CLEMSON— The Clemson Tigers annual Orange and White game has served as a coming out party for many Tiger stars.
Whether it was former quarterback Deshaun Watson or current quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the annual last practice of spring has been known to showcase the up-and-coming stars for the Tigers—and nothing changed in Saturday’s game.
And that is what excites head coach Dabo Swinney.
“You got a chance to catch a glimpse of some of the young talent,” Swinney said. “You saw plays from all those guys so it was a lot of fun, and again a great ... the last day of evaluation.”
Two of the players that showed up and showed out in a big way Saturday were freshmen wide receivers Frank Ladson and Joe Ngata—who both finished the day with more than 100 yards receiving.
After Swinney spent the spring practice season singing the praises of Ladson and Ngata, Saturday was their first chance to show the fanbase what they could do—and they did not disappoint.
Ngata led all receivers with 127 yards on five receptions, including a 70-yard reception, and averaged 25.4 yards per reception. Ladson had 102 yards on the five receptions, including a long of 42 yards, and averaged 20.4 yards per reception.
“Y’all have heard me say many times — I’m not trying to keep a secret on those guys — they’re ready,” Swinney said after the game. “They’re really, really talented players and very coachable. Just love to prepare, high-character guys, as is (Brannon) Spector. He’s going to be an outstanding player.
“All three of those guys are just what we hoped they would be. Frank and Joseph are pretty elite as far as just where their starting point is. They’ve got a ways to go, but their starting point, it’s pretty impressive what I’ve seen from them this spring.”
However, it was not just the offensive side of the ball that showed there is plenty of talent—as defensive back Sheridan Jones alleviated fears about the depleted secondary that defensive coordinator Brent Venables had issued as a concern.
Jones finished the day with a White team-high seven tackles, including one tackle for loss, one forced fumble and an interception that he returned 42 yards for a touchdown.
“Sheridan is feisty, he's one of those kids that ... is just incredibly focused, whether it be academically, during conditioning, nutrition, running the playbook,” Swinney said. “Just a very focused young man, and he's gonna be a great player. He's gotta have a big summer in Waco, but he plays big, plays a lot bigger than he is. He's got great size and he can run.
“Y'all saw him run. He ran down Ngata—he’s fast. But, really proud of him. He did a good job, kinda playing off and giving the off look, but he's really playing hard corner, and had our eyes on the right things there, on the safety. It was good to see him make that play. I thought he made two or three good plays today. He made a good competitive play on team one time as well.”
Needless to say, the cupboard for the 2019 Tigers is not just full—it is overflowing. And more help is on the way this summer when the remaining 10 members of the 2019 signing class, including four-star cornerback Andrew Booth— join the team.
Until then the Tigers will head into summer believing they have the makings of a special group.
“Last year's team was just an incredible, veteran team. The cake was baked,” Swinney said. “We just had to kind of ice it and cut it and enjoy it. This team here, we've just heated the oven up. The ingredients are all there. We just have to put it in place. That was a bunch of veterans that knew exactly `what they had to do and what it takes and they were committed to that. This is a team that has a lot of guys that are figuring that out. Just in a different place with the youth. I love our team. We have good leadership, but we are a younger football team and with that comes a lot of energy and enthusiasm.