CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has taught a lot of lessons the past seven seasons. Along the way, some guidance got lost amid all that winning.
“There are certain things you can’t teach on the mountaintop,” Swinney said as the Tigers opened fall camp.
His team, Swinney believes, carries a new, healthier perspective after what it went through in 2021. A year ago, the Tigers were runaway favorites to win a seventh straight Atlantic Coast Conference crown and gain a seventh consecutive berth in the College Football Playoff.
Instead, Clemson opened 4-3, including losses to eventual national champion Georgia and ACC winner Pittsburgh.
The Tigers, in Swinney’s own words, were not very good, but he told them they’d be judged on how they got back up with most of the season left to play.
Clemson finished with six straight wins – the longest current streak among Power Five programs – and have carried more than momentum throughout this offseason.
“They’ve gained a reset on the appreciation of winning,” Swinney said. “Sometimes, you can win so much you can lose respect for what it takes.”
Any disrespect for the process came along with a rash of injuries, the likes of which the program hadn’t experienced in several years. Starting tailback Will Shipley missed three games with a foot injury while defensive tackle Bryan Bresee – like Shipley a five-star recruit – was lost for the final nine games after tearing an ACL in a loss at North Carolina State.
Both were held out of spring drills, but were back on the field and eager to provide a punch they couldn’t fully deliver last season.
Bresee was turned loose earlier this summer and was thrilled to once more work with his teammates.
“I think this offseason, we’ve been a lot closer as a team,” Bresee said. “That’s been a big deal for us.”
Shipley said having momentum from their finish last year has been a big lift for the Tigers.
“We’ve definitely got it in the back of our minds,” he said. “We’re ready to run out there Sept. 5” at Georgia Tech to open the season.
Starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei went through growing pains, too. Considered a can’t-miss successor to national championship winner and top overall draft pick Trevor Lawrence, Uiagalelei struggled with his footwork and accuracy.
Uiagalelei completed less than 56% of his throws for 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions. He heard grumbling from fans who wanted him to transfer.
Instead of getting frustrated, Uiagalelei got to work on his body and habits. He cut out most junk food and reported this week 20 pounds lighter than his listed 250 pounds from a year ago.
“Shoot, he lost 20, 25 pounds,” Shipley said. “His dedication has never been in question. … I can’t wait to see him prosper.”
Uiagalelei has worked hard studying video and refining his technique in hopes of leading Clemson into championship contention, offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said.
“Really proud of where (Uiagalelei) is, battling through some of the stuff he went through last year and just overcoming that,” said Streeter, also the quarterbacks coach. “That’s part of life, and he’s learning those lessons and he’s doing a great job right now.”
The slimmed-down Uiagalelei went through warm-up drills before leading the Clemson starters down the field in an up-tempo attack. His throws were sharp and on target.
Swinney said Uiagalelei will bring a healthier attitude to the field this season, too, just like his teammates.
“They’ve got a good buzz,” Swinney said. “I love their mentality, their mindset. I think it will serve them well.”