Clemson wide receiver Deon Cain (8) catches a touchdown pass in the end zone as Troy cornerback Jalen Rountree (22) defends during the second half an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. Clemson won 30-24. (AP Photo/Rai
Rainier Ehrhardt
September 15, 2016

CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Deon Cain could not bear to watch Clemson's national championship game last January. He shut off his phone, stayed away from friends following every play, did not Tweet or read posts on social media.

Cain, suspended before the Orange Bowl , was upset that he had let his teammates down in the biggest games of the year and did not want reminders of his failure.

''I know how hard our team worked last year,'' Cain said this week, his first time taking questions since the suspension. ''I felt like I let my team down just not being in that game.''

Cain, who watched the game over the summer, has returned to the field and found his freshman form when he caught 35 passes for 582 yards and five touchdowns. And that production all came during Clemson's second half surge when the team averaged 558 yards and 40.1 points a game.

He caught his first touchdown pass this season with a 23-yard, fourth-quarter grab that turned out to be the winning points in Clemson's 30-24 victory over Troy last week.

Cain and No. 5 Clemson (2-0) face FCS opponent South Carolina State (0-2) on Saturday.

The wide receiver cherishes being able to look forward to playing.

After Dabo Swinney sent him home the night before the Orange Bowl, it was a time for reflection. Instead of becoming angry and spiteful, blaming others, Cain - who also missed spring practice - accepted his responsibility and worked to get back in Swinney's favor.

''He still has a program and a team to run,'' Cain said of Swinney. ''And you don't want anything to make our whole program look bad. So I had to sit down and realize that I had to get myself right to help this team.''

Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson kept Cain sharp when the two would run a few routes. That's been evident early on as Cain has broken free of defenders several times the first two games.

''I'm still fast as lightning,'' the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Cain quipped.

Cain, kicker Ammon Lakip and tight end Jay Jay McCullough were all sent back to campus for violating team rules. Lakip was a senior last year while McCullough is no longer with the program.

Many wondered if Cain would be back with the Tigers. He was suspended for the Miami game last October for a team violation and his postseason suspension looked to be the final straw. Cain realized the opportunity he had with the Tigers, both academically and for his potential pro career. Clemson, emerging as Wide Receiver U with DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Adam Humphries and Martavis Bryant all former Tiger pass catchers in the NFL.

''I would never leave this program because they have never done anything bad to me,'' said Cain, of Tampa, Florida. ''I put this program on a pedestal because they've done a lot of stuff to help me. I just wasn't mature enough to see the opportunity they were giving me.''

Cain leaned on family to keep him grounded and striving toward his goals during his time off the field.

''I know and they know that I have a big future in front of me and goals that I want to set that I've been working toward my whole life,'' Cain said. ''It's not something that I want to throw away.''

Swinney said Cain served his time and has lived up to responsibilities since returning to the team. The Tigers could certainly use the sophomore's breakaway skills to kick start their sluggish offense, which has totaled 49 points in two games.

Cain added 15 pounds over the summer without losing his speed - and proving he has bought into the team's goals.

''It's fine that that I'm back with the team and we're all in good graces,'' he said.



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