Diehl Him Back In

CLEMSON - He's not the most heralded of Clemson's offensive players headed into Saturday's game against No. 24 Alabama, but his behind the scenes work could make all of the difference in the world for the Tigers this season.

When ESPN's College GameDay descends on downtown Atlanta Saturday for ninth-ranked Clemson's battle with No. 24 Alabama, there will be a natural focus on many of the players you would expect.

For the Tigers, it would obviously be guys like James Davis, C.J. Spiller, Aaron Kelly and Cullen Harper.

Seems natural enough considering all four players could be day one picks in the 2009 NFL Draft if they have good seasons.

The one name, however, you probably won't hear mentioned a single time, even though he could have a substantial impact is a redshirt freshman by the name of Chad Diehl.

"Chad Diehl?" you say. "Who is that?"

Diehl was sort of the after-thought from the 2007 recruiting class that featured four players from Byrnes High School, including star QB Willy Korn, WR Xavier Dye, LB Stanley Hunter and, of course, FB/TE Chad Deihl.

But is it turns out, he's a pretty good football player himself. In fact, just ask Tommy Bowden.

"He's probably one of our most physical blockers at the point of attack on the team," Bowden said. "He'll get after you."

Or ask Billy Napier, his position coach.

"At the point of attack, he is hard to deal with," Napier said. "One-on-one, he's one of the toughest players we have. He is going to engage you and fight. That's something we noticed right off the bat about him last August."

As a true freshman, he played on special teams and even saw snaps in short yardage situations. But his first year came to an unexpected end when he broke his lower leg near his ankle blocking in field goal formation in the Tigers' third win of the year over Furman.

While his season was done, he was somewhat fortunate because the injury occurred so early he was able to get a medical redshirt.


"Last year was tough going down so early," he said. "You do kind of think about it some when you get back out on the field. I know I'll probably think back on it some [Saturday] but it won't take long for that feeling to go away once I'm in the game. I'm looking forward to getting back out there."
Fast forward to Clemson's 2008 season opener, which is now just five days away, and Diehl finds himself on the threshold of starting his college career all over again.

"Last year was tough going down so early," he said. "You do kind of think about it some when you get back out on the field. I know I'll probably think back on it some [Saturday] but it won't take long for that feeling to go away once I'm in the game. I'm looking forward to getting back out there."

Diehl figures to be involved in Clemson's offense in a number of different ways this season. Technically listed as a fullback, he can move in motion before the ball is snapped and serve as a lead blocker in short-yardage situations. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield, if needed.

He's almost more like the H-Back you see with many NFL teams- a jack of all trades type of blocker in the backfield who can also become an impact player on special teams.

While the Tigers feature two of the top backs in the nation in James Davis and C.J. Spiller, much has been made about a lack of production in short-yardage and goal line situations in recent years. Last year, fans point to a 1st-and-goal at the 2-yard line against Boston College in which the Tigers failed to score a touchdown as one of the turning points in the season.

This season, replacing most of last year's starters on the offensive line may not help, but with a healthy Diehl back in the mix, not to mention freshman running back Jamie Harper, who weighs in at 230 pounds, Clemson's short-yardage issues may be a thing of the past.

"I hope so," Diehl said. "I just go out and work hard every day and it's the coaches' decision on whether or not they want to put me in short-yardage plays. You can't really say that I'm that guy yet because I haven't played a lot but we'll see how things go this season."

Diehl also said he and the rest of the defense have already put in plenty of time studying film in preparation for Saturday's season opener against the Crimson Tide.

"Alabama's defense looks pretty good. I know they are kind of young but young isn't always bad," he said. "They're linebackers are really big. From what we've seen on film so far they are going to present a challenge."

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