CLEMSON — The Clemson football team has no shortage of stars at its skill positions. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins are among the most recognizable names in the ACC.
At tight end, though, the Tigers face questions. Last year's starter, Garrett Williams, will not use his final year of eligibility, leaving a hole at the position some thought would be filled by sophomore Braden Galloway.
Galloway, though, tested positive for trace amounts of Ostarine in December, sidelining him and former Tigers teammates defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence and center Zach Giella for the College Football Playoff. Lawrence left school and declared for the NFL Draft, where he was selected No. 17 overall by the New York Giants, but Giella and Galloway were ruled ineligible for the 2019 season after being denied a drug test appeal. Giella, who had one year of eligibility remaining, is no longer on the team.
Galloway still is, though he has to sit out the season. Coach Dabo Swinney said he believes the tight end will be allowed to play in the event the Tigers make a late-December bowl game, but until then, Swinney needs to find a steady option at tight end.
The most obvious player is junior J.C. Chalk, who was listed as the co-starter along with Galloway on the team's post-spring depth chart.
"He's the next guy," Swinney said of Chalk. "This is a big moment for him to step up and be the contributor that we need him to be at that position."
Williams' big contribution to the Tigers last season was at H-Back, from which he rushed for a two-yard touchdown run and caught a four-yard pass. It was believed in February that Galloway would leave the team for the military, though it is unclear if he still intends to pursue that path.
Though he didn't contribute eye-popping numbers, Williams was a strong presence within the Tigers' offense, which produced historic success in 2018; Clemson averaged 7.35 yards per play, breaking the program record of 6.5 in 2006.
Galloway appeared primed to slide into Williams' spot. A 3-star recruit, per 247sports.com, the Anderson native recorded five catches for 52 yards and one touchdown as a freshman.
The suspension prevents him from making a leap this year, but his absence might end up being a positive, tight ends coach Danny Pearman said.
"You may look up at the end of it and it may the best thing to happen for (him), because (he'll able to) lift and develop (his) body," Pearman said.
In the meantime, Chalk will aim to secure the starting job for the team's Aug. 29 opener against Georgia Tech. The junior has recorded two catches in each of his two college seasons.
Chalk also has a stronger familiarity with Swinney than most. He first met Swinney in the third grade, at a reunion for Alabama's 1992 national championship team; Swinney played on that team and later served as a Crimson Tide assistant under Gene Stallings, who is Chalk's grandfather.
In addition to Chalk, Swinney mentioned freshmen Jaelyn Lay and Davis Allen and sophomore Luke Price as candidates to earn reps at tight end.
And Swinney is still optimistic about Galloway's future.
"Hopefully," Swinney said. "When his story is all written, he’ll be that great player that we think he can be."