Jay Guillermo wasn’t with the Clemson football team during its spring practices last year. Battling depression, Guillermo took a leave of absence from the team, and it was unclear at that point if he would ever return.
One year later, Guillermo is not only present at Clemson’s spring practice, but one of the team’s most respected presences. Heading into his redshirt senior season, Guillermo is considered to be the linchpin of the Tigers’ offensive line.
“It’s just so awesome to see, that young man, where he is right now,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Guillermo.
Guillermo, who began last season as Clemson’s backup center but wound up starting the Tigers’ final 13 games, is one of three returning starters up front for Clemson’s offense, along with sophomore left tackle Mitch Hyatt and redshirt junior Tyrone Crowder.
As a fifth-year senior, Guillermo is the most experienced offensive lineman on Clemson’s roster.
With the departure from last season of Eric Mac Lain, a 2015 co-captain who started at left guard and was arguably the team’s best leader, Clemson is turning to Guillermo to fill the leadership void.
“I think obviously Mac Lain was the senior leader, but Jay was just as vital to our success last year,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Ready to embrace that role in the offensive line room, Guillermo said he has looked to the examples of Mac Lain, as well as fellow 2015 seniors Ryan Norton and Joe Gore, as models for his own leadership.
Guillermo was a three-time ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week in 2015, earning that recognition for his performances against Georgia Tech, Boston College and South Carolina. Guillermo was also selected to the All-ACC Second Team for the season as a whole.
As well as Guillermo played last year, he is ready to take his game to another level this year. Feeling better than he has ever felt before in mat drills this winter and now in spring practices, Guillermo believes he is in the best shape of his life.
“I’m sitting at about 305 right now, I’m gaining muscle, losing fat, I’m really feeling really good,” Guillermo said.
The difference in Guillermo’s conditioning, from before his leave of absence to now, has made an impression on his coaches.
“If you just go back and look at some of the pictures of before then, he was a lot heavier,” Elliott said. “He’s really, really taken care of his body since then, he’s moving a lot better.”
Even greater than Guillermo’s physical changes, however, has been his mental development. Guillermo has confidence that he did not have in himself at this time last year, and in turn, his coaches have confidence in him.
“We did a vote as an offense on kind of our top leaders, and Jay was in the top three,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “To see how far he’s come is very impressive.”
Off the field, Guillermo is perhaps best known for his ability to impersonate his coaches, from Swinney and Scott to offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and defensive coordinator Brent Venables. And even though Guillermo’s jokes often come at his coaches’ expense, Elliott believes the center’s ability to make his teammates laugh is another way in which he demonstrates his leadership.
“He’s happy, he sets the tempo, he doesn’t mind being vocal, but he’s backing it up with his work as well, so it’s not just talk,” Elliott said.