Head Coach Dabo Swinney has always been an avid student of competitive greatness, notably the competitive stamina required for individuals, teams, businesses and others to not only succeed at the highest level, but to do so repeatedly.
After a one-year aberration in 2021, Swinney’s Tigers returned to the top of the ACC in 2022, parlaying Clemson’s competitive stamina into its seventh conference title of the last eight years and into the Tigers’ 12th consecutive 10-win season, the third-longest streak in FBS history. Clemson’s win in the 2022 ACC Championship Game also gave the Tigers at least one postseason win in 12 consecutive years, the longest streak in major college football history.
Swinney’s 2023 team will attempt to build on Clemson’s enduring recent foundation of competitive excellence, assimilating new leadership into its offense at offensive coordinator and at quarterback while welcoming three All-Americans, according to various outlets, back to its defensive front seven.
Let’s meet the 2023 Tigers unit-by-unit.
Clemson made arguably the biggest splash hire among assistant coaches in the 2023 offseason when Head Coach Dabo Swinney announced in January the hiring of Garrett Riley as Clemson’s Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach. Riley won the Broyles Award as the nation’s top assistant coach following his lone season at TCU in 2022 in which he helped turn the Horned Frogs from a 5-7 squad into a group that went 13-2 and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game.
In three years as an offensive coordinator prior to his arrival at Clemson at SMU (2020-21) and TCU (2022), all three Riley offenses finished in the top 15 nationally in scoring offense. His units as the coordinator at SMU and TCU from 2020-22 combined would rank third in the nation in points per game in that span at 38.6 points per game, trailing only Ohio State (44.0) and Alabama (43.0) in that stretch.
Riley’s 2022 TCU squad led the FBS with 22 plays from scrimmage of 50 yards or more. He envisions that same explosiveness being central to Clemson’s new offensive identity.
“We’re going to be violent and fast,” Riley said. “I think it starts there. No matter if we’re in the passing game or the run game, we’re going to attack.”
Riley will inherit an offensive line that returns four starters, one of the nation’s most versatile playmakers at running back and a highly touted quarterback whose skill set and mentality fits Riley’s aggressiveness.
Clemson’s transition at quarterback began in earnest in the first quarter of the 2022 ACC Championship Game when then-freshman Cade Klubnik (Austin, Texas) entered in Clemson’s third series and immediately engineered three consecutive touchdown drives followed by an end-of-half field goal drive. He earned MVP honors for that performance against No. 24 North Carolina after completing 20-of-24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown, rushing seven times for 30 yards with a rushing touchdown and recording a 19-yard reception. In his next game, Klubnik threw for 320 yards in his first career start in the 2022 Orange Bowl and now enters the spring as Clemson’s incumbent at the position.
Klubnik launched this ball into ORBIT 🚀Cole Turner with the 68-yard reception.@ClemsonFB | #ACCFootball📺 ABC pic.twitter.com/mRfryQzM0D— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) December 4, 2022
Klubnik launched this ball into ORBIT 🚀
Cole Turner with the 68-yard reception.@ClemsonFB | #ACCFootball
📺 ABC pic.twitter.com/mRfryQzM0D
— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) December 4, 2022
Klubnik was a consensus five-star prospect in Clemson’s 2022 recruiting class, and Riley inherited another top recruit at the position in the 2023 recruiting class in Christopher Vizzina (Birmingham, Ala.). Vizzina ranked among the nation’s top 50 prospects upon signing in December, and he enrolled in January to jumpstart his development in spring practice. Clemson also added veteran depth at the position in December, signing transfer Paul Tyson (Trussville, Ala.) after stints at Alabama (2019-21) and Arizona State (2022) to supplement fourth-year quarterback Hunter Helms (West Columbia, S.C.), an original walk-on who earned a scholarship prior to the 2021 season.
Clemson’s C.J. Spiller earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2021 as one of the most versatile and explosive players in the history of the sport. In his second season as Running Backs Coach at Clemson in 2022, he produced another of college football’s most versatile players as part of a deep unit that powered Clemson to a third-place ranking in the ACC in rushing yards.
