As Clemson continued to plow forward in preparation for Ohio State, seven current and former players received their diplomas, and coach Dabo Swinney said he did not anticipate any academic casualties today for the Orange Bowl.
At Thursday’s juncture of past, present and future, Swinney was especially effusive in his remarks about the freshmen and redshirt freshmen.
A portion of each bowl practice was set aside to focus on the least experienced players, those who received little or no playing time during the season yet should have an opportunity to contribute during their careers at Clemson.
Swinney’s eyes sparkled after the group’s first scrimmage as he spoke of players such as running back Wayne Gallman, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, defensive tackle Scott Pagano and offensive linemen Tyrone Crowder and Maverick Morris.
“It’s a competitive group,” Swinney said. “It was fun to see them compete. We have got some young guys that have some bulldog in them, and it’s going to be fun to watch them this spring.”
Gallman and Tyshon Dye might have been capable of helping them this season. When Dye was sidelined with a back injury, the staff decided to bite the bullet and redshirt them both and give Gallman a chance to add weight and muscle to his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame.
“I was really excited about what I’ve seen out of Gallman,” Swinney said. “Wow!”
Swinney said he’s been impressed with the work of the blue-ribbon class of defensive backs, “especially the young corners.” The most promising of the group, MacKensie Alexander, sustained a groin injury during August practice, later had surgery and missed the season.
Swinney said that while Alexander “looked good,” he missed practice Thursday to keep an appointment with the doctor in Charleston who performed the surgery. They expect him to rejoin the team Friday.
Also working in that group were freshman linebacker Ben Boulware and tight ends Jay Jay McCullough and Jordan Leggett, players who saw modest playing time.
When Crowder and Pagano banged heads during practice, Swinney said, “That is football at its best.”
The team will begin Friday to immerse itself in preparation for Ohio State, then break Saturday for Christmas. Players are scheduled to return Dec. 26. Full practices are scheduled Dec. 27 and 28 in Clemson. They leave Dec. 29 for South Florida and begin practice Dec. 30.
Swinney was optimistic about the academic report for the first semester. “It looks like we won’t have any casualties,” he said. “Again, I’m hesitant to say one hundred percent, but it looks good.
“Because of our structure, we have a lot of hands on and a lot of eyes on guys,” he said. “If you don’t go to class, then you don’t play.
“We have great communication and great relationships, but great accountability is the main thing. Our guys have to work. If you don’t go to class, you don’t play. There is a structure in place academically that we believe in from a university standpoint and what we believe in from a football standpoint. It has worked very well for us.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd missed practice to receive his diploma during ceremonies at Littlejohn Coliseum.
One of 25 student-athletes to earn degrees, Boyd was joined by linebacker Quandon Christian and defensive tackle Josh Watson, giving Clemson 14 graduates on the roster for the Orange Bowl. Watson, who has one year of eligibility remaining, has said he would return for his final season.