Clemson receiver Justyn Ross introduced himself to the college football world this past season, bursting onto the scene in the College Football Playoff and helping the Tigers earn their second national title in three years.
But Ross wasn’t the only freshman receiver with a bright future contributing for the Tigers in 2018.
Fellow rookie Derion Kendrick also showed flashes of his playmaking ability this past season, and the Rock Hill native should only get better over the next few years.
“His potential is through the roof. He’s going to be a great player,” Tigers receiver Amari Rodgers said. “He has all the tools. I don’t feel like he needs to improve anywhere else. He’s still a young guy, so I guess just maturity and getting used to being comfortable out there and stuff like that. But that’s all young guys.”
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Kendrick was Clemson’s sixth leading receiver with 15 catches this past year and was fifth in receiving yards with 210. He averaged an impressive 14 yards per catch, showing off a knack for making big plays.
“He’s electric with the ball in his hands. He did that in high school. We saw him in high school. He’s a great player with the ball in his hands,” said Rodgers, who played a mentor role for Kendrick during his first season on campus.
“I tried to spend a lot of time with him outside of being here. We play video games and stuff like that. Just trying to make sure that his head was on straight, not too many distractions, pulling him away and stuff like that. But I feel like he’s doing a good job of staying focused.”
Kendrick also returned kicks for the Tigers this past year, averaging 23 yards per return on 13 kickoff returns. He even took some snaps at wildcat quarterback, showing off his versatility.
Strait Herron, who coached Kendrick at South Pointe High, had no doubt Kendrick could make plays for the Tigers after starring as South Pointe’s quarterback during his high school career. Kendrick received an offer from Georgia Tech to play quarterback before signing with the Tigers to play receiver.
Still, Clemson’s coaches saw something in Kendrick as a wildcat quarterback and decided to give him a shot.
“He can make people miss, but what a lot of people don’t take into account is he has a great arm,” Herron said last fall. “He can throw a football 60 yards with ease and put it on the money. He’s a football-smart kid, so he can pick up on a lot of things. That’s just what makes him a great all-around player.”
No matter how Kendrick gets his hands on the ball in 2019, whether it is catching passes, taking a handoff, returning kicks or lining up at wildcat quarterback, expect him to make plenty of plays.
“When they put him back at kickoff, I knew he was going to excel. He was going to build his confidence for when he gets out there on offense, too,” Rodgers said. “That showed when he started making plays on kickoff return he started making more plays on offense too. I feel like his confidence has grown and he’s only going to get better and better.”
The Herald’s Bret McCormick contributed.