Starting as a true freshman at any position in major college football is tough, but Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says Tigers left tackle Mitch Hyatt’s task this season was nearly impossible.
When presumed starter Isaiah Battle left Clemson’s team this past summer, Hyatt was given the job of protecting the blindside of Clemson All-American quarterback Deshaun Watson. Just a year removed from high school, Hyatt was asked to keep defenders away from Clemson’s star quarterback, who was coming off a torn ACL.
Through 14 games Hyatt has anchored an offensive line that has allowed only 16 sacks, which is tied for fourth among Power 5 conference schools.
“It’s near impossible to do what Mitch has done. It’s a rare thing,” Swinney said. “It’s the first time since the ‘40s that we’ve had a guy start here at left tackle (as a freshman), that’s just hard. I’ve never been around it. Ever.”
Entering the season Clemson had the key ingredients to have one of the best offenses in college football with Watson and a talented group of playmakers around him, but the one question mark was at offensive line. Hyatt was perhaps the most doubted member of the unit.
Hyatt was a five-star recruit, but the biggest difference between playing high school and college football is arguably in the trenches.
“When I came in I knew there was going to be some pressure. I didn’t worry about it, though,” Hyatt told The State. “It’s been a blessing to have the opportunity to get to play for Clemson and to just have the chance to do my best.”
Hyatt spent the spring facing off against All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson, and he didn’t come out on top very often.
It helped prepare Hyatt for what he would see this year.
“I really thought he would play a lot and play early, and watching him this spring, I was like, ‘This kid is going to really help us this year. There’s no doubt he can play,’ ” Swinney recalled.
Hyatt has received plenty of help from his fellow offensive linemen, including veteran Eric Mac Lain. The senior realized early that Hyatt had the potential to be special.
“I just let him know that first day, ‘Mitch you’re going to be the best left tackle in the country. We’re going to do this together,’” Mac Lain said. “I’ve been telling the media since the second day of fall camp he was going to be a Freshman All-American.”
Mac Lain’s prediction came true as Hyatt was named a freshman All-American and third-team All-ACC. He started every game at left tackle for a Clemson offense that has averaged 229 rushing yards per game.
Swinney said the Tigers have had confidence in Hyatt to take care of his one-on-one matchup all season.
“We have not one game the entire year helped him at all, meaning slide the protection to him, where we’re chipping a back out, stacking a tight end, not one time all year,” Swinney said. “He’s played left tackle like he’s a senior over there, and it’s just been amazing.”
Swinney said Hyatt could end up being one of the best tackles in the Clemson program.
“He’s stronger than you might think for the weight, but he’s long. He’s got great raw power, but he’s going to get in that weight room this offseason, and he’sgoing to be a 305, 310 guy by the time it’s all said and done,” Swinney said. “He’s very, very smart and athletic, studies the opponent relentlessly as far as their tips. So he’s able to anticipate things.”
Who: Clemson (14-0) vs. Alabama (13-1)
When: Monday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: Alabama by 7