After championship win, Tigers focus on new year
Swinney believes this Clemson team has plenty to prove.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put it as plainly as he could to his guys this Tiger team hasn’t won anything. At least not yet.
Swinney and the Tigers took to the practice field to start summer workouts almost seven months after winning the national title. Swinney acknowledged he’s got plenty of players who were down in Tampa, Florida celebrating Clemson’s 35-31 win over Alabama. None of that will matter when the Tigers line up against opponents this fall.
“We’re right back at the bottom with everybody else,” Swinney said Thursday. “You get what you earn. When it’s all said and done, if we have the right focus and work ethic, we’ll be pleased with where we are.”
That was certainly the case last year as the Tigers won their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference title and advanced to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive season. In a rematch with the 2015 champion Crimson Tide, this time the Tigers held tough with a dramatic, last-second TD for their second national title and first since 1981.
Swinney has said since February when spring drills began that the historic moment was behind him and his players. It’s also left several gaping holes for a title-winning offense that lost four of its stars to the NFL draft, led by first-rounders receiver Mike Williams and quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The two were essential to Clemson’s success, and their loss leaves questions heading into the fall.
The Tigers seemed stocked at receiver with Deon Cain, who led the team regulars with 19.1 yards per catch last fall heading a group of talented, hungry wideouts.
Quarterback could be a thornier prospect for Clemson. Junior Kelly Byrant opens camp as the starter, but the eyes of many are on five-star passer Hunter Johnson from Brownsburg, Indiana, who some vocal fans believe can slip seamlessly into Watson’s cleats.
Bryant and Johnson were among those working with quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter in the first session.
“Nice and smooth, balanced,” Streeter shouted as Bryant shuffled through some side-step drills. A few minutes later, Streeter pushed Bryant on his technique. “Work,” the coach shouted. “Don’t be lazy.”
That’s something Swinney does not think he’ll have to worry about this fall. He says his players are hungry to feel the success of last year. It’s ingrained into the team’s DNA, Swinney said.
Need proof? As Hunter Renfrow extended for a catch on the sideline, he was told, “You catch everything.”
“I have to,” joked Renfrow, who has signed countless “Sports Illustrated” covers adorned his 2-yard TD grab with one second left that lifted the Tigers to their championship.
“They know how we’re supposed to practice. They know what the expectations are,” Swinney said. “They know what it takes.” After Friendswood tight end Ben Redding withdrew his commitment to Texas State in favor of UNLV last month, the Bobcats needed a tight end for their 2018 class. This week, they got two pledges — Corpus Christi Calallen’s Jackson Lanam and Seth Caillouet from Louisiana.
Lanam committed Thursday, turning down offers from Arkansas State and Houston Baptist.
“It’s a great area, and the education in the school is really nice,” Lanam said. “The coaches and the school have a lot to offer me on and off the field. And the football program is going to be so much better in the future.”
Caillouet, who picked Texas State over Air Force and McNeese State, pledged Thursday night.
The Bobcats have 16 pledges for 2018, leaving them with nine spots left to fill the class. The Bobcats’ class ranks third in the Sun Belt and 82nd overall in the country, per 247Sports’ composite ratings.
Dabo Swinney said the historic moment is in the past.