Clemson QB DJ Uiagalelei slimmer, mentally ready for season

Ken Ruinard / USA Today Network/USA TODAY NETWORK

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei was bulky, bothered by injuries, and beaten down last year by critics upset that the Tigers were out of the ACC and national championship picture.

Now, some 15 pounds trimmer, 100% healthy and mentally refreshed, Uiagalelei believes he’s once more the dynamic playmaker he showed his freshman season instead of the misfiring mess he appeared at times a year ago.

“I think I see a totally different guy,” Uiagalelei said. “I’ve gotten better from the last game, someone who’s gone through it and is a totally different quarterback.”

The fourth-ranked Tigers open the season vs. Georgia Tech at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Few thought Uiagalelei had little to change after his stunning cameo as a freshman. Uiagalelei replaced starter Trevor Lawrence – the NFL No. 1 overall pick missed two Clemson games with COVID-19 – in two stellar performances.

In his first college start, Uiagalelei threw for 342 yards and two TDs to rally Clemson from 18 points down in a 34-28 win over Boston College. A week later, Uiagalelei threw for a school-record 439 yards in a 47-40 overtime loss at Notre Dame – the most ever thrown by an opposing QB at the home of Touchdown Jesus.

The following fall, Uiagalelei was the highly anticipated starter and a Heisman Trophy contender. Things, though, quickly went awry.

Uiagalelei was off-target in a season-opening, 10-3 loss to eventual national champion Georgia and a 27-21 OT defeat at North Carolina State three weeks later that took the Tigers out of contention for their seventh straight ACC crown and College Football Playoff berth.

That’s when the criticism hit hard. The cool California kid heard calls for his benching and rumors he might transfer because he needed a fresh start somewhere else.

He had hurt a finger early on, then sprained a knee ligament last November. He was able to play through both. Still, that was certainly a factor in him completing less than 56% of his passes for 10 interceptions against nine touchdowns.

Turns out all Uiagalelei needed was time to heal, change his diet and restore a healthy mindset.

“I feel he’s in a really good spot,” first-year Clemson offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said. “He has confidence in himself and we have confidence in him.”

The most difficult part for Uiagalelei was changing his eating regimen. He had to give up sweets, something impossible for many college students. The results were apparent as Uiagalelei will play at a much more tapered 235 pounds than his listed 250 pounds from a year ago.

Uiagalelei watched film with Streeter to shore up his technique. Streeter would stop the tape and ask, “You coach yourself, DJ.”

“He was quick to answer,” Streeter said. “He’s a really sharp kid.”

The effect on the field is also apparent during Clemson’s fall practices. Defensive end K.J. Henry said the junior looks more elusive and decisive heading into the opener.

“He’s done much better and one of those guys who’ll be the best version of himself” this year, Henry said.

Georgia Tech coach Geoff Collins is also anticipating the best version of Uiagalelei.

“He’s a dangerous runner, throws a nice deep ball. They way he runs that offense when they’re clicking,” Collins said, “I think they won six straight to end the season.”

Uiagalelei hung tough to power that closing run and knows he’s ready for another step forward. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney routinely asks his players for a word they carry into the season. Uiagalelei chose a phrase, “Roll The Dice.”

To him it means not dwelling on other’s opinions. “You bet on yourself,” Uiagalelei said. “You show people what you can do.”

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 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.