CLEMSON — Dabo Swinney wasn't quite certain what was in the cards for Garrett Williams' future when he spoke to the media earlier this month, but the Clemson football coach sounded convinced his starting H-back will not be back for the 2019 season.
If that is the case, the Tigers have an immediate void to fill. It's getting thin at the tight end position.
"He's around this spring and is going to be out there helping us, but he's dealing with his health issues. He's getting his knee back right and he's got a lot of things he's dealing with. But he really wants to go into the military," Swinney said, referring to Williams' long-term goal. "Right now, he's probably not going to be back."
Williams, a redshirt junior from Orlando whose father played at Florida State, has one more year of eligibility remaining. Swinney always holds the scholarships of players with eligibility remaining until they tell him they are leaving with certainty.
As a 13-game starter in 2018, Williams was known for his blocking ability, though he also caught one pass for four yards and scored his only touchdown of the season on a rushing score against Florida State in October.
He told reporters at Clemson's national championship parade in January that offseason surgery was in his plans — he tore his ACL in 2017, though this surgery is unrelated — and what makes his situation all the more pressing is that his physical health is a mandatory part of his future career in the military. Williams' father and grandfather served in the military.
Though Williams is not an NFL prospect, he told reporters back in October that he thought he wanted to enter the U.S. Marine Corps. Swinney said earlier this month he thought Williams wanted to be a Navy Seal.
Regardless, both have physical fitness requirements and should Williams return to play another year of football, he runs the risk of further injury.
Clemson starts spring practice Feb. 27, which means it's time for the Tigers to start looking ahead to potential replacements.
"Since I've gotten hurt, I've kind of gone back and forth on what I want to do," Williams said. "I know there are positives to both.
"If I could be an infantry officer, I think that would be an awesome career. It would be a cool opportunity and an honor to serve."
If Williams leaves school, the Tigers have J.C. Chalk, the grandson of Gene Stallings, as one option at tight end. Braden Galloway could be another option, but the rising sophomore is under a one-year suspension, pending Clemson's appeal to the NCAA, after testing positive for the peformance-enhancing drug ostarine prior to the Cotton Bowl.
Then there is Jaelyn Lay, the early enrollee the Tigers like who will be in spring practice, and Davis Allen, who does not enroll until the summer.
"Another big-time athlete, a big lefty pitcher. He's a basketball player," Swinney said of Allen. "He played both ways in high school. He's just a big athlete that we're really excited about we think he's got a bright future."
Swinney said he'd like to have Williams back, but supports whatever he decides to do.
"He wants to join the military and he's excited about that," Swinney said. "So it's big."