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Tigers Prepare For Spring Practice

Tigers Prepare For Spring Practice

March 15, 2000

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Clemson Football Outlook for 2000 At times in 1999, the Clemson Tigers and Head Coach Tommy Bowden were able to ambush the opposition. The 1998 Tigers had posted just two Division I victories and those were recorded against teams that had a combined total of four victories. Clemson entered the 1999 campaign with no returning starters in the offensive line for the first time since 1943, and the defense had lost six players to the NFL, the only defense in the nation that had to overcome such a talent loss.

Ambushed! That’s how Virginia must have felt in the second game of the year when the Tigers had a 33-0 lead just 35 minutes into the game. It is how North Carolina felt when Clemson ended a three-game losing streak to the Tar Heels with a convincing 31-20 victory.

“Who were those guys,” must have been the feeling for the coaching staffs at Marshall, Virginia Tech and Florida State. Marshall and Florida State escaped with three-point victories, while the Hokies had just a 17-11 lead with five minutes left before scoring late on a couple of Tiger miscues. Those were the only three undefeated teams at the end of the regular season last year, a prime reason Clemson played the third toughest schedule in college football last year.

Clemson concluded the 1999 season as one of the surprise teams of college football. At least that is how ABC television felt at the end of the regular season. Clemson finished the year with a 6-6 overall record, a second-place finish in the ACC standings and a bid to the Peach Bowl. The Tigers ended the regular season ranked 19th in the nation in the Sagarin poll. In addition to the six wins, Clemson earned considerable respect for his performances in those narrow defeats to the teams that played in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship.

As the Clemson program looks to the year 2000, a surprise attack won’t be in the cards for Tommy Bowden program. Clemson was the sixth most improved team in college football for the regular season last year and with the return of 16 starters and 52 lettermen, the Tigers won’t be able to ambush any opponents in 2000.

Clemson returns eight starters on an offense that gained 403 yards a game in total offense, third highest average in school history. That returning starter total does not include quarterback Woodrow Dantzler, who actually played more snaps than starting signal caller Brandon Streeter.

All five offensive linemen return, including first-team Academic All-American Kyle Young and honorable mention All-ACC tackle Akil Smith. Returning offensive leaders include Biletnikoff Award candidate Rod Gardner, who had 80 catches and 1084 yards receiving last year to set Clemson season records. Travis Zachery had a productive sophomore season, as he rushed for 820 yards and scored 16 touchdowns to rank ninth in the nation in scoring.

The defense also returns eight starters, including the team’s top five tacklers and top five players in terms of tackles for loss. The contingent is led by senior safety Robert Carswell and junior All-American inside linebacker Keith Adams. They are Thorpe and Butkus Award candidates, respectively. Carswell set a school record for tackles by a defensive back and finished 10th in the nation in interceptions, while Adams had a school record and nation leading 186 tackles, including 35 tackles for loss.

Despite the returning experience players, the 1999 ACC Coach of the Year says there is much work to be done. “We have 16 starters back, but we need to close the gap between the first and second team. We have too much distance there and we won’t be able to challenge Florida State and the other good teams on our schedule until we have more competition for those positions.

This is especially true in the offensive line. I don’t want to go another season playing just five offensive linemen.

“We are also looking for new leaders on this team. That is something you must have every year. We had just a few scholarship seniors last year, but we had outstanding leadership from that class. Every team needs to develope a strong chemistry.

“Obviously we are also looking to improve our kicking game this Spring and fall. The starters at those two positions probably won’t be known until the fall.”

Clemson made great strides in the first year of the Bowden era, but there are higher goals on the horizon. “We had some accomplishments last year, but this team has higher goals. We are far from a content. Clemson has not won a bowl game or finished in the final top 25 since 1993. There is a lot of work to be done.”

