CLEMSON — There have only been four practices and a handful of meetings, as he has barely been on campus for two months.
But Derion Kendrick’s name is already swirling around the Clemson football program as a budding star and when it comes to comparisons, the quarterback-turned-wide receiver is on the receiving end of one of the best.
“He reminds me of Sammy,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
As in, Watkins. The former ACC star, the NFL first-round draft pick.
“It’s just a different gear. When (Kendrick) moves, when he takes off at the line, it’s just a different speed.”
Raw, natural ability at its finest.
Kendrick, an early enrollee from South Pointe High School, chose to come to Clemson over the likes of about 15 other programs, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State and Wisconsin.
A jack of all trades in high school who was the top player in South Carolina, Kendrick played wide receiver as a 10th grader before taking over quarterback duties as a junior and senior. In 2017 alone, he completed 184 of his 255 passes for 2,683 yards and 30 touchdowns to just six interceptions. But because Clemson is already more-than loaded at quarterback and because Kendrick has the versatile, athletic makeup of a receiver, Clemson took the same route with him as they did Deon Cain — also a quarterback in high school — and Ray-Ray McCloud, a former running back.
It all became clear about two years ago, when co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott saw Kendrick at a Clemson camp.
“The explosiveness was apparent there and I said then, he was probably one of the most explosive guys we’ve had come through our camp since Sammy (Watkins),” Scott said. “Some guys, it’s very effortless and very easy for them to run. Other guys it’s a little bit more work. He’s one of those guys where it just looks very easy for him.”
What makes Kendrick such a dangerous receiver is that out-of-the-gate speed and his ability to make plays on balls that might be overthrown when he kicks it into high gear to chase them down. He is also fiercely competitive, one of the grittiest players on Dabo Swinney's practice field. At 6-1, 181 pounds, Kendrick will likely fight for playing time at the “2-man” spot, competing with Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell for the role McCloud held down in 2017. T.J. Chase is expected to rep there, too.
“I don’t get to see (the receivers) as much, other than what I’ve seen on film, but everything I can see, it looks very natural. It’s a little bit different situation than Deon in that Deon played quarterback, but this guy just looks more natural doing it,” Elliott said. “Deon had to really learn how to play the position. (Kendrick) is a lot like Ray-Ray ... just very fluid and natural at the position.”
What Kendrick will need to do in order to be successful will be combine that raw athletic ability with the appropriate mindset. He was ejected from games twice during his high school career, once his sophomore year and then again as a senior in September. The latter, however, was overturned and he was ruled eligible to play in the next game after it was determined an opposing player ripped his helmet off, prompting Kendrick to exchange words. Kendrick was also sidelined briefly for a portion of an earlier September game of his senior year for disciplinary reasons — something that will not fly at Clemson.
For now, his first eight weeks at Clemson have turned back positive marks.
“He catches the ball very well. He also does an excellent job catching punts, very natural back there. Route-running, technique, stance, start, releases — he’s still got a lot of work to go,” Scott said. “But it’s important to him. He’s taking notes in meetings, he’s coming in extra, he’s doing the things it takes to be able to help as a young player.”
The Tigers hope that continues.
Palmetto classrooms getting a treat
Christian Wilkins has his undergraduate communications degree, he is working on a graduate one in athletic leadership and now the Clemson defensive lineman is bringing his jovial, contagious personality to all sorts of classrooms across the upstate.
A jack of all trades on the football field, it appears that versatility has translated off of it, too with some extra time on his hands.
"He's a substitute teacher," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney beamed. "He's going to schools all over ... I think they pay $80 a day or something like that. How about you show up to school and you've got Christian Wilkins as your substitute teacher?
"How about that?! That's the kind of guy he is."
Wilkins has already subbed at nearby Walhalla High School, teaching both agriculture and science classes, and is guaranteed to be a natural as a kid at heart himself. He happens to be 300-plus pounds, he happens to be one of the best defensive linemen in the country and he happens to be a future first-round draft pick. But he also is obsessed with the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and he loves to dance. More so than the students, the other teachers have been enamored with his presence.
But don't be fooled: the lineman is strict.
"We've got to get down to business. We don't have time for games," he laughed. "We've got to get to work and I've got to educate the youth."
Clemson schedule moving forward
Clemson's football team participated in its first day of live work and its second day of wearing pads Monday. The plan for Wednesday is to have a controlled, situational scrimmage before having the first official scrimmage March 14.
All four quarterbacks have gotten significant reps.
"I’m very pleased with this team. This has been a lot of fun, these first four days, just great energy and enthusiasm. We’ve got excellent leadership at every position and that’s really fun for a coach, to be able to come out here every day and know that as a coach, you don’t always have to be the one to get them going," Swinney said. "I’ve always said the best teams are led from within and this team certainly demonstrated that these first four days. I really commend those guys for showing up and being ready to go to work.”
One final Tiger at the NFL Combine
One last former Clemson player worked out at the NFL Combine on Monday, when the yearly event came to a close with defensive backs and safeties taking their turn working out on the field.
Van Smith, the former Clemson safety, was among them looking to make his mark, though he struggled. The former Clemson safety ran a 4.61-second 40-yard dash, which was sixth to last among all safeties. His vertical jump of 29.5 inches was the lowest mark — by two inches — among his position group.
The Charlotte native had one more year of eligibility remaining at Clemson but decided to bet on himself and forego it. The decision came as a shock to many, but Smith felt he was ready. He will have another opportunity at Clemson's Pro Day to showcase his talent to NFL scouts and coaches.
"The day I committed, Sept. 1, 2015, I knew Clemson was the place that would help me grow into a man and not just a football player," he said in a January statement, announcing his plans. "Thanks to all the coaches that kept me going through my ups and downs."