Hardships flowing throughout last year's Clemson season aside, Xavier Thomas had head coach Dabo Swinney's complete confidence and support on the first day of fall camp.
Thomas has lost 30 pounds since January and has been irrevocably 'focused' according to Swinney, after realizing he wasn't where he needed to be to succeed in a potential NFL Draft exit from Clemson.
"Yeah, well, you know, he (Thomas) decided back in December or January, he obviously was not anywhere near where he needed to be to maximize his opportunity (in the NFL)," said Swinney before Friday's first fall practice kicked off.
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"Somebody probably would have drafted him, but it wouldn't have been anywhere near what he's capable of, and so you talk about a guy I'm super proud of; I mean, that guy was 294 pounds at his peak, if you will. He's 264 (now). It's incredible, and he's been incredibly focused since January. I know he's really proud of himself and what a difference a year makes for that young man. I think that will serve him well for the rest of his life."
Injuries and health complications related to COVID-19 resulted in a hellish 2020 season for Thomas. Swinney says he's healthy and geared to go, but the mindset Thomas acquired from this past 12 month's journey is exactly what's needed to compete with his teammates throughout camp. Thomas' energy was noticeable with vibrant dancing and constant handshakes with every fellow Tiger he passed while never losing his competitive edge in drills.
"XT" still grabbed 3.5 sacks in a mere 119 snaps in a shell of himself. In the first glimpse of no pads work during Clemson's accumulation period with limited contact, Swinney's hype was furthered by a three-tech left and right-handed get-off matched only by Bryan Bresee Friday afternoon.
"It's not always what we've become, it's what we overcome along the way," Swinney said. "And what (Thomas) has overcome to get to where he is today, just really proud. Really proud of him. You think about going and playing football with a 30-pound weight vest on and doing all the things that you normally do. So he's probably going to show up quick. When we get out there, he'll probably look like the XT that I've always known, and he's just in a different place from a maturity standpoint.
"We sat down and we talked and we met, kind of laid out like where he is and what he needs to do, and man he's exceeded all those things. He's just got a great look in his eye, I know he's really proud of himself and what a difference a year makes for that young man. I think that will serve him well for the rest of his life."