MIAMI Clemson will be without three players, including one of its top playmakers, for Thursday’s Orange Bowl matchup with Oklahoma.
Wide receiver Deon Cain, tight end Jay Jay McCullough and kicker Ammon Lakip won’t play in the game, coach Dabo Swinney confirmed Wednesday morning. They also will not play in the national championship game, should Clemson advance that far, Swinney said.
“I really hate it for them. They’re the ones that have to deal with the consequences. They’re missing out on a great opportunity,” Swinney said during the final pregame news conference. “It doesn’t matter who they are or how big the game is. If you don’t do what is right, you’re not playing.”
Swinney confirmed their punishment as a result of a “violation of team rules.”
The trio failed a drug test and were sent home, according to reports from ESPN, The Clemson Insider and The (Charleston) Post & Courier.
Lakip is a senior, so his college career is over. McCullough, a junior, won’t be back for his final year of eligibility, Swinney said.
Cain “will have an opportunity to re-join the team if he grows up. If he doesn’t, he won’t,” Swinney said.
Cain posted an apology to Instagram early Wednesday morning: “I apologize to any and everyone I hurt or let down. I’m gonna learn from this mistake and become a better person on and off the field. I’m determined to come back stronger than ever before!”
While Swinney tried to downplay the news, the loss of Cain and potentially Lakip could prove to be costly.
Cain is second on the team in receiving yards with 582 despite not playing at Miami earlier this season. The freshman is arguably the Tigers’ best deep threat and leads the team in yards per catch at 17.1. He is tied for second on the team with five touchdowns.
After taking a few games to get going, Cain caught 28 passes for 512 yards in the final eight contests he played in.
Artavis Scott, Charone Peake and Hunter Renfrow are listed as Clemson’s starting receivers, but Scott, Peake and Cain have been the three most consistent wideouts. Renfrow, Clemson’s fourth leading receiver, has 237 less receiving yards than Cain this year.
Swinney said Peake and freshman Trevion Thompson will get an increased workload against the Sooners. Thompson has 10 catches for 115 yards but did make a clutch grab in the fourth quarter against South Carolina.
“Charone Peake’s our starting wide receiver, so nothing changes there,” Swinney said. “Trevion Thompson’s the backup. Both of those guys would have played a lot anyways. Charone Peake is the starter, so really no change.”
Lakip is 1-for-1 on field goals and 8-for-8 on PATs this season, but he may be missed most as the kickoff specialist. Of his 73 kickoffs, 28 went for touchbacks.
Blythewood’s Greg Huegel, who serves as the placekicker, has kicked off 22 times, with four touchbacks.
Clemson has struggled covering kicks all year and is ranked No. 107 in the country, allowing 24 yards per return. The Tigers have allowed two kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns.
Swinney said he was not worried about not having Lakip available.
“We’ll just roll with Huegel,” he said.
McCullough likely would not have played a major role in the game. He received minimal playing time this year and did not record any stats.
The news comes at a bad time for Clemson as the Tigers held their last full practice in Miami on Tuesday afternoon. It’s not as much of a distraction to the team as the public or media might think, Swinney said.
“It doesn’t affect our team. Y’all may think it does, but it doesn’t,” he stated. “We had a great practice yesterday.”
All three suspended players have had previous problems at Clemson.
Lakip was suspended for the first three games of this year after being arrested in June and charged with cocaine possession and DUI.
Cain did not play at Miami earlier this season because of a coach’s decision. At the time, Swinney said Cain needed an “attitude adjustment.”
McCullough missed the final four games of 2014 for a violation of team rules and missed the opener this year against Wofford because of an academic suspension.
Swinney said all three are good people who have simply made mistakes.
“I love those guys,” he said. “They’re not bad kids. They didn’t go out and rob a bank or anything. They forfeited their opportunity to play. I didn’t make all the rules, but I’m going to enforce them.”