Dreaming big

Consistency is the key to

Tigers’ continued success

By Scott Adamson
Courtesy The Journal

CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney started preaching consistency the minute he was named Clemson’s full-time head football coach before the 2009 season. Regardless if his team is coming off a 6-7 campaign, as it did going into 2011, or a 14-1 ACC title season, which serves as the lead-in to this fall, the sermon has a familiar theme.

“My message has always been the same … I’ve never just wanted to have a great team, I’ve wanted to have a great program,” Swinney said. “To have a great program, you have to be consistent for a long period of time. I think that’s what we’ve been able to do and why we’re relevant. But ultimately, we want to win multiple national championships. We want to win multiple ACC championships. We want to be a team that’s consistent in everything we do.’

Rex Brown/Courtesy The Journal Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and quarterback Deshaun Watson are aiming to take the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff.

Rex Brown/Courtesy The Journal
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and quarterback Deshaun Watson are aiming to take the Tigers back to the College Football Playoff.

In the early years of his tenure, such talk might’ve seemed overly optimistic, but no more.

This is a program built to win league titles, and in the era of the College Football Playoff and Power 5 conferences, finishing atop the ACC will more often than not lead to an opportunity to participate in the playoffs.

“I think the big thing is we all dream big, we talk about dreaming big, dreaming the dream,” Swinney said. “Last year it was dream the dream, 15 for 15. We kind of laid that out there. Let’s go earn 15 opportunities. They give you 12. You’re kind of guaranteed that. You earn what you get after that. It was something that we talked about a lot last year.”


Eight starters are back on an offense that was one of the nation’s best a year ago. It all starts with Heisman Trophy hopeful Deshaun Watson, who was invited to New York for the Heisman ceremonies after a sophomore season that saw the QB throw for more than 4,000 yards and rush for 1,000-plus.

He’ll have a big group of speedy receivers to throw to, including game breaker Mike Williams. Williams was injured on the first drive of the first game in 2015, but is healthy and ready to go now that fall drills have begun.

“Mike’s a game changer,” Swinney said. “He changes everything a defense does to try and defend us. We’re in a much better spot offensively than this time last year going in. We played four freshmen at wideout last year.”

Wayne Gallman leads the ground game, returning to the lineup after setting a single-season school rushing record with 1,527 yards.

Incoming freshman Tavien Feaster has recovered from offseason shoulder surgery and is ready to go. If he lives up to his preseason billing, he could not only provide depth to the Tiger backfield, but give the running back corps another breakaway threat.

Whoever carries the ball will run behind a talented offensive line, led by Mitch Hyatt.


Brent Venables’ unit lost six underclassmen to the NFL draft, but at Clemson that doesn’t automatically mean a rebuilding campaign is at hand.

Instead, the D features a mixture of experience and talent, with Ben Boulware leading the linebacking corps and expected to get plenty of help from the likes of Dorian O’Daniel, Kendall Joseph, Jalen Williams and five-star freshman Tre Lamar.

“Our job as coaches is to put our best players out there and give players the opportunity to earn their way,” Venables said.

The defensive line is deep, with Carlos Watson returning to anchor it and looking to work alongside Scott Pagano and Christian Wilkins.

“We’re going to put the best four out there,” defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks said. “Senior leadership, game experience, the ‘been there, done that’ kind of thing really helps. I think it’s really valuable.”

Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd are gone, meaning the Tigers will have two new starters at defensive end.

Austin Bryant and Richard Yeargin are expected to see time in those spots, and there are plenty of other options should Venables decide to shuffle some players between the ends.

Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley will lead the secondary, and Venables stresses that he does so by example.

“We have guys like Cordrea whose actions speak louder than words,” he said.


Both the starting kicker and punter return in 2016.

Greg Huegel was a walk on in August but won the job and became one of the most consistent — and best — kickers in the nation, booting a Football Bowl Subdivision-leading 27 field goals, going 17-for-17 on treys during regular season ACC games, and setting a school record for points in a single season with 138.

The All-American also showed he could come up big in big games. In Clemson’s Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma he was 3-for-4 on field goals and 4-for-4 on extra points. In the College Football National Championship Game against Alabama, Huegel connected on two field goals and all four of his PATs.

Punter Andy Teasdall averaged 38.1 net yards per punt and had 23 punts inside the 20 yards line with only one touchback.