No. 4 Clemson counting on ‘Avengers’ D-line for a title run

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CLEMSON, S.C. — No. 4 Clemson is pinning its hopes of another championship run on “The Avengers.”

The Tigers, 10-3 in 2021 but out of ACC contention by midseason, have a stacked defensive line with experience and depth. They’ve named themselves after the movie superheroes.

” I love `The Avengers,’ my friend `XT,’ Xavier Thomas loves `The Avengers, ‘ let’s make it happen,” Clemson defensive end KJ Henry said when recalling how they came up with the name.

The line of thinking has worked for Clemson in the past.

Four years ago, Henry was a freshman learning the ropes when the starters on Clemson’s defensive line – Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence and ends Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell – took the nickname, “The Power Rangers,” after the campy, cartoon squad.

They were the anchors on a national title team and the country’s fifth best defense.

It was a way for that group to stay motivated and connected with each other, Henry said. He feels the same thing can happen this fall, as Clemson is favored to win its seventh ACC crown in eight seasons.

“It’s been fun to kind of put it together,” said Henry, dubbed “Captain America” as a senior who passed on possibly being an NFL draft pick – much like Wilkins did after his junior season before the run to a national crown.

Thomas, a speedy, powerful end is “Thor.” Tackles Bryan Bresee, 6-foot-5, 300 pounds, is the “Hulk,” while Tyler Davis, quick and largely immovable for opponents is “Iron Man.” End Myles Murphy is “Spiderman,” mostly, Thomas said, because the main character of the webslinger’s film, “Spiderman: Into the Spider verse” was named Miles.

The Tigers will start the season minus “Thor;” Thomas had surgery on his injured foot he sustained in practice last week. He expects to be back in four-to-six weeks.

First-year defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin doesn’t care what his guys call themselves. He is excited about where his leaders up front can lead the Tigers this season.

“There’s only one first time,” Goodwin said. “This being the first year as a coordinator, (I have) a lot of excitement, waking up at 4 a.m., just a lot of things running through your mind.”

The excitement on offense is a slimmed down quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. The QB was expected to fit easily into the shoes of national champion Trevor Lawrence. Instead, Uiagalelei looked tentative and out-of-synch last season.

Uiagalelei has lost more than 20 pounds after changing his diet – he gave up sweets and deserts – and has been more decisive as a leader, coach Dabo Swinney said.

“You can tell he’s worked really hard. He’s very conscientious of his fundamentals. He’s hard on himself, grades himself every day, and he’s been good,” the coach said.


Clemson recovered from its slow start to win its last six games, and enters this season with the longest current wom streak among Power Five teams. The 10-3 record continued Clemson’s run of 11 straight seasons of double-digit wins.


Clemson said goodbye to its “Bruise Brothers” combo at linebacker of James Skalski and Baylon Specter, who were the team’s leading tacklers last season. The Tigers appear in solid shape at linebacker with junior Trenton Simpson leading the way. Simpson was third in tackles with 78 and second on the team with six sacks and 12 stops behind the line of scrimmage.


Clemson lost its two longtime coordinators, Brent Venables on defense and Tony Elliott on offense. Goodwin is taking control on defense while quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter will direct the offense.


Swinney does not often bring in transfers, but he did this offseason with quarterback Hunter Johnson from Northwestern. Johnson began his career at Clemson, but left when it was apparent Trevor Lawrence would be the team’s starter. “I call him my boomerang transfer,” Swinney joked.


Clemson will face several critical tests early on and late this season. The Tigers play at No. 22 Wake Forest on Sept. 24, then return home to face No. 13 North Carolina State a week later. November brings another trip to No. 5 Notre Dame – where Clemson lost a memorable OT contest in 2020 – on Nov. 5 and a home game with No. 16 Miami two weeks later.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.