Preparing for the Season

Ever since the 2003 recruiting campaign came to a screeching halt in early February, the focus for this year's incoming freshmen resides on one thing- preparing for the their first season of college football.

The seventeen players that signed their National Letter of Intent to play football for Clemson University no longer have to worry about coaches and media calling them at all hours of the night. Instead, their attention shifts to raging linebackers that could be twice the size that they faced in high school, or offensive linemen that can be as big as 6-feet 7-inches tall and weigh in excess of 330-pounds.

It goes without saying that stepping into the college scene, both on-and-off the field can be a big adjustment to an 18-year old kid coming out of high school, but for most of the kids coming to Clemson next season, they seem to take it all in stride.

Greenwood placekicker Jad Dean will be busy this offseason trying to perfect his kicking technique off the ground, while Pickens' offensive lineman Marion Dukes will be hitting the weight room harder than ever before trying to help his chances of avoiding a redshirt season.

"It's somewhat of an adjustment for me," said Dean. "But I've worked on kicking off the ground before and to me it's all just a mental thing, just like anything else. I'll start kicking again here in a few weeks and keep working my form, but I feel pretty confident about what I'll be able to do next season."

"They sent me this big book of what I need to be doing in the weight room," said Dukes. "To be honest, I've never seen anything like it. The stuff they expect you to be able to do is close to impossible, but I'm working hard on it because I want to play early."

Dukes is projected as a tackle for the Tigers this fall, and even though he'll be coming in as a true freshman, his services could be needed should the offensive line suffer through another injury riddled season.

"If I come in there and play well, I'm going to play. That's what the coaches have said all along, so that's what I'm going to get in there and try to do," said Dukes.

For Jad Dean, he's been one of the few players coming in with the 2003 class that have been virtually assured of early playing time.

"Coach Bowden sent me a letter right after signing day telling me that I'm one of the only guys that's not going to redshirt next year. Aaron Hunt is still going to be the kicker going into the fall, but I'll get to compete with him, and also handle kickoffs and long field goals, so I'm just looking forward to playing," said Dean.

For other players like Crestwood linebacker Maurice Nelson, he's spent a good deal of time getting up to Clemson for spring practice to see how Coach Blackwell and Coach Lovett handle the Tigers' defense personally.

"I've been trying to get up there as much as a I can right now," said Nelson. "I want to play early and they've said there could be a spot that opens up for me at rover, so I'm trying to learn as much as I can before I get up there."

The adjustment to college life is a big one, even current offensive lineman Dustin Fry had his doubts before arriving on campus last fall.

"It's a big step going to the college level from high school," said Fry last summer. "I could say I think I could make the two-deep depth chart, but there is a lot of learning, especially with all the plays, so I guess it depends on how quickly I can pick everything up as to whether or not I'll play."

Playing on the offensive line is usually one of the toughest positions to play coming in as a true freshman, simply because the overall weight and total muscle mass needed to take the pounding of a full season at the collegiate level isn't usually there right out of high school.

For Tommy Bowden, his philosophy remains the same: redshirt as many players as you can and build for the future.

"Ideally, you'd like to redshirt all of your freshmen coming in because that's just another way to build a strong foundation for the future. We were fortunate to be able to do that with all the kids coming out of high school last year, with the exception of Justin Miller- and we all saw what he could do," said Bowden.

For Louisiana native Nick Watkins, the biggest thing in his eyes rests with the overall speed of the game.

"To me, the biggest adjustment is going to be speed. Everybody's going to be bigger, faster, and stronger so I'll have to be ready. I'm not sure if that's something you can really prepare yourself for, you just have be in the best shape possible and just see what happens when you get there," said Watkins.

With seventeen players arriving this fall, there's a good chance that as many as three to four players could avoid a redshirt season, while everyone else will spend their first year preparing for 2004.

For some players, early playing time is the most important thing on their mind, for others, it's not that big of a deal. In fact, a lot of kids coming out of high school actually prefer that extra year out of the spotlight to develop.

"I know that I'm coming in to redshirt that first year," said incoming freshman wide receiver Chris Jefferson. "And that's fine, because I'll just use that year to keep getting stronger and keep getting faster. I have no problem with that whatsoever."

Obviously, Jefferson knows that the Tigers have stockpiled a ton of talent at wide out, and he's just coming to Clemson with realistic expectations.

But whatever the case may be, adjusting to college life isn't easy, and the 2003 recruiting class will get to see firsthand what that exactly means later this summer. Top Stories