CLEMSON — Sometime players come along that are “plug and play” at the college level.
Deshaun Watson or Sammy Watkins arrived at Clemson ready to go and needed little help in reaching their potential. There have been others.
But more often than not, players need a little help adjusting to their new life — where they are no longer the biggest fish on campus but are merely one of 85 guys trying to earn a spot on the field.
And sometime, there are players like Clemson wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud in need of the head coach getting in their “grits” to help them reach their potential.
“He’ll be the first one to tell you, I have been in his grits since the day he got here,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “He and I have had our moments, but I just want him to be great. I just want him to reach his potential and I know what it’s going to take for him and he’s responded.
“He’s just incredibly talented. I mean, he brought a great skill set in here -- explosive, got great lateral quickness. He’s as tough as they come — he thinks he’s 6-4, 250, that’s his mindset … He didn’t have a good understanding of playing wide receiver. He just wanted to be a good athlete, a little undisciplined. Eventually he figured out that he wasn’t going to be successful that way.”
While it took McCloud some time to figure out that his head coach wanted what was best for him, he now is thankful for the opportunities afforded to him by Swinney and the rest of the coaching staff.
McCloud has turned into one of the team’s leading receivers, a dynamic weapon on the punt return team — averaging 13.39 yards per return (13th nationally) — and now an emergency cornerback.
"Coach Swinney's talked to me about that -- perfecting my craft, coming every day and practicing with a purpose,” McCloud said. “And I honed that in and come to practice with a purpose. I lead and just be more vocal and just help the others out when needed. That gave me an opportunity to open up my versatility.
"It's great to see that my coach thinks that I'm growing and I feel like I'm growing as a person, as a man and as a football player -- coming to work every day with a purpose and leading by example and by voice.”
While Swinney has been hard on McCloud through his first three years of college football, the coach can now smile when he thinks about how far McCloud has come.
“I've been coaching skill guys for a long time and I've had a million Ray-Rays where you've had some growth that needs to take place. I’m just really proud of him, he’s in a great place and the best spot that he’s been in,” Swinney said. “We believed in him and what he could do. We just needed to see more urgency. Sometimes you’ve got to go through some stuff to really get the right mindset and that's really what it took for him. He's a very prideful player. He's realized how he has to work - -the mindset that he has to have to reach his potential … Our confidence comes from what he's done in practice."
As the Tigers prepare for their biggest game of the season against Florida State — in which the Tigers can clinch the Atlantic Division for a third straight season — McCloud is used to playing in “big games,” having played in multiple contests against ranked opponents and two national championship games since his arrival at Clemson.
But even with the Seminoles struggling this season to a 3-5 overall record, this game still means a little more — especially for someone from Florida.
"It's a blessing to be a part of this game,” McCloud said. “It's always a Clemson-Florida State thing and it's always a big game that the fans, the players, the coaches always look forward too. No matter what their records are in the season, it's always a big game.
“Both teams are coming to play and definitely for me, one of my good friends I played high school ball with, Auden Tate, he's there. And then Derwin (James), (Deondre) Francois, he's not playing, all those guys I played ball with in high school. So it's a big game."