Offense (8 returning starters 25 returning lettermen) While the outlook for the Clemson offense is bright, Bowden still must replace some very productive players. Brandon Streeter had an injury plagued year, but still left Clemson with nine school records. He finished his career ranked first in school history in completion percentage and was fourth total completions. His 343-yard passing performance against Virginia in the second game of the year, a statement game for Bowden’s program, was a school record. He left Clemson with three of the top four passing games in school history.

And, those records don’t even begin to document his leadership abilities. “Brandon was a fighter, a guy the players rallied around,” said Bowden. “Time and again he came back from injury last year and he earned the respect of everyone on that team. We had a small senior class last year, but with guys like Brandon Streeter we weren’t lacking in terms of senior leadership last year.”

Two other senior leaders who will be missed are wide receivers Brian Wofford and Mal Lawyer. The classmates left Clemson as the top receiving duo in Clemson history. They combined to catch 239 passes for over 3112 yards in their careers. They provided many big plays for a Clemson offense that set school records in passing yardage, passing yards per game and total completions.

There are capable players waiting in the wings as Clemson football heads into the next century with an offensive attack that is the nouveau riche of college football. Bowden and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez will welcome back players who accounted for 90 percent of the rushing yardage, 85 percent of the offensive touchdowns, 64 percent of the touchdown passes 65.5 percent of the total offense and 61 percent of the reception yardage.

Woodrow Dantzler is the number-one quarterback, but he will be tested by red-shirt freshman Willie Simmons and red-shirt sophomore Matt Schell. Dantzler started five of the 12 games at quarterback last year. He was the most productive number-two quarterback in Clemson history, as he gained 2094 yards of total offense30th best in the nation.

Streeter suffered multiple injuries last year, allowing Dantzler to get his chance. “Woodrow is the starter and Willie and Matt will compete for the job,” said Bowden. “This is an offense where there are a lot of opportunities for the quarterback to make plays. With five wide receivers much of the time, a quarterback needs a lot of reps to be successful. Woody has done that in big games on TV, playing from behind and with the lead.

“Willie showed us great potential in practice last year and as a high school player. He has shown us that he can pick up the offense mentally. He got some experience last year as the number-two quarterback when Brandon was injured. In the Florida State game when Woody got hurt, the helmet was on and the chinstrap was buckled. That was how close we were to him playing. But, fortunately we didn’t have to burn a year. It was the perfect situation for Willie, he practiced as the number-two quarterback, but didn’t lose a year.”

Dantzler, a junior from Orangeburg, SC, completed 112-201 passes for 1506 yards and nine scores in the 10 games he played. His regular season passing efficiency of 131.7 was ranked 31st in the nation. Although he started just five games at quarterback (and one at wide receiver), he actually played more snaps than Streeter (549-401). He ranked second on the Clemson team in rushing with 588 yards in 146 attempts and scored four touchdowns. The rushing total was the most by a Clemson quarterback in 21 years. He averaged 209 yards a game in total offense, second highest per game average in Clemson history for a season.

Dantlzer showed his all-around abilities in the victory at Maryland. He completed 16-23 passes for 252 yards through the air, and rushed for 183 yards in 22 attempts over land. The 435 yards of total offense broke the single game Clemson total offense mark, a record that had stood for 52 years. At the conclusion of the season Dantzler was actually mentioned as a 2000 Heisman candidate by ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski and CBS commentator Tim Brando.

While Dantlzer’s numbers were impressive, he will have competition for his starting job, a healthy state for the Clemson offense. Freshman Willie Simmons came to Clemson last year from the state of Florida with outstanding credentials and the gifted athlete will give Dantzler considerable competition. Simmons passed for 2505 yards and 32 touchdowns his senior year at Shanks HS and he rushed for 510 yards and scored 10 on the ground. He threw 96 touchdowns passes in his high school career. Matt Schell, in his third year in the program, played quarterback in one game a year ago, and continues to improve.

Bowden’s unique offense uses a plethora of wide receivers. He plans to take 10 receivers to road games this year and he started four wideouts in most games last year. The receiving corps will have some openings to fill in light of the graduation of Wofford and Lawyer. They will be big shoes to fill, as Wofford caught 60 passes last year for 793 yards and three scores, while Lawyer had 39 catches in 1999 and 99 for his four-year career.

