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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — With one four-star quarterback, two three-star quarterbacks and a five-star quarterback already on campus one might ask: How does the second-ranked team in the nation continue to stockpile loads of talent at the position?

Of course, there's also the No. 1-ranked prep quarterback in the nation already committed for next season. And a former Georgia coach recently said he is the best high school QB he has seen "in about 30 years."

For Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, the process of not only getting commitments from top signal callers, but keeping them and then keeping them active in the program once enrolled, is nothing other than truth.

“(It is) not really a pitch. It's the truth. It's a great place. Come here and we'll help you get better. I don't promise anything to anyone,” Swinney said. “The best players will play, whether it's a five-star or a walk-on like Hunter Renfrow. It's a great place, a great academic institution, you'll have great people around you and we'll challenge you athletically and academically.

“I get out of the way and let them spend time with our players. Everyone wants to play. If you have the talent and character and stick with it, usually it works out. Some guys need to develop more and it takes longer; but again, most of the time it'll work out in a good way."

McCloud a weapon

Junior wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud has always had the talent to be a dynamic playmaker for the Clemson offense, but what he has done on the punt-return team this year has truly transformed McCloud into a weapon.

After seeing his fair share of struggles catching the ball last season, McCloud entered the season with a renewed focus and dedication to the craft of being a dynamic punt returner. The work has paid off as he enters this week’s game ranked 26th in the nation in average punt returns (10.3 yards per return).

“I believe in Ray-Ray,” Swinney said. “You see something in practice and you get frustrated at times because it's not translating to the game field sometimes. I fired him a couple of times last year but I love Ray-Ray. I think he's just blossoming and coming into his own.

“He played one of his best games last week. He had some yards after the contact that was a big play because he got more yardage due to his extra effort. His confidence now is really high. I don't think he had quite the maturity to match his talent when he got here. I'm talking about having what it was going to take to be a great player from a mindset standpoint. He took some things for granted a little bit. He's worked hard at that this past year. I'm proud of him. He's a weapon. He can change a game on one play."

Belichick and boxing gloves

Last season, the Clemson secondary ranked last in the nation in pass interference penalties. This season, the Tigers have been one of the best in the nation in not committing those penalties — because of boxing gloves.

"It was my idea, but I stole it from (New England Patriots head coach) Bill Belichick. I figured he's a pretty smart guy; if it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us,” Swinney said. “It's something we had to improve on. It was unbelievable. We were dead last in pass interference calls last year. We needed to improve.

“It's something I wanted us to start doing. We've done that all through camp and one-on-ones. We force them to win with their feet, where they cannot rely on grabbing. We've improved. We're going to have some calls along the way, but we've made improvement."

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.


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