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

JESSICA GALLAGHER/ Staff / USA TODAY NETWORK
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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.

FAST FINISH

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.

NEW LINEBACKERS

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.

STAFF CHANGES

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.

HEY, AREN’T YOU …?

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.

SCHEDULE

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.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.