Returning to lead the group is All-America candidate Rod Gardner. The 6-3 receiver set Clemson records for receptions (80), reception yards (1084), yards per game (90.4) and receptions per game (6.7). Only one team held him to less than five catches last season and he ranked 17th in the country in receptions per game and 23rd in reception yards per game.

“We could see in spring practice last year that Rod would have a big impact in this offense,” said Bowden. “He has the speed and strength to play at the next level. One more year in this offense, and an additional year in the weight room will make him one of the top receivers in the country this year. He has great hands and leaping ability. He is going to come down with most 50-50 balls.”

Gardner became just the second Clemson receiver in the last 20 years to rank in the top 20 in the nation in receptions per game. He has already jumped into the top six in school history in total receptions and needs just 54 to break Terry Smith’s record for total receptions. He is also in the top 10 in recepton yardage.

While Clemson lost two returning starters at the wide receiver position, two do return. In addition to Gardner, reliable Justin Watts is back after starting nine of the 12 games a year ago. Watts, a high school quarterback who will be pursuing his fifth letter as a Tiger, had 16 catches for 175 yards last year. His 35-yard leaping catch against Virginia gave Clemson early momentum in Bowden’s first win over a top 20 team as Clemson coach.

Two other experienced receivers who will see considerable action are Woodrow Dantzler.

Joe Don Reames is another all-around athlete who will be a factor at wide receiver. Reames, in addition to leading Clemson in kickoff returns, had 4-19 receiving and also carried the ball three times on end-around plays. Mike Seth is a sixth letterman returning at wide receiver who will compete for playing time.

Red-shirt freshman Kevin Youngblood is a 6-5, 210-pound receiver who also figures to see plenty of playing time this year. He is a native of Raines High School in Jacksonville, FL, a school that has sent talented football players (Patrick Sapp, Brian Dawkins, Terrance Roulhac) to Clemson before.

The tight end position figured more and more prominently in the Clemson offense as the 1999 season progressed. Pat Cyrgalis made the move from running back to tight end last fall and responded with 12 receptons for 152 yards and two touchdowns. The two scores, against Virginia and Georgia Tech, were the first two scoring receptions by a Clemson tight end in 10 years. Now a sophomore, Cyrgalis and classmate Jason LeMay give the Tigers depth at the tight end position.

Travis Zachery was the workhorse of the running back position last year. The current junior had 185-820 net yards as a sophomore, the top total on the Clemson team, and he ranked 41st in the nation in rushing. He scored 16 touchdowns, second most in Clemson history for a single season and it was the prime reason he was ninth in the country in scoring.

Zachery had three games of at least 100 yards rushing and scored four touchdwons against Duke. In fact, he had nine touchdowns over the last three games of the regular season. Also an accomplished pass catcher, Zachery had 17-186 out of the backfield last year and now has 31 receptions for his two-year career.

Another running back who will see considerable playing time is sophomore Bernard Rambert. The native of Charleston had 43 rushes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. The rushing total was third best on the Clemson team. Those were sound numbers considering he did not play until the sixth game of the year and had just 16 yards rushing entering the ninth game of the season. But, he had 6-54 rushing at rival South Carolina, then led the Tigers against Mississippi State’s number-one ranked defense with 18-70 when Zachery went out early in the game with an injury.

Terry Witherspoon will be back for his fourth year with the Tigers provided he earns his degree by the start of the 2000 season. Witherspoon had just 18-46 rushing last year, but is the team’s top blocker and a team leader. He was listed among the top pro prospects for the 2000 draft before he announced his intentions to return to Clemson. Vince Ciurciu is a two-year letterman returning who is a multi-purpose player. He had just three rushes last year, and caught a 11-yard scoring pass off a fake field goal at Virginia Tech. He is also an outstanding blocker.

