Clemmings Trades His Sneakers For Spikes

From the moment Paterson (N.J.) Catholic High head football coach Benjie Wimberly laid eyes on T.J. Clemmings, he wanted the eighth grader on his team. Unfortunately for Wimberly, Clemmings was just a basketball player.

Freshman and sophomore year went by, and T.J. Clemmings continuously turned down Wimberly's request to try football.

"I met him as an eighth grader, and he was just as big then, as he is now," Wimberly said.

Standing in at 6-foot-6, 260-pounds, Clemmings had a point. He was a force on the hardwood, and even earned scholarship offers from Seton Hall, Providence and UMass.

But that didn't stop Wimberly.

"He's strictly a power player," Wimberly said. "My joke with him is that I always tell him I can shoot better than him. I tell him that's a problem with your basketball game if a 44-year old can shoot better than you."

"He always made jokes like that," Clemmings said. "My jump shot was never really bad."

Even so, Clemmings finally gave in to Wimberly, and tried football this past fall.

Over 20 tackles for loss and seven sacks later, Clemmings isn't even thinking about playing college basketball anymore.

"Towards the end of the season, when I was doing good, I realized this is what I need to do in college," the defensive end explained. "I was getting better, and realized that's what I should be doing."

Maryland, Rutgers and Duke told Clemmings he could play football in their respective programs, and on Wednesday, Notre Dame joined the mix.

Recently, Irish assistant coach Frank Verducci dropped by Paterson Catholic to pick up Clemmings' film, and next thing he knew, he was on the phone with head coach Charlie Weis.

"He said he saw my tape and thought I was good, and he wanted me to look into Notre Dame," Clemmings explained. He thinks Virginia may also be close to offering.

"I know it's a good program and they've been big for years. It's Notre Dame, so you have to look at it like that. I'm not going to say I wouldn't go there, but I'm not going to say I would. I'm going to take a visit there."

Full-rides from places like Notre Dame, is the kind of scholarship offers Wimberly predicted would happen when Clemmings finally stepped on the football field. And when he gets Clemmings' film sent out soon, Wimberly thinks several more offers will quickly follow.

"A very large, fast. athletic football player," Wimberly said laughing, describing Clemmings' game.

"For a guy that has never played football before, and I'm working on year 20, I haven't seen anyone this big, fast and strong, and we've had some guys. He has far exceeded any kind of expectations you would have in a guy that hasn't played football before. He is so coachable, he just absorbs everything."

Clemmings plans on letting more offers come in, and then narrowing things down to a top three. Once he has a top three, he will take official visits to those schools, and likely decide during his senior season.

"I'm not really a picky guy," Clemmings said. "Just closeness, how far it is from home, and the coaches. What kind of people they are. Just hoping I go to the school, and they treat me how they say they will, and help me get better."

Guys that will treat him like Wimberly has.


IrishIllustrated.com Top Stories