Note: The following appears in the Syracuse gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $6 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
One of tight end Jordan Leggett’s first memories of playing football centers around catching his first interception as a linebacker with his brother in a junior league.
“Those were the glory days of my football career,” reminisced Leggett with a smile. “I decided that day that I’d stick with football, and it ended up working out.”
Fast forward to 2016, and Leggett is no longer on defense. He is well on his way to becoming one of the best tight ends in Clemson history.
Leggett already holds the school record for receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 15 and is nearing records for receptions and receiving yards by a tight end. Last year, he was one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which is awarded to the nation’s top tight end.
Leggett credits his shift to offense to his brother, but there was an even bigger decision that his brother also influenced…the choice to come to college.
“We’re so close in age. He’s only a year older than me, so we were always hanging out, and most of my friends were his friends because I used to play up in leagues because of my size.
“We played high school football together. We were both receivers. He was #5 and I was #6. We had a really special bond and he’s the reason I chose to come onto offense and start catching the ball.
“One of the bigger moments of my life was when he went off to college. He’s the oldest in the group, and I’ve always looked up to him. He’s my hero. Seeing him go off to college set the stage for me to think that I wanted to do the same thing and set the same kind of goals.”
Once he set the goal to continue his education at a university, he received his first offer from Clemson, and it was the family atmosphere that sold him.
“It’s really hard to say,” explained Leggett of why he chose to become a Tiger. “Clemson was my first offer. I came up to camps and junior days, and I liked everything about it.
“I came up for a South Carolina game, and we didn’t happen to win that game, but walking around the parking lots with all the tailgaters, they gave it a really cool feeling. It felt very family oriented and somewhere I felt like I could see myself growing up for the next four years.”
Leggett has been involved in a number of big games from the beginning of his career in Tigertown, with a primetime matchup against Georgia in Death Valley being his first game in orange and purple. A player whose favorite tradition is running down the Hill, that first time was something Leggett will remember forever.
“My first game was actually a pretty big one,” he remembered. “It was the Georgia game in 2013 and ESPN College GameDay was here. It was pretty wild. Warming up and seeing the stands completely full and then riding the bus around and getting to the Rock and seeing the whole sea of orange…it’s hard to talk about, but it was so surreal. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Other notable games that Leggett has been a part of include last season’s memorable victory over Notre Dame, his favorite memory in a Clemson uniform, as well as one that left him with a sense of unfinished business and was a big reason he decided to return for his senior season…the national championship game against Alabama.
“Not winning the national championship last year left me with a weird taste in my mouth. We came so close, just a few plays short. In the locker room afterwards, someone asked me if I was going to stay, and that was the first time when I was said, ‘Yes, I’m going to stay.’
“I’ve had that chip on my shoulder the whole year. It’s what I’ve been playing for. I wanted to have another shot at it before I left.”
Since electing to come back for one final year, Leggett believes the three seasons of experience he has under his belt help him to serve as a role model, for not only other tight ends, but also the rest of the team as a whole.
“I believe I definitely bring the experience to the table,” stated #16. “I played in every game last year. I’m not a very vocal guy, but I like to lead by example. It starts in our room with the tight ends, and I try to lead by example and let them lead by example as well.
“We try to let it show in practice and on the field by how we carry ourselves. I want our segment to be a segment that people turn to if they need anything or look up to and see that we’re doing the right thing.”
An explosive player with the ball in his hands, Leggett wants his final season to be one where he also grows as a playmaker without the ball, taking him back to his roots as a linebacker on a junior team.
“Coach (Dabo) Swinney came out with this board at the beginning of the year, and it said, ‘What will you do to help us get to Tampa?’ I said that I want to become a better player without the ball in my hands, and that can go as far as blocking and pass protecting.
“Off the field, that can come with being a good teammate and a good student. I’m trying to be as patient as possible. The ball is going to come to me when it’s time.”
National championship or not, Leggett is enjoying the journey, and he is grateful for all the opportunities that Clemson has provided him during his time here.
“My Clemson experience has been awesome,” he expressed. “I wouldn’t trade any of it for the world. If I had to do it all over again, I would pick Clemson every time.
“It’s been special. I feel like I know this place inside and out, and to see it change over time has been pretty cool. I’ll definitely be back here to visit after I’m done playing.”
Leggett wants to return the favor by leaving Clemson better than he found it, and he believes the standard of excellence that he tries to hold himself to both on and off the field is one impact that will be felt long after he leaves Tigertown.
“I want to leave a legacy of setting the bar high and trying to match my potential,” reflected Leggett. “I want people to remember me not only as a great guy, but also a great student, a good friend and hopefully one of the best tight ends to ever play in this stadium.”
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