Pressure Builds for Tigers

CLEMSON - It may be mid-June, but a majority of the Clemson football team is already focused on the task at hand- winning an ACC Championship.

It's called offseason workouts.

And while they aren't mandatory, most of Clemson's key players are on campus right now working on their conditioning and other skills in preparation for what might be one of the biggest seasons for the Tigers in quite some time.

With more returning starters than any other team in the league except Duke, and coming off a 9-4 season that saw them come inches away from playing in the ACC Championship game, most pundits are projecting the Tigers to get over the hump and win the league for the first time since 1991.

And with those expectations comes pressure.

Lots of pressure.

After all Tommy Bowden is now entering his 10th season, leading Clemson to within a play or two of winning or playing for the league championship on four occasions (2000, 2005, 2006, 2007). While he's been extremely close, it hasn't happened yet.

Also, at least four potential All-ACC players return on offense, including a quarterback, two running backs and a wide receiver. Simply put, it's the most returning talent the Tigers have ever had returning in the backfield.

Clemson also returns arguably the top secondary in the league and will have one of the most talented defensive lines as well.

If that wasn't enough, the schedule is favorable, with an early stretch of winnable home games that could allow for a young group of linebackers and an inexperienced offensive line to gain valuable experience before a tough November.

"The pressure is definitely there," said redshirt senior quarterback Cullen Harper, a second-team All-ACC performer from a year ago. "But it should be there if you look at how close we've been the last couple of years. I welcome it and I think most of our guys do too.

"I mean, this should be the year we win it. If not now, when? It's time."

Harper's attitude is one that resonates throughout the team this time of year.

Having a full seven months to reflect on how close they came to playing in the ACC championship game last season has done nothing but inspire more intensity and more effort during the offseason.

"We've never worked harder that I've seen than what we have so far this summer," he said. "It's been pretty intense so far. The offensive line is really going at it hard and guys are taking it upon themselves to get better and that's been good to see."

Offseason workouts are unique in that they are voluntary and they are also unsupervised by the Clemson's assistant coaches. However, that doesn't mean the team is out there running around without structure.

Strength and conditioning coach Joey Batson, one of the best in the business, is allowed to supervise.

"It's a lot of hard work," said Harper. "And this year it's been harder than it ever has before thanks to Coach Batson. Guys are really pushing each other but it makes you better and that's why you do it. You come together as a team and it makes everybody better."

As the team closes down the first summer session, most of the 2008 recruiting class will report for the second session on June 29, which allows freshmen to more easily adapt to college life and get in better shape before the hectic pace of the season begins in August.

After that, preseason camp starts Friday, Aug. 1.

Clemson's 2008 season opener against Alabama in the Georgia Dome arrives just 29 days later.

And the pressure builds.

"We know what we are capable of and we are working harder than we ever have to get there," Harper added. "We want this to be our year." Top Stories