Will Shipley (Weddington, N.C.) returns for his third season at Clemson as one of the program’s unquestioned leaders and heartbeats. In 2022, he was one of four finalists for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player. He was the only player in the nation to record at least 1,150 rushing yards, at least 200 receiving yards and at least 300 kickoff return yards, joining a pantheon of recent greats — Kansas State’s Darren Sproles (2004), USC’s Reggie Bush (2005), Cal’s Jahvid Best (2008), Spiller (2009), Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah (2014), Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey (2015 and 2016), Oklahoma’s Joe Mixon (2016) and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley (2017) — as the only Power Five players to hit those figures in every category in the previous 20 seasons.
we might watch this a million times. not joking. pic.twitter.com/Ngv37LtCgZ— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 13, 2022
we might watch this a million times. not joking. pic.twitter.com/Ngv37LtCgZ
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 13, 2022
Shipley became the first player in ACC history to earn first-team all-conference honors at three different positions, collecting first-team accolades in the running back, all-purpose and specialist categories. Perhaps most impressively, he achieved immense on-field success while simultaneously carrying a 4.0 cumulative GPA and becoming Clemson’s first Academic All-American since 2012.
Shipley’s close friend and roommate Phil Mafah (Loganville, Ga.) also returns for his third season following a career year as a sophomore. Mafah posted career highs in 2022, totaling 515 yards and four touchdowns on fewer than 100 carries, improving his yards-per-carry average by a full yard from his freshman campaign.
Joining Mafah among returning scholarship running backs is redshirt freshman Keith Adams Jr. (St. George, Utah). Adams is a Clemson legacy who bears the same physicality that was the hallmark of his father, Keith Adams Sr., a two-time All-America linebacker who won 1999 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and still holds Clemson’s single-season records for tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Domonique Thomas (Ohatchee, Ala.) returns for his second season at Clemson, as the powerful back nicknamed “Quadzilla” for his rotund thighs earned a scholarship last season after walking on following a family tragedy that prematurely ended the early portion of his college career at NAIA Union College in Kentucky.
Two signees coming off prodigious prep careers will bolster the room in the summer. Jay Haynes (Roanoke, Ala.) rushed for more than 2,600 yards his final two prep seasons, including a 476-yard effort in one game as a senior that ranked second in Alabama high school history. Jarvis Green (Irmo, S.C.) helped carry state powerhouse Dutch Fork to another state title as a senior in 2022 as part of a career in which he amassed more than 6,000 all-purpose yards.
Wide Receivers Coach Tyler Grisham made his name as a Clemson slot receiver from 2005-08 before moving on to a four-year NFL career. In his second season as Clemson’s wide receivers coach, his tutelage aided in the breakout season of another standout slot receiver.
Antonio Williams (Irmo, S.C.) earned Freshman All-America honors for a 2022 season in which he led Clemson in receptions (56) and receiving yards (604) while making 10 starts, the most by a Clemson freshman receiver since Hunter Renfrow’s redshirt freshman season (10 in 2015) and the most by a true freshman receiver at Clemson since Sammy Watkins (10 in 2011). Williams became the first true freshman to lead Clemson in receiving yards since Justyn Ross in 2018 and the first to lead in receptions since Artavis Scott in 2014.
Antonio Williams making it look TOO easy. Huge TD for the @dfhsfootball product pic.twitter.com/XT3UI0LVuf— Julia Westerman (@JuliaWesterman) October 16, 2022
Antonio Williams making it look TOO easy. Huge TD for the @dfhsfootball product pic.twitter.com/XT3UI0LVuf
— Julia Westerman (@JuliaWesterman) October 16, 2022
Williams was one of three scholarship true freshmen at receiver last year, including Adam Randall (Myrtle Beach, S.C.) and Cole Turner (Vestavia Hills, Ala.). Randall was in the midst of a head-turning set of practices before tearing his ACL last spring and spending the fall trying to play his way back into shape. Turner, despite redshirting, tied the Clemson record for the fewest games needed to record a 100-yard receiving performance when he gained 101 yards in his second career game in the 2022 ACC Championship Game.
we all remember this play.Welcome to College Football @ColeTurnerTwo. pic.twitter.com/HPlov1RNfe— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) December 6, 2022
we all remember this play.
