CLEMSON — While the quarterback and the defensive end and the head coach and the defensive coordinator fly across the country on the awards circuit, and the assistant coaches cram a week of recruiting into their schedules, most of the Clemson football team can finally exhale during this, the calm before the storm.
Final exams are never easy, but they’re a welcomed respite this week for the Tigers, who were in action the past 10 Saturdays without a break going back to the Oct. 3 home game vs. Notre Dame.
“That’s going to help this team mentally, physically, spiritually, all of the above,” senior offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain said. “We’ll lock in and refocus. I’m extremely exhausted. I’m excited for this week off.”
Junior defensive end Shaq Lawson has been in Charlotte and Houston this week as a finalist for multiple awards; his coordinator, Brent Venables was in Little Rock, Ark., as a Broyles finalist; quarterback Deshaun Watson will be in Atlanta on Thursday for the Home Depot Awards before jetting to New York City as Clemson’s first Heisman Trophy finalist; and Dabo Swinney has been all over the map blending recruiting with coaching committee meetings and some of those award presentations.
So while the on-field coaches are off recruiting, the Tigers’ support staff has been in charge. Players are taking tests in the classroom and resting their bodies before nearly two weeks of practice takes the Tigers into Christmas and the flight to Miami Dec. 26 to begin Orange Bowl week against Oklahoma for a College Football Playoff semifinal.
“We know what’s at stake if we mess around,” sophomore receiver Artavis Scott said. “I don’t think we’re going to have a problem staying focused. We have a great leader in Coach Swinney, he’s going to take care of that.”
While the offense will have to bottle up its momentum from nine straight 500-yard games, the defense desperately needed a timeout.
Lawson and linebacker Ben Boulware each wore slings in Saturday’s ACC Championship Game victory over North Carolina to alleviate their bad shoulders. Defensive end Kevin Dodd has been in a walking boot after games and cornerback Mackensie Alexander missed a game with a knee injury.
“A lot of guys are playing their heart out and giving everything they have,” junior cornerback Cordrea Tankersley said.
“This rest is going to be really beneficial for us, and by the time of the playoffs, we should be back to normal.”
Boulware suffered a stinger Nov. 21 vs. Wake Forest, and has a severe shoulder sprain. The Tigers’ second-leading tackler with 121, Boulware received cortisone shots the past two games before logging 69 snaps at South Carolina and 64 snaps vs. UNC.
“He’s a war daddy. He’s a battler,” Venables said. “Tough as they come, prepared as they come.”
Asked by a reporter how he was feeling after the ACC title win, Boulware responded, “Physically or emotionally?”
Implored for both, Boulware said, “Personally, my shoulder’s killing me. I’ve been playing with one arm the last two games. Mostly, I’m very happy. We’re ACC Champs, we’re 13-0, we’re the best team in the country. So I’m ecstatic right now. We’re on top of the world.”
Boulware said with the sling over his left shoulder, he did not have his full range of motion or nearly the strength he’s used to in that arm.
“I get it better all throughout the week. (Saturday,) it was moving pretty good, and I’ll get a couple shots in it, and it feels fine in the game when I get hit a couple times,” Boulware said. “But the shot wears off, so it feels like crap on the bus (after the game.)
“This month’s going to be huge to get my shoulder completely back to where it was, and I get to play with two arms, so that’s pretty awesome.”
The battles are done for a few weeks, allowing the pace to slow down just in time for the Tigers to compete with Oklahoma, Alabama and Michigan State for a championship.
“It’s going to help for sure. I hope so. We all need a little bit of time,” Venables said. “That treadmill’s been (full-speed) for a long time. It’s exciting, what we have sitting in front of us, but they need a few days to take a deep breath, heal up a little bit and get ready for the stretch run.”