DALLAS — Clemson has launched an in-house investigation to determine how a substance called ostarine got into the systems of star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, freshman tight end Braden Galloway and redshirt junior offensive lineman Zach Giella after the football players failed drug tests last week that could keep them out of the Cotton Bowl.
All three of the players have been asked to produce a list of every product they regularly use or ingest for Clemson's staff to study. That includes but is not limited to anything from nutritional supplements to acne creams to body lotions, hair products and medicines they regularly take.
Simultaneously, Clemson's nutrition staff is studying every type of dietary supplement it has given to football players, while the Applied Science Lab staff is looking at the float tank the Tigers use for recovery on a regular basis. That tank has 1,200 pounds of Epsom salt in it and Clemson's defensive linemen use it often, according to a presentation by the lab's personnel back in November.
As of Wednesday, the Tigers were waiting on a phone call with the results of the B sample drug tests the players took that will ultimately determine their eligibility for the Cotton Bowl on Saturday against Notre Dame. If the B samples corroborate the initial samples and also have traces of ostarine in them, the players will not play in the College Football Playoff semifinal. If the B samples are clean, the trio is eligible to play.
In the meantime, Clemson is studying everything it can conceivably think of to determine where the ostarine came from.
"Nobody knows," said star defensive end Clelin Ferrell, who is close to Lawrence. "But I'm just saying they’re investigating everything."
Clemson was notified by the NCAA on Dec. 20 about the test results when athletic director Dan Radakovich was contacted. Coach Dabo Swinney didn't tell the team of the news until the Tigers arrived in Dallas, but Lawrence told his friends on the defensive line while the team was off for a few days from practice.
Ferrell said he was stunned by the group text message Lawrence sent.
"It was just kind of like, ‘What? How?’ When he told us what it was, I was just appalled by it," Ferrell said. "But from the jump, I knew it wasn’t something that he did intentionally. That was my mindset. I was just like, ‘Wow, how does that even happen?’"
The Tigers are given a pages-long list of substances that are prohibited by the NCAA as they go throughout the season. The list is so long Ferrell indicated he couldn't finish reading it.
Clemson's nutrition staff also instructs players to not take any supplements from outside sources and tells them that any additional vitamins or dietary supplements must be approved by the nutrition staff.
Ostarine is a performance-enhancing drug not approved for human consumption anywhere in the world and is only found in illegal products, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The agency says there are no legal medications that would have ostarine in it, though some dietary supplement manufacturers will illegally include ostarine in products and either not disclose that information or make the wording on labels misleading.
Asked how much a player knows on a given day about what exactly Clemson's nutrition staff is putting into his body, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said any time a football athlete wants an explanation, he is given a detailed one.
"They’ll explain whatever you want explained. You ask questions and all the guys trust them so I'm sure there’s obviously some guys that don’t necessarily ask just because some stuff is just like a protein shake or whatever. Just little stuff like that," Lawrence said. "But if you want to know, they’ll tell you everything — what it’s for, why they’re giving it to us. So they definitely let us know that stuff."
Ferrell said the NCAA conducts random drug tests about three times a year and Clemson does its own drug testing once or twice a month. In those cases, players are only given a day's notice, Ferrell said.
Dexter Lawrence has been at practice this week but is not taking snaps for the Tigers, who are treating this issue as if the three players are injured.
If Lawrence's suspension is not lifted, the Tigers plan to use Albert Huggins, Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams at his position.
"I’ve spent zero time thinking about it. I just don’t live like that," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said when asked what he thought the chances were of Lawrence playing. "I don’t know a percentage. I don’t know. I’m not involved in any part of the process whatsoever.
"First and foremost, you really hurt for him and his family. We wouldn’t be here without what Dexter has contributed — what he’s done for us, his play as one of the 11 on defense and then some."
Clemson and Notre Dame play at 4 p.m. Saturday. The winner of that game will play for the national championship against the winner of the Alabama-Oklahoma game.