Branch has a Chance

CLEMSON - Talk about being in a tough position. No one this spring on Clemson's football team will have their work cut out for them more than redshirt freshman defensive end Andre Branch.

Branch has his work cut out for him "It will be interesting to see how he tackles it," Clemson defensive line coach Chris Rumph said.

What, or should I say whom, Branch has to tackle is true freshman Da'Quan Bowers, who is already penciled in to challenge Kevin Alexander for the starting defensive end spot vacated by Phillip Merling.

Bowers, who enrolled at Clemson in January, was the nation's No. 2 recruit out of Bamberg-Ehrhardt High School according to after registering 267 tackles, 90 for a loss, and 37 sacks in his high school career. As a senior, he registered 97 tackles, 33 for a loss, 14 sacks, and three fumbles recovered.

Then there is Alexander. The rising junior played in all 13 games last year as a backup to Merling, while recording 33 tackles, including a sack and six quarterback pressures in 237 snaps. He also led the team with 14 special teams tackles.

"With those two guys challenging him, (Andre) is going to have to work hard," Rumph said. But Rumph doesn't want to give the impression that playing time is out of the question for Branch because it isn't.

CUTigers outlook: Andre Branch could turn out to be another one of those steals from the 2007 class. Like linebacker Brandon Maye, he wasn't heavily recruited out of high school, but his potential is unlimited.

His playing time will be based on how well he plays and improves in the spring. The coaching staff really likes his attitude and his work ethic. His hard work in the weight room has allowed him to put on nearly 10 pounds of muscle.
"He's going to have the opportunity to show us what he can do," Rumph said. "I'm anxious to see what he does for us this spring."

Branch will enter this spring most likely as the No. 3 guy at defensive end, but Rumph likes what he sees in the 6-foot-5, 250-pound native of Richmond, Va.

"He has a lot of upside to him," the Clemson coach said. "He is very talented and has a lot of potential."

But what Branch doesn't have is experience at defensive end.

"But that's not his fault," Rumph said. Branch played tight end and outside linebacker at Varina High School where he had 62 tackles as a senior and added seven tackles for loss. He had three sacks, two recovered fumbles and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a 14-yard touchdown that year.

A former two-star prospect by Branch was named all-district and second-team all-region. As a two-year starter, he helped Varina to an 11-2 record in his last season there, and to a 9-1 ledger his junior year.

"He brings a lot of things to the table. He is easy to coach. He's smart, works hard and has a great attitude," Rumph said. "I think he is going to be a real good player for us one day, but right now he is still trying to learn, and I think that puts him behind a little."

One of the things Branch is still learning is how to use his hands. Rumph wants to see how the former linebacker will come up out of his stance and engage the offensive linemen.

The Clemson coach also wants to see him improve his hand placement as well as his technique.

"He is still so very raw," Rumph said. But his talent isn't raw. The Clemson coaches like his speed and how well he utilizes his athletic ability. A proof of his athletic ability can be traced to his high school days, where he averaged 12 points and nine rebounds for the basketball team.

During his senior year, he averaged 14 points, eight rebounds, and four blocks per game. Branch chose Clemson over Florida State, N.C. State, and West Virginia.

"We really like him," Rumph said. "He has a lot of potential." Top Stories