Freshmen shine in Tigers’ season opening win
By Alex Maminakis
CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers got a glimpse of their future during Saturday’s season opening win over Furman, and it is bright.
In No. 2 Clemson’s 48-7 win over the Paladins at Memorial Stadium, the Tigers got the chance to play many of their true freshmen for the first time, and the young players made the most of their first collegiate snaps.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence made his highly anticipated Clemson debut and finished 9-for-15 passing for 137 yards and three touchdowns as he shared time with Kelly Bryant and Chase Brice at the position.
But Lawrence was only one of a number of freshmen to make an impact in Saturday’s win.
“To see the veterans play well, then also all the young guys play good, too — we’re really meshing and playing really good at the best time, the start of the season, so it’s exciting,” Lawrence said after the game.
On offense, tight end Braden Galloway, from Seneca High School, running back Lyn-J Dixon, and wide receivers Justyn Ross and Derion Kendrick all made big plays against Furman in their debuts.
Galloway caught three passes on three targets from Lawrence for 34 yards and his first career touchdown. The freshman said the whole experience of getting to play in the stadium he grew up only miles from was exhilarating.
“On the bus ride I had some chills, I was getting goose bumps, but once I got out there and started moving, everything kind of went away,” Galloway said. “But it was good — I had a blast.
“Scoring was just the icing on the cake.”
Ross also got in on the scoring action — his first catch as a Tiger turned out to be his first career touchdown as well.
On the scoring drive in the third quarter that resulted in Ross’ touchdown, the Tigers’ offense went 92 yards on three plays at the hands of three freshmen — Lawrence, Dixon and Ross.
After Dixon’s first two career rushes went for 16 and 61 yards, respectively, Lawrence completed a pass to Ross, who made a few Paladins miss on his way to the end zone for 15 yards.
The short drive proved the potential of Clemson’s young offensive playmakers.
“It was a great experience,” Ross said. “I thought I wasn’t going to be nervous, but I was. I don’t usually get nervous when I’m playing, but it was just a crowd I’ve never seen before. Everything went well, though.
“I think we’re the best class to come in,” he added of his fellow freshmen. “We’re real good, we’ve got a lot of depth and everybody can play.”
Kendrick finished the game with just one catch, but it went for 38 yards and showed his athletic ability as he went high to make the play over the Furman defender.
Freshman kicker B.T. Potter also had a strong debut. Potter handled kickoff duties on Saturday and boomed six of his seven kicks into or through the end zone for touchbacks with an average of 61.4 yards per kick.
As a whole, the Clemson freshmen showed their capabilities in the Tigers’ season opener and proved why they, as a recruiting class, were rated as one of the country’s best.
It’s only one small sample size against Furman, but the Tigers were very encouraged by the production of their youth on Saturday.
“That just shows how special this group is and how much potential we do have,” said freshman defensive end Xavier Thomas. “It just shows how our future looks.”
Rodgers has strong start at receiver and returner
In the first game of his sophomore year, now a starting wide receiver, Amari Rodgers showed how productive he can be at multiple positions.
Rodgers led Clemson in receiving on Saturday with three catches for 44 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown in the first quarter — his first as a Tiger.
“It was amazing. I’ve been visualizing this all week, and when it came I was (excited),” he said of his touchdown. “I was happy, and that hard work’s starting to pay off, so hopefully I can keep it up.”
But Rodgers also made big plays in the punt return game for Clemson. Topping the depth chart at punt returner to start the season, Rodgers returned two on Saturday for 87 yards, including one for 62 that set the Tigers up nicely in Furman territory.
He said this summer that he had been working hard on his return game, and it showed in Saturday’s win.
“Being a receiver actually helps being a punt returner, because catching balls all the time helps you catching punts,” he said. “I have a lot of fun (returning punts), I take a lot of pride in that.”
Rodgers played a lot as a freshman last season, but his role will increase this year, as evidenced by his production in the opener against Furman.
He said he understands the importance of flipping and gaining field position, and that is something he can gain for the Tigers in his roles as both receiver and returner this year.
“Field position is what coach dwells on,” Rodgers said. “So when I had a good punt return, that kind of warmed me up — I got comfortable being back in season mode.”
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