No. 4 Clemson welcomes break after emotion-filled stretch
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Few teams seem to have needed time off this season more than No. 4 Clemson.
The Tigers, who have won their first six games for a fourth consecutive season, have handled a mentally draining stretch, including the news last week that former Clemson tailback C.J. Fuller had died.
“It’s been a tough couple of weeks emotionally for this team,” linebacker Tre Lamar said Monday. “I feel like we’ve stayed strong through this whole thing. But it’s definitely nice to have this week off because it gives us some time to decompress.”
Clemson (6-0, 3-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) returns to the field with a home game against No. 20 North Carolina State (5-0, 2-0) on Oct. 20.
Before then, though, Clemson will spend a couple of days at practice, take part in a team community service project at its home facility Tuesday before a weekend away from campus — and the football field.
The upheaval started two weeks back when Clemson named freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence as starter over well-respected senior — and last year’s starter — Kelly Bryant.
A day later, Bryant told coach Dabo Swinney of his intent to transfer and left the program.
In that week’s home game with Syracuse on Sept. 29, Lawrence was injured in the opening half and it took a dramatic rally led by one-time third string quarterback Chase Brice to pull out a 27-23 win.
Last week when things seemed like they were returning to normal, Clemson received the news of Fuller’s death. Fuller was with the Tigers from 2014 through 2017, was a backup on the national championship team two seasons ago and only announced this past February of his intention to play elsewhere as a graduate transfer.
Pickens County Coroner Kandy Kelley said a cause for Fuller’s death won’t be known for six-to-eight weeks. Swinney said in a radio interview last Thursday that he wasn’t sure if “it was a blood clot or seizure” that led to Fuller’s death.
Swinney and several players attended Fuller’s funeral service Sunday, a day after gaining 471 yards rushing — with three players rushing for more than 100 yards — in a 63-3 win over Wake Forest.
“I can’t help but think C.J. was smiling on that, to see his guys perform like that in the running game,” Swinney said.
Clemson guard Sean Pollard was pleased with the team’s focus through the troubling situations. He’s also happy for the break so players can gain perspective on what’s happened and focus on improving going forward.
The Tigers have traditionally gotten better as their seasons progress, Pollard said, and he’s confident that will happen once more this fall.
“Getting a mental break is going to be good for us,” said Pollard, a redshirt junior. “It’s a chance to be like other students.”
The 6-foot-6 Lawrence is grateful for the downtime, too. He acknowledged the difficulty of balancing the joy of gaining the starting job and seeing a trusted mentor in Bryant depart.
“I wish he were still here,” Lawrence said., who noted the two have kept in contact and maintain a strong relationship.
Lawrence summed up the recent events, saying, “It’s been a crazy two weeks.”