CLEMSON — The best way to explain Lynn-J Dixon’s success as a Clemson running back last season: starter Travis Etienne finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting and averaged 8.1 yards per carry but Dixon had a better average.
Yes, 8.8 yards — 62 carries for 547 yards and five touchdowns. Not bad for a freshman, even if much of that was in mop-up duty during an undefeated year packed with lopsided games.
But while Dixon played in 13 of Clemson’s 15 games and was healthy and not in any trouble at the College Football Playoff national championship game, he didn’t participate in the 44-16 rout of Alabama in Santa Clara, Calif.
Other than the second game of the season at Texas A&M, that was the only game Dixon missed in 2018.
Which serves as extra motivation for 2019.
“Being on the sideline, seeing the atmosphere (in Santa Clara) and seeing how intense it’s going to be, it really motivates me to get back to that stage so I can be able to play and show what I can do on the big stage,” Dixon said Wednesday after Clemson’s final spring practice before Saturday’s Orange and White Spring Game (2:30 p.m., ESPN2).
Dixon’s first spring practice has been full of good learning experiences. While Etienne is the clear No. 1 and senior Tavien Feaster has assumed a leadership role, Dixon’s talent gives Clemson probably the three most explosive running backs in college football.
If he hasn’t pushed his way into the No. 2 role, it’s very close.
Tony Elliott, Clemson’s offensive co-coordinator, said Dixon has become more “self-sufficient” in pass protection basics and in reading defenses.
The to-do list starts with an effort to carry the ball lower to avoid potential fumbles.
“I’ll be working on that this summer,” Dixon said.
At 5-10 and 195, Dixon wants to weigh 210 pounds by the season opener against Georgia Tech. The more body padding, the better for pounding that will come with more repetitions.
“He looks good,” Elliott said. “He’s done a great job in the weight room. The pounds have really not started to come on yet but you see his body starting to fill out and he’s running a lot more violent, more powerful.”
Dixon in 2018 got off to a flashy start with 89 yards on only six carries vs. Furman, including a 61-yard run.
Louisville knows about No. 23 after his 116 yards on only four carries.
“Last year I came in late; I wasn’t a mid-year (enrollee),” Dixon said. “There was a lot on me but I kind of processed it through the year. But now since I’ve had this spring, it’s like muscle memory. It’s like, ‘This is easy.’”
That must be frightening for Clemson opponents hoping for a break when Etienne is on the sideline.
D.J. Uiagalelei, the 6-4, 240-pound quarterback from Bellflower, Calif., generally rated as one of the top Class of 2020 high school prospects in the country, is back at Clemson for another visit.
Uiagalelei, not yet committed but clearly leaning strongly to Clemson, took in Wednesday’s practice with several family members.
Kendrick, starting corner
Derion Kendrick played wide receiver and returned kicks for Clemson as a freshman in 2018 and might still do some of that in 2019. But he continues to get raves for his cornerback play this spring and defensive coordinator Brent Venables said Wednesday Kendrick would get the nod opposite returning starter A.J. Terrell if the Tigers had a real game this week.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff