CLEMSON — Jay Guillermo has been through battles from his head to his foot.
Guillermo might well have overtaken Ryan Norton for the starting center job in 2014, but he missed five games at midseason with a broken foot. He might well have grabbed the gig in the spring of 2015, but Guillermo spent time away from the team dealing with depression and anxiety issues.
With Norton having graduated after starting the Tigers’ past three Opening Days, Guillermo is happy, healthy and the unquestioned elder statesman of the offensive line after starting all but the first two games of 2015.
“I’ve kind of braced myself for this,” Guillermo said. “I’ve tried to be a leader in the past. But we have younger guys who lead really well. It doesn’t just have to be the seniors.”
It doesn’t, but Guillermo is one of four seniors on the entire squad expected to start in 2016. An offense overflowing with potential is depending on experienced underclassmen in some spots (quarterback Deshaun Watson, tailback Wayne Gallman, left tackle Mitch Hyatt, receivers Artavis Scott and Hunter Renfrow) and unproven youngsters in others (left guard Taylor Hearn, right tackle Jake Fruhmorgen.)
Therein lies a theme: the offensive line fields the most questions among the offense. Not because the line didn’t do its job last year, but because the skill players have all done it at a high level. It’s on Guillermo to shepherd Hearn, Fruhmorgen, and even Hyatt and Maverick Morris or Tyrone Crowder against some expectedly tough defensive lines fielded by Auburn, Louisville and Florida State.
Guillermo is one of the better human interest stories the Tigers have to offer in 2016. He had an eating disorder a year ago when he was coping with internal demons, and he took time away from the football field to go chop down trees on his grandfather’s acres of property in North Carolina.
An avid wrestling fan, Guillermo has gotten himself in much better shape entering his senior year, listed at 6-3, 325 pounds.
“If you go back and look at some of the pictures before, he was a lot heavier,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “So he’s really taking care of his body since then, he’s moving a lot better. He’s got a lot of confidence. He’s happy. He’s smiling.
“One of the things people are overlook in leadership is sense of humor. He’s got an unbelievable sense of humor and he’s able to rally the troops. You see he’s happy, he sets the tempo, he doesn’t mind being vocal, but he’s not just talking. He’s backing it up with his work.”