Welcome to College Football @ColeTurnerTwo. pic.twitter.com/HPlov1RNfe
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) December 6, 2022
Clemson’s active leader in career receiving yards is junior Beaux Collins (Los Angeles, Calif.), who has compiled 780 yards and eight touchdowns in his first two seasons at Clemson. Before being slowed by injuries late in the year, he got off to a hot start in 2022, becoming the first Clemson player to catch a touchdown in each of the first four games of a season since Sammy Watkins in 2011.
Beaux is averaging a casual 34.3 yards per catch. Yes. You read that correctly. 📺ESPN | @beaux_collins pic.twitter.com/Ek5wJxmoNc— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 20, 2021
Beaux is averaging a casual 34.3 yards per catch.
Yes. You read that correctly.
📺ESPN | @beaux_collins pic.twitter.com/Ek5wJxmoNc
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 20, 2021
After losing significant time early in his career to COVID-19, respiratory symptoms and gastroesophageal reflux disease, Brannon Spector (Calhoun, Ga.) returned in 2022 and scored touchdowns at Wake Forest and Boston College among his 15 receptions. Third-year receiver Troy Stellato (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) will attempt to replicate Spector’s blueprint for a successful return after missing the 2022 season with a knee injury suffered in preseason practice. Fellow third-year receiver Will Taylor (Irmo, S.C.) will again split his spring between football and baseball, as the twitchy receiver also ranks among the nation’s top Major League Baseball prospects.
Clemson signed four wide receivers in its 2023 recruiting class. Noble Johnson (Rockwall, Texas) is a midyear enrollee expected to participate in spring practice. He will be joined in the summer by Tyler Brown (Greenville, S.C.), Ronan Hanafin (Cambridge, Mass.) and Misun “Tink” Kelley (Daniel, S.C.), the last of whom was recruited as an athlete but is expected to start his career at receiver.
Passing Game Coordinator/Tight Ends Coach Kyle Richardson proclaimed himself to be “a pig in mud” in 2023, as the arrival of Offensive Coordinator Garrett Riley meant Richardson’s return to the Air Raid system he learned from system patriarch Hal Mumme at Southeastern Louisiana, a system Richardson ran to near-perfection during a remarkable high school coaching career at Rock Hill’s Northwestern High School.
The NFL departure of four-year contributor Davis Allen creates opportunity for Clemson’s next wave of tight ends, the most prolific of whom to date has been now-third-year tight end Jake Briningstool. Per the 247Sports Composite, the native of Brentwood, Tenn., was the nation’s top-rated tight end in the class of 2021, two spots ahead of reigning Mackey Award recipient Brock Bowers. Briningstool posted career highs in receptions (25), receiving yards (285) and receiving touchdowns (four) in an elevated role of nearly 400 offensive snaps in 2022.
Briningstool got UP on this TD! 🏈📺 – ABC pic.twitter.com/ekowDRW31U— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 2, 2022
Briningstool got UP on this TD! 🏈
📺 – ABC pic.twitter.com/ekowDRW31U
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 2, 2022
Sage Ennis (Graceville, Fla.) enters his fourth year as a veteran of 278 offensive snaps over 31 career games. The other returning scholarship tight end is Josh Sapp (Greenville, S.C.), a Clemson legacy who redshirted last year and is the son of Patrick Sapp, a former Clemson quarterback-turned-linebacker who was a second-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft. The group will be joined in the summer by scholarship signees Markus Dixon (Philadelphia, Pa.) and Olsen Patt Henry (Naples, Fla.).
A year after Clemson battled season-long attrition and turnover along the offensive line in 2021, Offensive Line Coach Thomas Austin benefited from continuity in his first season on the job in 2022. Clemson played only three offensive line combinations over 14 games in 2022 after playing seven different combinations over 13 games in 2021. In 2022, four different offensive linemen played at least 900 offensive snaps for the second time in team history.
Clemson’s only scholarship departure from its 2022 offensive line group was Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner Jordan McFadden, as Clemson’s returning offensive linemen combined for 4,281 of the unit’s 5,100+ offensive snaps in 2022. Four starters return, three of whom excelled in new positions.
Will Putnam (Tampa, Fla.) is now the unit’s elder statesman. A key reserve in 2019 and two-year starter at guard from 2020-21, Putnam seamlessly transitioned to center in 2022, earning All-ACC recognition in his first season in the position. Putnam enters 2023 having played 2,611 snaps from scrimmage, already the 19th-most in Clemson history, over 47 career games with 36 starts.
Will Putnam's father, Col. Neil Putnam, served 30 years in the United States Army, including 24 years as a member of the Special Forces regiment known commonly as Green Berets.On Saturday, @BigWillPut was selected to lead the team down the hill with the American flag. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/E6K9y5hWEZ— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 14, 2022
Will Putnam's father, Col. Neil Putnam, served 30 years in the United States Army, including 24 years as a member of the Special Forces regiment known commonly as Green Berets.
On Saturday, @BigWillPut was selected to lead the team down the hill with the American flag. 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/E6K9y5hWEZ
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 14, 2022
Putnam’s roommate, Walker Parks (Lexington, Ky.), returns for his third year as a starter in 2022 as a veteran of nearly 2,000 career snaps over 37 games with 26 starts. After serving as Clemson’s starting right tackle in 2021, Parks started all 13 games in which he appeared in 2022 at right guard, a move that created room for Freshman All-American Blake Miller (Strongsville, Ohio) to start all 14 games and play 989 offensive snaps at right tackle. An opening-day starter, Miller joined Mitch Hyatt (2015) and Phil Prince (1944) as the only Clemson true freshmen since 1944 to start a season opener at offensive tackle.
Attack the week like @BlakeMillerOT 😤 pic.twitter.com/iyBWVH3Ti8— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 3, 2022
Attack the week like @BlakeMillerOT 😤 pic.twitter.com/iyBWVH3Ti8
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) October 3, 2022
Marcus Tate (Sunrise, Fla.) enters his third season having started 19 of his 24 career games at Clemson, including each of the first 11 games of 2022 at left guard prior to suffering a season-ending knee injury. The injury created opportunity for now-fourth-year lineman Mitchell Mayes (Raleigh, N.C.), who played a career-high 405 snaps with four starts at guard — one in place of an injured Parks and three in place of an injured Tate.
Surgeries and rehab are expected to preclude Parks and Tate from participating in the spring, which Head Coach Dabo Swinney has called a “blessing in disguise” as Clemson seeks to see which members of its crowded second unit from a year ago are ready to step into more prominent roles with the benefit of added practice reps. The veterans of that group are fourth-year linemen Bryn Tucker (Knoxville, Tenn.), Trent Howard (Birmingham, Ala.) and John Williams (Canton, Ga.), all of whom were part of the same 2020 recruiting class as Mayes. Tucker and Howard have played 127 and 125 career offensive snaps, respectively, while a season-long injury in 2021 helped limit Williams to only 29 career snaps to date.
Tristan Leigh (Fairfax, Va.), Ryan Linthicum (Damascus, Md.) and Dietrick Pennington (Memphis, Tenn.) all enter their third seasons in the program in search of a redshirt sophomore leap. Clemson’s group has been vocally bullish on Collin Sadler (Greenville, S.C.) as he enters his second season in the program after a redshirt year in 2022.
All three of Clemson’s scholarship signees along the offensive line enrolled in January and will get a head start in spring practice. The talented and agile Texas two-step of Ian Reed (Austin, Texas) and Harris Sewell (Odessa, Texas) is joined by mammoth interior presence Zack Owens (Covington, Ga.), who arrived on campus in January north of 350 pounds.