Tommy Bowden returns all five starters and five other offensive line lettermen as he attempts to improve on a Clemson offense that gained over 4800 yards last year, third best in Clemson history.

Kyle Young and Akil Smith are the most highly regarded of the returnees. Young led the team in knockdown blocks from his starting center position last year when he played 919 snaps, more than any center in Clemson history for one season. A first-team Academic All-American as a sophomore, Young made first-team All-ACC according to the Football News.

Smith was an honorable mention All-ACC selection, but is now ready to step up to a first-team level. He is one of the quickest Clemson tackles in many years. He started 11 of the 12 games last year and played 887 snaps. His pass blocking was one of the reason Clemson quarterbacks were sacked on just eight percent of their passes.

Two senior returning starters are also back to see if Clemson can improve on a season in which the offense scored 42 touchdowns. Right guard Theo Mougros started 11 of the 12 games and played 849 snaps. Mougros, who already has his undergraduate degree, suffered a torn ACL in the Mississippi State game at the Peach Bowl and will miss spring practice. But, he should be ready for the beginning of the fall workouts.

John McDermott played a school record 923 snaps and started all 12 games a year ago. He will be Smith’s runningmate at tackle and gives Clemson balance on either side of the line. The native of Georgia played just seven games of high school football and was home-schooled.

T.J. Watkins is the fifth returning starter in the offensive line. The junior who lettered at tight end as a freshman, made significant improvement last year. He was moved to tackle, then to guard in the fall and started 10 games and played 745 snaps for the season, a miracle considering all the injuries he fought last year. Watkins has put on 22 pounds in the offseason and the added strength should contribute to an improved healthier junior year.

“One of the keys to the spring will be the development of a second team offensive line,” said Bowden. “I don’t want to go an entire season playing just five offensive linemen. The quicker we have competition for starting positions in the offensive line and have little dropoff when we go to the second team at any line position, the sooner we will compete for championships and national rankings.”

Will Merritt is the most experienced of the second-team linemen. The native of nearby Anderson, SC who came to Clemson on an academic scholarship played seven games and 174 snaps. The right guard was the starter in the first two games, but a dislocated shoulder put him on the sidelines for much of the rest of the season.

Neely Page is another returning two-time letterman at guard who seeks playing time. Page played in all 12 games last year for an average of 12 snaps a game and he made one start. He will backup Watkins.

The backup tackles are Brady Washburn and Gary Byrd. Washburn, whose father is an assistant coach with the AFC Champion Tennessee Titans of the NFL, played 65 snaps and made one start a year ago. He was the Gatorade Player of the Year in Arkansas coming out of high school. Byrd, who has shed 35 pounds from his entering weight as a freshman, played 32 plays in nine games last year.

Kyle Young for playing time, while Gillespie will be active in the tackle mix. Greg Walker, a 320-pound tackle, is also in the picture on the offensive line. Derrick Brantley is a junior college transfer offensive lineman who joined the program in January.

Defense (8 returning starters, 25 returning lettermen) Clemson’s defense is led by two players who are candidates for national honors. Robert Carswell is in his fourth season as a starter in the defensive backfield. Both will be keys for a Tiger point prevention unit that returns eight starters and 25 lettermen from the 1998 team. The defensive line will be led by returning second-team All-ACC tackle Terry Jolly.

Adams had a landmark season at Clemson, and that is quite a statement coming from a program that boasts seven former linebackers who were on NFL rosters last year, including starters Mike Barber (Indianapolis Colts), Levon Kirkland (Pittsburgh Steelers) , Anthony Simmons (Seattle Seahawks) and Ed McDaniel (Minnesota Vikings).

The native of College Park, GA had 186 tackles, including 35 behind the line of scrimmage, a total that included 16 sacks. Those were all single season Clemson records and the tackle total and tackles-for-loss total led the nation. The 16 sacks ranked second. The 186 tackles included a Clemson record 27 stops at rival South Carolina.

