Branch will set the table for Clemson's D

FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Despite having what looks to be a bright future in the NFL, Andre Branch would rather talk about the present.

NFL Draft experts believe Branch could be picked as high as the second round this April. But later tonight, Branch will don the Clemson uniform one more time, and that's much more important for him.

Maybe even more so because the stakes are as high as they've ever been during his five-year stint with the Tigers.

"My focus right now is on winning this game," Branch said. "I'm not really focused on the draft. The draft is all the way down the road. After the game, I'll get all that together. Right now, my focus is on winning this game."

The redshirt senior defensive end will lead the Clemson defense into the Orange Bowl against West Virginia.

Kevin Steele, Branch's defensive coordinator, has come to rely heavily on Branch, who leads the Tigers with 10.5 sacks.

"He sets the tempo for the defense. His personality is very infectious for the group. He's very high energy, high motor, loves to play the game," Steele said. "The amazing thing about Andre, there's a lot of people that get ready to play at a high level on Saturday or Sunday, but there's very few that come to practice every day and you can just tell they love -- he either loves being outside or loves being around the guys or he loves football, one of the three.

"It's got to be something. Because when he comes to practice, he hits the field energetic, and it's contagious."

Not only does Branch lead the team in sacks, he's second with 78 tackles.

"He has, I think, been the guy on that side of the ball that's impacted all those other guys and has demanded a lot of accountability from all those other guys," said head coach Dabo Swinney. "He's had a great, great year, and we're certainly going to miss him not just as a player but because of the fire and intensity he brings to that side of the ball."

Steele added, "Andre is a guy that just gets the game. So he's a lot of fun to coach in that regard, and then he's got the talent to play at a higher level than just a gift to play at a higher level than some people can play."

One final high-level performance from Branch could help Clemson get the edge in what many prognosticators believe should be a high scoring game.

And n typical Branch fashion, he doesn't care who's predicting what for the Orange Bowl.

"We've been disrespect the whole year," he said. "No one thought we were going to be here. No one thought we were going to win the ACC. If I would have listened to all that stuff, it would have gotten to me. I don't listen to all that stuff.

"Our focus, as a team, is winning this game. The can talk about the offense all they want, but at the end of the day, if Clemson gets a victory, I don't really care what the score is. It could be 101-100, it doesn't matter to me."

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