Scott Says Hairston Showing Progress

CLEMSON – Chris Hairston nearly wound up playing against the likes of N.C. Central and N.C. A&T as a recruit of S.C. State and Hampton. Instead, he chose to play at Clemson, one of the only Division I schools to offer him a scholarship. And ready or not, he's set to face one of the best defensive players in the country.

Hairston is a redshirt freshman that has been shoved into the starting position at right tackle due to the academic suspension of senior Christian Capote.

So, instead of getting his customary two or three series a game, Hairston is expected to play close to 70 snaps when No. 15 Clemson plays No. 22 Auburn New Year's Eve in the Chick-fil-A Bowl in Atlanta.

Offensive line coach Brad Scott likes what he sees out of Hairston, but he readily admits that there will be mistakes made and there are certain unknown elements surrounding the youngster.

"The big thing is there's just a price to be paid for inexperience," Scott said. "He's an inexperienced player and he's not going to do everything just right in that game, but I know he's going to give us a great effort. I know he'll be ready to play. He'll be mentally ready, and then the rest of it is just some of the mistakes that will come from being a rookie."

Making the matter even more difficult for Hairston is the fact that he's not going up against a team like Duke, rather he's going to be lined up against Quentin Groves, who is rated as the second-best senior defensive end in the country by NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper, Jr.

"More than anything, how's he going to handle his first start against a quality player?" Scott asked about Hairston. "Mentally, is he conditioned enough to go out there and play 70 or 80 plays? I think he's in condition to run our gassers, but is he mentally tough enough to put it on the line when you're really tired and wore down and wore out?

"I don't know if he's played any games where he's just been in there for 30 or 40 snaps likes these starters have been back-to-back."

Sounding like someone who is a little naive and unaware of what he's about to face, Hairston has an answer for Scott.

"I believe I can handle it," he said. "There's nothing I can't handle."

One thing playing in Hairston's favor is his willingness to learn and his ability to soak in lots of information rather quickly. Scott said Hairston is unusual in that matter.

"He's a very intelligent youngster and I learned early that he comprehended well and that he was a guy that could learn his assignments and his techniques," he said. "He's just a student of the game. When you're smart enough or pay attention enough to pick up the offense, the calls, the different blocks and checks and all that stuff, then you've got a chance to play early."

There aren't very many pro prospects that come out of the conferences that Hairston considered playing in. Auburn's defense likely possesses as many NFL prospects as the entire MEAC or CIAA combined.

"When we originally recruited him, we thought he was very athletic," Scott said. "He probably wasn't recruited as highly as some of those other guys in that (locker) room, but we saw his athleticism and his agility and movement."

Hairston has come a long way since the start of the season. And by the midway point, Hairston began to make dramatic improvements, thanks in large part to the help of teammate of his last year.

"Where he's picked up the last half of the season, his pass protection has gotten a whole lot better," Scott said. "He's learning how to keep his shoulders back. Marion Dukes worked with him a lot one-on-one and I think Marion brought him along individually a little bit after practice. … He has played quite a bit and I think toward the end of the year he was the guy I trusted the most to put in there."

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