CLEMSON — Back in March, on an evening when the Clemson football team was fresh off of its first day of post-Spring Break spring practice, Dabo Swinney decided he had a declaration of sorts to make.
"Y'all need to quit asking me about the quarterbacks," Swinney told the curious-media regarding incumbent Kelly Bryant versus flashy newcomer Trevor Lawrence. "What y'all are missing is the kickers. It has been unbelievable."
Of course, Clemson's kickers will never get the headlines its quarterbacks do, nor will they get a fraction of the public attention in the spotlight. But for Swinney, who knows how important a valuable kicker is, this is good news. Some of the best news. Having a competitive kicking competition is high on Clemson's wish list for 2018 and it appears the Tigers are still on track to get it.
The major reason: Greg Huegel.
Huegel, the starter who tore his ACL in September of last year and missed the remainder of the season, is making his way back toward 100 percent health and should be on pace to be ready to roll once Clemson opens fall camp next month. When he went down, his backup, Alex Spence, took over kicking duties and struggled with some confidence issues before he kicked the best game of his career against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl of the playoff.
Huegel first has to get healthy enough to play at full-contact and second, he has to win his job back. But if he is able to do both, Clemson will welcome back a walk-on-turned-All American who has been as reliable for Swinney as anyone else in the program. The two-time All-ACC kicker who was once just another Clemson student sitting in the stands of football games, is now one of the best kickers in the conference and would give Clemson all sorts of stability at a position that can make or break games.
Before he went down early in 2017, Huegel was coming off of a 2016 season that saw hit 71 extra points, a new single-season record for the program, and 14 of 19 field goals. As a redshirt junior, he hit two of his four field goals in his limited time on the field, including a long of 49 yards. Now a redshirt senior, his consistency is needed if Clemson is going to march back into its fourth straight College Football Playoff.
"It's going to be a beautiful thing, are you kidding me?" Swinney said, when asked about having Huegel, Spence and incoming freshman B.T. Potter all available to compete with one another. "After what we just went through, it is going to be phenomenal.
"It's going to be fun to watch in camp ... competition is a wonderful thing."
As of March, Huegel was back to kicking and running, but had not yet attempted his full, three-step approach and instead was sticking with his one-step approach. That likely has changed now that about three months have passed since the end of spring ball and certainly fall camp will fill in the remainder of the question marks.
Asked if there was any doubt he would return to 2018 as dominant as he has been previously, Huegel admitted those thoughts had crept in at one point or another. But the more time that passes, the more comfortable he gets and in turn, the more stable Clemson is.
"(The 2017 season) was a major role change for me. Obviously I had no idea what was coming and at first, it was very overwhelming, but Alex is a heck of a kicker," Huegel said of his counterpart. "I'm really excited to get back here and compete with him in the fall. In terms of last year, I moved in from playing to just a straight support role."
Clemson's Top 10 Most Important Players
10. K Greg Huegel
9. Coming Saturday