In his first full season as defensive coordinator, Wes Goodwin helped Clemson rank in the Top 25 nationally in points allowed per game (22nd, 20.9), rushing yards allowed per game (13th, 102.7), yards allowed per carry (ninth, 3.25), sacks (tied for fourth, 44), tackles for loss (second, 111) and passes defensed (ninth, 77). Among ACC teams on a per-game average, Goodwin’s unit ranked first in tackles for loss, second in passes defensed, third in rush defense, third in sacks, tied for third in opponent first downs, fourth in scoring defense, and fifth in interceptions. Goodwin’s unit reached those statistical heights despite significant turnover in the back seven that resulted in the departure of five 2021 starters with an incredible 269 combined games of experience.
This year, led by two stars in his linebacker group that emerged following those departures as well as some surprise returners, Goodwin’s unit will attempt to continue to build upon the defensive foundation that has helped propel Clemson to seven of the last eight ACC titles.
Many at Clemson felt the program recorded a coup in welcoming former Clemson defensive tackle Nick Eason home in 2022 as the team’s Defensive Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Tackles Coach after 17 seasons as an NFL player and coach and one year coaching at Auburn. Those inclinations were proven right both on and off the field, as his unit’s on-field performance was supplemented by his selection by 247Sports as the ACC’s Recruiter of the Year.
While the unit was hit by the departure of prospective first-round pick Bryan Bresee, it received a jolt from the unexpected returns of Tyler Davis (Apopka, Fla.) and Ruke Orhorhoro (Lagos, Nigeria via River Rouge, Mich.), two now-fifth-year players who elected to return to Clemson despite receiving positive draft grades from NFL talent evaluators. Davis was a 2022 FWAA All-American who already stands tied with Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and William Perry (three each) for the most career All-ACC selections by a defensive tackle in Clemson history. Orhorhoro posted 8.0 tackles for loss, 4.0 sacks, five pass breakups, nine quarterback pressures and a fumble recovery in 14 games with nine starts to earn third-team All-ACC honors from Phil Steele and Pro Football Focus in 2022.
Tré Williams (Windsor, Conn.) and DeMonte Capehart (Hartsville, S.C.) are entering their fourth seasons at Clemson in 2023. Williams was a key cog in Clemson’s defensive rotation amid a rash of injuries to the unit in 2021, playing 243 defensive snaps over 11 games with one start that year and contributing 142 snaps in 12 games in 2022. Injuries and depth limited Capehart in his first two seasons, but he emerged in rotational duty late in 2022, including a three-tackle performance in 17 snaps in the Orange Bowl.
Third-year junior Payton Page (Greensboro, N.C.) flashed in his 200-plus snaps over 14 games in 2022, as the sizable interior presence recorded 3.5 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and a blocked field goal. Redshirt freshman Caden Story (Lanett, Ala.) rounds out the returning scholarship players at the position.
Eason’s Recruiter of the Year bona fides were further legitimized in January upon the arrival of three heralded defensive tackle recruits as midyear enrollees. Peter Woods (Alabaster, Ala.) was a Rivals five-star prospect and ESPN’s No. 9 overall recruit in the nation as a four-time 7A state champion in Alabama, and he is joined at the position by two Peach State standouts: Vic Burley (Warner Robins, Ga.), the reigning Georgia 5A Defensive Player of the Year, and Stephiylan Green (Rome, Ga.), whom On3 ranked among the nation’s top 50 players across all positions in the class of 2023.
Eason’s NFL experience is supplemented further along Clemson’s defensive line by the presence of nine-year NFL veteran Lemanski Hall as Defensive Ends Coach. Hall’s unit helped Clemson’s defense record 44 sacks in 2022, and the Tigers have reached the 40-sack milestone in nine consecutive seasons — every year of the CFP era — while no other program has exceeded five such seasons in that span.
In 2018, many suspected Xavier Thomas (Florence, S.C.) would parlay his status as a consensus top-five recruit nationally into a “three-and-done” college career en route to the NFL. Thomas has showcased his immense ability at Clemson despite publicly battling COVID-19, depression and illness-related weight gain in his career plus a foot injury that cost him all but 52 defensive snaps in 2022. He elected to return for his sixth season at Clemson credited already with 30 career tackles for loss, 14.5 sacks and five forced fumbles amid his 49 career games with the Tigers.
Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths" pic.twitter.com/AQkziFxaDc— Xavier Thomas (@atxlete) January 5, 2023
Proverbs 3:5-6 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths" pic.twitter.com/AQkziFxaDc
— Xavier Thomas (@atxlete) January 5, 2023
Also returning for a sixth season is Justin Mascoll (Snellville, Ga.), a veteran and trusted option on the edge who has already logged more than 1,100 snaps in 53 career games with 13 starts in his career while rotating with a bevy of defensive ends who will be plying their craft in the NFL in 2023.
The NFL departures of K.J. Henry and Myles Murphy (and their combined 65 tackles for loss and 31 sacks in 96 combined career games) have opened playing time windows for Clemson’s other defensive ends. Cade Denhoff (Plant City, Fla.) and Zaire Patterson (Winston-Salem, N.C.) are both entering their redshirt sophomore seasons. Jahiem Lawson (Central, S.C.), the younger brother of former Clemson All-American and current NFL defensive end Shaq Lawson, also returns after redshirting in 2022.
Clemson added three defensive ends in its 2023 recruiting class. T.J. Parker continued Clemson’s recent pipeline from Phenix City, Alabama’s Central High School and enrolled at Clemson in January. This summer, he will be joined by David Ojiegbe (Largo, Md.) and A.J. Hoffler (Stuart, Fla. via Atlanta, Ga.) as part of Clemson’s infusion of youth at the position.
Arguably no position group faced a steeper learning curve for 2022 than the linebackers, a unit that had to replace 69-game veteran and multi-time All-ACC selection James Skalski and 53-game veteran and current Buffalo Bill Baylon Spector. In his first season overseeing the unit, Linebackers Coach Wes Goodwin masterfully developed a pair of precocious talents that now enter 2023 as one of college football’s premier linebacking duos.
Upon his arrival at Clemson in 2021, there was no doubting the football pedigree of Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (Hainesport, N.J.), the son of “Axe Man” Jeremiah Trotter, a four-time Pro Bowler and veteran of 12 NFL seasons. In his first season as Clemson’s Mike linebacker, “Axe Man Jr.” was a revelation, earning second-team All-America honors from the Associated Press after starting all 14 games and leading the team in tackles (92) and tackles for loss (13.5), tying for the team lead in sacks (6.5) and adding six pass breakups, a forced fumble and an interception return for a touchdown. He was one of only three Power Five players in 2022 to reach at least 13 tackles for loss, six sacks and return an interception for a touchdown, joining two-time Nagurski Award winner Will Anderson Jr. of Alabama and national championship participant Dee Winters of TCU, and Trotter was the only member of that trio also to produce a forced fumble.
Came out the woodworks now no need to axe bout me🪓 pic.twitter.com/0IeyO6D6mT— Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (@TrotterJr54) January 25, 2023
Came out the woodworks now no need to axe bout me🪓 pic.twitter.com/0IeyO6D6mT
— Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (@TrotterJr54) January 25, 2023
Trotter’s running mate at the position in the 2021 recruiting class was Barrett Carter (Suwanee, Ga.), a fluid athlete whom Dabo Swinney has repeatedly called “one of the best pure football players I’ve had in 20 years.” Carter earned fourth-team All-America status from Phil Steele after he posted 77 tackles (10.5 for loss), 5.5 sacks, eight pass breakups, two interceptions and two forced fumbles in a unit-high 832 snaps over 13 games (all starts) in 2022. Prior to Carter and two others in 2022, the last two Power Five conference players to reach 10 tackles for loss, five sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in a season were Georgia’s Nakobe Dean in 2021 and Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons in 2019, years in which both players won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
Barrett. Carter. Remember the name. 🤯 @bcsznn pic.twitter.com/doSO5dduDw— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 13, 2022
Remember the name. 🤯 @bcsznn pic.twitter.com/doSO5dduDw
Clemson’s coaching staff is confident in its ability to replace NFL-bound linebacker Trenton Simpson in part because of the eye-opening performance of now-sophomore Wade Woodaz (Tampa, Fla.) down the stretch in 2022. Woodaz blocked a punt in his first career game, and late in the season, his versatility helped him start the ACC Championship Game at safety and serve as the team’s primary Sam linebacker — and record two tackles for loss — in Simpson’s absence in the Orange Bowl.
This is what it's all about. #ClemsonFamily@WadeWoodaz_ pic.twitter.com/fgRFPTPp7j— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 7, 2022
This is what it's all about. #ClemsonFamily@WadeWoodaz_ pic.twitter.com/fgRFPTPp7j
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) September 7, 2022
The unit will seek to further develop two second-year players who redshirted a season ago: T.J. Dudley (Montgomery, Ala.) and Kobe McCloud (Tampa, Fla.). Goodwin also added two true freshmen at the position in the 2023 recruiting class, securing the signatures of midyear enrollees Dee Crayton (Alpharetta, Ga.) and Jamal Anderson (Buford, Ga.), the latter of whom is the son of the eight-year NFL running back and former All-Pro of the same name.
Now entering his 11th season guiding Clemson’s cornerbacks, Assistant Head Coach/Cornerbacks Coach Mike Reed is Clemson’s longest-tenured position coach. He produced both first-team All-ACC corners in 2021 and oversaw a breakout stretch run by a young member of his unit in 2022.
Nate Wiggins (Atlanta, Ga.), called by teammates and coaches as one of Clemson’s most naturally gifted corners in recent memory, made a sophomore leap down the stretch of his second season in 2022. His 12 pass breakups were one shy of the Clemson sophomore record of 13 shared by James Lott (1987) and Justin Miller (2003) and were the most by a Clemson defender of any classification in a season since Coty Sensabaugh’s 13 in 2011. His highlight 98-yard interception return in the ACC Championship Game was the longest play in the game’s history and the second-longest interception in Clemson history.
Oh my goodness Nate Wiggins!!!A 98 yard pick six – that’s the longest interception returned for a touchdown in #ACCFCG history.@ClemsonFB | #ACCFootball 📺 ABC pic.twitter.com/mLESblWnL2— ACC Football (@ACCFootball) December 4, 2022
Oh my goodness Nate Wiggins!!!
A 98 yard pick six – that’s the longest interception returned for a touchdown in #ACCFCG history.@ClemsonFB | #ACCFootball
📺 ABC pic.twitter.com/mLESblWnL2
Wiggins will once again benefit from the accessibility of veteran wisdom, as Sheridan Jones (Norfolk, Va.) opted to use his free year of eligibility from the COVID-19 pandemic to return for a fifth season at Clemson. Jones started all 10 games in which he appeared in 2022, pushing his career totals to 48 games and 21 starts.
Two of Clemson’s cornerback signees in 2022 — Toriano Pride Jr. (St. Louis, Mo.) and Jeadyn Lukus (Mauldin, S.C.) — each had moments to shine in their true freshman campaigns. Pride notched an interception in Clemson’s prime-time win against No. 10 NC State and recorded a safety against Miami (Fla.), while Lukus snagged a highlight-reel interception of North Carolina’s Drake Maye in the ACC Championship Game. The duo comprised two of Clemson’s three cornerback signees in 2022, joining Myles Oliver (Villa Rica, Ga.), who missed every game except the Orange Bowl in 2022 while rehabbing from shoulder surgery.
Former @Mauldin_Athl Jeadyn Lukus (@jlukus04) hauled in his first career interception. pic.twitter.com/pjHLg2bzkU— Mitchel Summers (@MitchSummersTV) December 4, 2022
Former @Mauldin_Athl Jeadyn Lukus (@jlukus04) hauled in his first career interception. pic.twitter.com/pjHLg2bzkU
— Mitchel Summers (@MitchSummersTV) December 4, 2022
Clemson added another trio of cornerbacks in its 2023 recruiting class. Shelton Lewis (Stockbridge, Ga.) immediately impressed coaches and teammates during bowl practices after enrolling early. The group will welcome Branden Strozier (Lovejoy, Ga.) and Avieon Terrell (Atlanta, Ga.) this summer. Terrell is the younger brother of former Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell, now an All-Pro performer for the Atlanta Falcons.
