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.”

Vick, Fitzgerald and Suggs among stars on College Football Hall of Fame ballot for 1st time

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Michael Vick, Larry Fitzgerald and Terrell Suggs are among the college football stars who will be considered for induction to the Hall of Fame for the first time this year.

The National Football Foundation released Monday a list of 78 players and nine coaches from major college football who are on the Hall of Fame ballot. There also are 101 players and 32 coaches from lower divisions of college football up for consideration.

Vick, who led Virginia Tech to the BCS championship game against Florida State as a redshirt freshman in 1999, is among the most notable players appearing on the ballot in his first year of eligibility.

Vick finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1999. He played one season of college football before being drafted No. 1 overall by the Atlanta Falcons in 2001. Vick’s professional career was interrupted when he served 21 months in prison for his involvement in dog fighting.

Fitzgerald was the Heisman runner-up in 2003 to Oklahoma quarterback Jason White. He scored 34 touchdowns in just two seasons at Pitt.

Suggs led the nation in sacks with 24 in 2002 for Arizona State.

The 2024 Hall of Fame class will be chosen by the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court and announced in January. Induction into the Atlanta-based hall is the following December.

Alabama freshman DB Mitchell says he wasn’t sure he’d get to play again after arrest

Mickey Welsh / Advertiser / USA TODAY NETWORK
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Alabama defensive back Tony Mitchell said he feared his football career was over after his arrest on a drug charge.

The Crimson Tide freshman said in a video posted Sunday on social media that he knew “something much bigger could have happened.”

A judge in Holmes County, Florida, sentenced Mitchell to three years of probation with a fine and community service on May 24 after Mitchell pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of more than 20 grams of cannabis.

“I didn’t know if I’d be able to play football again, but I continued to work out and stay close with the Lord and those who love me unconditionally,” Mitchell said. “During those times, it helped me to keep my mind off it. But when I was by myself looking at social media, what everybody had to say about it, it just felt like it happened again.

“I didn’t sleep at night.”

He was suspended from the Alabama team following the arrest, but Mitchell’s father, Tony Sr., posted on Facebook last week that the defensive back had been reinstated. An Alabama spokesman declined to comment on Mitchell’s status.

Tony Mitchell Sr. shared his son’s video on Facebook, saying it was filmed during a talk to youth.

“I was doing things I knew I shouldn’t to try to fit in,” the younger Mitchell said, “but not everybody’s your friend.”

Mitchell, who is from Alabaster, Alabama, was a four-star prospect and the 15th-rated safety in the 247Composite rankings.

He had been charged in March with possession of a controlled substance with intent to sell after a traffic stop when authorities said he drove over 141 mph (227 kph) while trying to evade deputies in the Florida Panhandle. A deputy had spotted Mitchell’s black Dodge Challenger traveling 78 mph (125 kph) in a 55 mph (88 kph) zone on a rural highway north of Bonifay.

He also received 100 hours of community service and paid a fine of $1,560.

Mitchell and a passenger were both charged with possession of marijuana with the intent to sell or deliver, according to a Holmes County Sheriff’s Office arrest report. The other man also was charged with carrying a concealed gun without a permit.