CLEMSON -- Dawson Zimmerman is the only English major on scholarship on the Clemson football team, but the senior punter spoke earlier this week as if he had just come from a course on corporate leadership.
Zimmerman spoke about "tiers of responsibility" being key to Clemson (8-1, 5-1 ACC) this season. The top tier begins in the player ranks with Zimmerman and seven senior starters, who will make their final run down the Memorial Stadium hill at noon today against Wake Forest.
With a win against the Demon Deacons (5-4, 4-2), Clemson's seniors -- which includes key cogs like defensive linemen Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch and right tackle Landon Walker -- will clinch their second division title in three years.
"The seniors talk to juniors and all the way down, and that's one way you get consistency," Zimmerman said.
"When the seniors consistently lead and consistently go out there and practice and play to the best of our abilities, that trickles down through the whole team."
Coach Dabo Swinney says Clemson lacked consistency last year in part due to a vacuum of upper classman leadership following the loss of leaders like Michael Palmer and C.J. Spiller following the 2009 season.
"We've got really good senior leadership," Swinney said. "One of the things we've done a good job with is developing leadership throughout the team. I meet with the seniors twice a week."
Swinney's leadership council meets every week to discuss ways to keep the team focused and fresh. Swinney listens. The leadership council suggested at one point this season practicing fewer days in full pads and Swinney applied the suggestion.
Walker is a member of the council.
"I've seen a lot of guys lead so I know how to do it," Walker said. "You put younger guys before you, you really see guys grow up. You put team ahead of yourself ... that is being a leader."
By redshirting so many players, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe often has a preponderance of experienced leadership. Swinney is taking a page from the Wake Forest leadership playbook, being able to redshirt the majority of his last two recruiting classes.
"We have a lot of guys who are learning and going through the game-day process," Swinney said. "They are watching others and learning. Learning from others' mistakes ... absorbing. It's like having money in the bank."
Zimmerman says the seniors have one more example to set -- how to finish with an ACC title.
"We lost an ACC championship; we know how it feels," Zimmerman said of 2009. "We have to keep the younger guys focused."