Clemson’s Jordan Leggett second-guessing his role after being pressured to play right away
CLEMSON — Something Chad Morris said the first week of fall camp revealed a lot about Clemson true freshman tight end Jordan Leggett.
“He’s got a body like a grown man and he’s got a mind like still a young kid, like you would expect,” Morris said. “He’s got to develop that mind and create that toughness about him.”
Clemson’s offensive coordinator spoke those words Aug. 9, one week into fall camp and months after working with Leggett the previous spring when Leggett enrolled early.
A knee injury (sprained MCL) four days later set back Leggett’s progress, and even though Leggett returned on time to make his Clemson debut Saturday against South Carolina State, he’s uncertain about his contributions this year.
So much so that Leggett, once tabbed as a strong candidate to start at tight end and fill the receiving role by Dwayne Allen and Brandon Ford, actually wished he had taken a redshirt — even before the three-week injury absence.
“It’s kind of discouraging to me, because honestly for me, I would’ve liked to redshirt,” Leggett said, listing Darrell Smith, Stanton Seckinger and Sam Cooper as other older viable options for the Tigers. “We’re really deep at the tight end position. I feel like I’ll contribute sometimes, I might get a couple touches, but as of right now, I’m just looking forward to next season.”
Leggett wasn’t just worried about a cluttered group in 2013. His mind wandered ahead to his upperclassman years, seeing how fifth-year quarterback Tajh Boyd, tailback Roderick McDowell, linebacker Spencer Shuey and others have graduated yet still play on.
“I was thinking about my education. I could get my degree and get more hours under my belt,” Leggett said. “But my dad hated the idea. I don’t know why, he wanted me to be a true freshman. The coaches said it was out of my hands.”
Part of Leggett’s frustration comes from his first-ever major injury on a football field.
“Wearing this brace now is throwing me off because I never hurt my knees before,” Leggett said. “Before I was a huge threat in the passing game, but it’s kind of slowing me down. I can still cut, but I’m slow coming out of my cuts.”
That doesn’t mean Leggett isn’t happy, or determined. He called his first college appearance against S.C. State “life-changing,” and refused to indulge in Clemson’s most famed tradition before the Georgia opener — “I don’t like to run down the Hill unless I get to play.”
Leggett did that, gingerly, in the second half of the Tigers’ 52-13 romp Saturday, catching one pass for six yards.
“It was unreal. I didn’t even think of it as my first pass. I felt like I’ve done it before,” Leggett said. “It was a little out route, and as soon as I caught it, I wanted to break a tackle, but it wasn’t really happening. To hear the crowd and the fans, it was wild.”
Morris, recognizing tight end as a position with many cooks but no clear chef, encouraged Leggett to enroll early last January. Leggett obliged, taking online classes to earn his high school diploma while taking his first college courses.
Not only did Leggett get a head-start with his hands on a playbook, he got them on weight sets and complex carbohydrates. Weighing 217 pounds entering 2013, the 6-5 Leggett said he’s now at 244 on the scale.
“I’m a faster, more agile, quicker dude,” said Leggett, who played receiver at Navarre (Fla.) High School. “So I’ll be a mismatch for safeties because they’re not as tall as me, and linebackers really can’t keep up with me. So I’ll be a pretty dangerous threat over the middle because I’m a big target and I can jump too.
“It’s just going to take time for me to mentally get back to trusting my knee like I used to.”
Revisit fall camp one more time, when Morris issued the primary challenge to his tantalizing talent.
“I feel like he is going through a wide range of emotions. He’s going to get mad, he’s going to get upset, he’s going to pout, and he’s going to realize that this is the way it is,” Morris said. “I feel like he’s going to respond. He’s got unbelievable talent.”