader. Breeland brought an edge to the field, Ford recalled. “He was a kid who wasn’t going to let you beat him in anything.”
Ford’s fondest memory was Breeland’s final game, a playoff loss to Lamar.
“He was hurt going into the game, a hip flexor,” Ford said. “Lamar knocked him out of the game in the third quarter, and his hip and shoulder were bothering him.
“That joker got up the middle of the third quarter and said, ‘Coach I can’t end my senior year like this.’ He played better than when we started. I thought, ‘Wow, he’s a man.’
“A lot of kids would have tucked their tails. I respected him a lot.”
Breeland confided that he wishes he wasn’t playing so far from the ball, “but defense brings the money.”
“I liked the ball in my hand and calling the shots,” he said, “but defense is my passion.”