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Clemson veteran defensive end glad he's not competing against 5-star freshmen

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Clemson Spring Game 2018 (copy)

Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry recorded 22 tackles, 2 sacks and 3 pass breakups in 2019. Gwinn Davis/Special to The Post and Courier

CLEMSON — K.J. Henry is confident in his abilities, no doubt. Now in his third year at Clemson, the defensive end feels has he a healthy understanding of the playbook. His body is where it needs to be, too.

But the redshirt sophomore, a projected starter, admitted Monday he's grateful he doesn't have to compete with a group of freshman defensive linemen that includes two former 5-star recruits. 

"Three years ago, I'd be so jealous," Henry said. "Y'all wouldn't see me up here because these boys (would be) taking my spot. So I'm glad I've got some years on 'em, because they are some ball players."

Bryan Bresee, the 6-5, 300-pound lineman whom coach Dabo Swinney compared to former Tigers great Christian Wilkins, headlines the group along with 6-5, 275-pound Myles Murphy.

Henry on Monday tabbed Bresee a "freak of nature." And he's been blown away by Murphy.

"One day I want to be a football coach, but I'm sitting over here as a teammate, like, 'Dang, where'd we find this kid?' Because he's awesome," Henry said.

Freshmen lineman Demonte Capehart and Tré Williams also come to Clemson with plenty of hype.

Henry has relished the role of elder statesman this summer. Clemson's march for racial equality in June helped him find his voice, he said, and as a veteran he's taken the younger linemen under his wing.

After redshirting in 2018, Henry played in 15 games last season and recorded 22 tackles, two sacks and three pass breakups. With junior Xavier Thomas redshirting because of lingering issues related to the coronavirus, Henry will likely play alongside returning starter senior Justin Foster.

"I feel like I've been a leader since I've been here in some fashion or another, but my leadership role has definitely grown this year," he said. "I'm loving the influence I have with the guys. I feel like they respect me, respect what I do out here. So I'm just trying to give back and really just teach what I've been taught."

Follow Joshua Needelman on Twitter at @joshneedelman.

Joshua Needelman covers Clemson for The Post and Courier. He's a Long Island, N.Y., native and a University of Maryland alum. He's won national and state awards in sports and feature writing, and for reasons unclear he still roots for the New York Knicks.

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