Goodwin and Reed weren’t the only Clemson defensive coaches facing the departure of substantial experience from their 2021 units in 2022. While replacing 65-game veteran safety Nolan Turner, Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties Coach Mickey Conn mixed and matched his safeties in 2022 while helping Clemson to its 10th consecutive top-25 finish in scoring defense at 20.9 points per game.
The most veteran member of Conn’s safety group is Jalyn Phillips (Lawrenceville, Ga.), who elected to use his free COVID year to return for a fifth season at Clemson. Named by his teammates as a permanent team captain in 2022, Phillips started all 14 games, finished second on the team in tackles (82), and added four pass breakups, an interception, and a fumble recovery in 667 defensive snaps.
Clemson also welcomes back a pair of productive safeties with prominent last names for their fourth years in the program. R.J. Mickens (Southlake, Texas), son of nine-year NFL veteran Ray Mickens, is Clemson’s active career leader in interceptions (five), while Tyler Venables (Clemson, S.C.), son of former Clemson coordinator and current Oklahoma coach Brent Venables, has fashioned himself into a key defensive and special teams contributor in playing 34 games over the last three seasons.
R.J. MICKENS WITH THE INT TO SEAL THE WIN FOR @ClemsonFB! pic.twitter.com/6f0LtmpjaK— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 22, 2022
R.J. MICKENS WITH THE INT TO SEAL THE WIN FOR @ClemsonFB! pic.twitter.com/6f0LtmpjaK
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) October 22, 2022
Andrew Mukuba (Austin, Texas) was the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021 but battled through elbow, knee and ankle injuries in 2022 while starting at both safety and cornerback at various points of the season. Clemson’s scholarship safety group will also include two second-year players: Sherrod Covil Jr. (Chesapeake, Va.), who played 13 games in his debut season in 2022, and Kylon Griffin (Montgomery, Ala.), who appeared in two games while redshirting.
FIRST PLAY INT‼️‼️Clemson’s Andrew Mukuba comes down with the pick for the Tigers😧pic.twitter.com/DorfsbvCaF— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 6, 2022
FIRST PLAY INT‼️‼️
Clemson’s Andrew Mukuba comes down with the pick for the Tigers😧pic.twitter.com/DorfsbvCaF
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 6, 2022
Two of Clemson’s three signees at safety in the class of 2023 joined the program as midyear enrollees. Khalil Barnes (Athens, Ga.) was a multi-time player-of-the-year honoree in his district in Georgia, and Kylen Webb (Tampa, Fla.) was a multi-position and multi-sport athlete at Florida’s Sumner High School. Milton High School’s Rob Billings (Atlanta, Ga.) will round out the trio in the summer.
Director of Special Teams Bill Spiers and Special Teams Coordinator Mike Reed will be in the market for a new placekicker for the first time since the 2019 offseason, as gone from Clemson’s group is B.T. Potter, who tied the Clemson record for games played (69) and exited holding school records in field goals (73), PATs (234), points by a placekicker (453), consecutive PATs made (the first 122 and last 112 of his career on either side of his lone miss), starts by a placekicker (54), yards on field goals (2,716), field goals of 40-plus yards (34) and field goals of 50-plus yards (nine).
Robert Gunn III (Seminole, Fla.) effectively served a year in residence as Potter’s understudy in his freshman campaign in 2022. He enters his redshirt freshman season as the lone placekicker on scholarship, but he is joined by returning walk-ons Liam Boyd, Quinn Castner and Hogan Morton in competition for that spot in 2023.
Clemson’s roster features two scholarship punters. Redshirt senior Aidan Swanson (Tampa, Fla.) averaged 42.3 yards per punt in his first season as Clemson’s starter at the position in 2022, and Jack Smith (Saraland, Ala.) made his collegiate debut with a 47-yard punt in the ACC Championship Game amid a redshirt season.
Clemson split its snapping duties in 2022, and both long snappers are slated to return for 2023. Both Holden Caspersen (Roswell, Ga.) and Philip Florenzo (Towson, Md.) played in all 14 games a year ago, as Caspersen served as Clemson’s snapper on punts while Florenzo handled snaps on placekicks.