For his efforts, the 6-0, 225 pound Adams was named first-team All-American by Football News and a third-team All-American by Associated Press. Even more impressive was his selection as the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Year by the Atlantic Coast Sportswriters Association, quite an honor for a sophomore in a league that included some outstanding defensive players from National Champion Florida State.

“Keith had an incredible season,” said Head Coach Tommy Bowden. “His speed is what sets him apart and he is a smart football player. He had to be one of the most productive players in the country, regardless of position.

” A key to our improvement, however, will be to spread out some of those sacks and tackles for losses. Our defensive ends had just six sacks in 12 games last year. We need them to be more productive when it comes to big plays.”

Joining Adams at the linebacker position will be Chad Carson and Braxton K. Williams. Both are juniors who ranked in the top four on the Clemson team in tackles last year. Carson had 144 tackles in 12 games, including a team best 16 against Mississippi State in the Peach Bowl. The 144 tackles ranked 10th best in Clemson history, but the number was earned without much acclaim in light of Adams Herculean totals. A 3.9 student in biology, Carson was a second-team Academic All-American last year.

Williams is one of the top all-around athletes on the Clemson team. He was fourth on the squad in tackles with 67 in his 580 snaps. He had six tackles for loss, including four sacks. He even caught a 23-yard pass on a fake punt against Florida State. The son of former Tiger fullback Braxton Williams, this Clemson junior had a season best 11 tackles in the win at South Carolina in just 43 plays.

Clemson is not lacking for experienced second-team players at linebacker. Altroy Bodrick started four games and had 36 tackles, including a career high 11 stops in the win at Maryland. Sophmores Rodney Thomas and Rodney Feaster each earned letters as first-year freshman linebackers and are listed second team players at the moment. David Ellis was a solid special teams player as a first-year freshman who will also be in the linebacker mix.

The Clemson front four returns three starters from last year, plus a reserve who played 287 snaps. Jolly is the leader of the group physically (290 pounds), statistically (58 tackles, 10 tackles for loss) and emotionally. He was a second-team All-ACC choice as a junior and should move up to first-team honors this year.

Jason Holloman and Terry Bryant are two more returning starters on the defense’s front line. Holloman joins Jolly upfront and the red-shirt senior gives Clemson two experienced tackles. Holloman had 40 tackles, including four sacks last year. His statistics included an interception and two caused fumbles. Bryant is in his third year as a starter. The native of Georgia had 32 tackles and four tackles for loss last year.

There is experience among the second-team players on the frontline and that should make for good competition in the preseason workouts. Gary Childress is listed second team at tackle behind Holloman, but spent the 1998 season as a starter and has three varsity letters. Jovon Bush, a junior with two varsity letters, has the size at 300 pounds to see significant time this year. He had 20 tackles in 234 snaps from scrimmage a year ago.

Bryant McNeal is a 235-pound defensive end who reminds many of Lorenzo Bromell, now of the Miami Dolphins. He wears the same number and had six tackles for loss in just 255 plays a year ago. Backing up Eason are red-shirt freshmen Khaleed Vaughn and J.J. Howard, players who are yet to play a varsity game, but have the physical tools to fit into Clemson’s system.

Clemson must overcome the loss of two starters in the secondary in DoMarco Fox (SS) and Dextra Polite (CB). Fox was a three-year starter who ranked in the top 10 on the team in tackles three consecutive seasons. Polite had 17 passes broken up to set a Clemson single season record and was a second-team All-ACC selection. He might have been the most improved defensive back in the ACC last year.

The secondary returns multiple year starters Robert Carswell and Alex Ardley. Both ranked in the top 20 in the nation in interceptions, a prime reason Clemson was eighth in the country in total interceptions as a team. Carswell was 10th with six picks, most by a Clemson player since Brian Dawkins (1999 Pro Bowl, Philadelphia Eagles) had six in 1995. Ardley added five interceptions to rank 20th in the country and returned those picks 64 yards.

Carswell set a Clemson record for tackles by a defensive back with 129, and 89 of those were first hits. He needs just 13 tackles to break all-time great Terry Kinard’s record for tackles by a defensive back in a career. He was selected to the AFCA Goodworks Team last year, the first Clemson selection in history to the squad that is honored for its excellence on the field and in community service.

“Robert Carswell was one of the leaders of this team as a junior,” said Bowden. “He is certainly one of the keys to the Clemson defense and someone the younger players look up to. He is a player who gives 100 percent all the time and is a great representative of Clemson University.”

Ardley is just 5-10, but is a tough competitor on the corner. He had 62 tackles last year and is a sure tackler at a very important position. “Alex Ardley is our most experienced cornerback and in our defense plays a very important position. He will be out there on an island against the opposition’s best receiver. He is now in his third year as a starter and will play an important role this year.”

Brian Mance, a first-year sophomore, is listed as the starter at the opposite corner. He saw limited action last year with just 49 plays of experience, but he made 15 tackles, including eight on special teams. He was the most highly recruited of Clemson’s defensive players in the 1999 recruiting class.

Charles Hafley is expected to hold down the strong safety position. A two-year letterman, Hafley had 33 tackles in 434 plays last year. He had a key interception in the victory over North Carolina, and had the best game of his career as a freshman against South Carolina when he had an interception and caused a fumble.

The backup corners are Darrel Crutchfield and Kevin Johnson. “Crutch” has been on crutches the last couple of months recovering from a torn ACL suffered against Florida State. He has started off and on in his career. Johnson is one of many red-shirt freshmen who will be looked upon to step into the lineup this year.

Special Teams Clemson must replace its starting punter Travis Zachery back to field punts and Joe Don Reames back deep to handle kickoffs.

Romano had another year of eligibility, but the native of Florida decided to graduate and enter medical school. In his only year as the starter, Romano had a 40-yard average with a solid 35.5 net figure. He had 15 punts inside the 20 and 10 of 50 yards or better. He did not have a single punt blocked and none were returned for a score.

Jamie Somaini, a letterman last year due to his kickoff duties, will compete for the punter position. Somaini is yet to punt in a varsity game, but he had 28 kickoffs last year and 11 of those kicks went to the goal line or were touchbacks. Ten times opponents had to start at their 20 or worse.

Lazzara made 7-12 field goals last year and was good on 34-36 extra points. He made two field goals in the win over Virginia and had a season long 43-yarder at NC State. There will be strong competition in the spring and in the fall when signee Aaron Hunt enters the mix.

Reames had a 22.1-average on kickoff returns last year, best on the team. He had 10 returns for a 24-yard average over the last three games of the season under the tutelage of Coach Brad Scott. Zachery handled the punt return duties in 1998 and had five returns in 1999. Wide receiver Rod Gardner could also see some time in the kick return game.

The Schedule Clemson will play seven home games in 2000, up from five during 1999, a season in which Clemson played all three of the teams that were undefeated during the regular season, the only Division I team that could make that claim. Clemson played four teams that finished the season ranked in the top 15 of the AP poll.

Clemson will open the season with three straight home games against The Citadel, Missouri and Wake Forest. It will be Missouri’s first trip to Clemson since 1950, the first time a current Big 12 team has come to Clemson since 1973. Wake Forest will come to Death Valley after a season that saw them end the year with victories over a top 20 Georgia Tech team and a bowl triumph.

Clemson will have ACC road games at Virginia, North Carolina and Florida State, teams that have been the top teams in the ACC over the last 10 years. Bowden Bowl II will take place in Tallahassee November 4 and that will be Clemson’s final ACC game of the season, the earliest conclusion to Clemson’s league schedule in 10 years.

Among the seven home games is an October 28 date with ACC geographic rival Georgia Tech. Clemson and the Yellow Jackets have played four straight games that have been decided by exactly three points. The annual battle with South Carolina will be played at Clemson on November 18. The Tigers will have two weeks to prepare for Lou Holtz’s second Gamecock team.