Clemson To Test Uiagalelei Mentally This Spring

Brad Senkiw

Dabo Swinney has watched Southern California native D.J. Uiagalelei throw the football from afar for a couple of years now.

At the Tigers’ first practice Wednesday, Swinney finally got to see one of the top young quarterbacks in the country up close on the field, and the coach liked what he saw from one of the prized recruits of the 2020 class.

“It’s fun to watch him live,” Swinney said. “I’ve seen him many, many times on tape. He can sling it.”

Swinney will get to test more than Uiagalelei’s arm this spring, though. The 6-foot-5, 245-pound early enrollee won’t have to shape his body right away. He already looks like a finished product at 18-years-old, but Uiagalelei will have to get his mind ready for the Clemson offense.

Swinney makes it tough on freshmen who show up in the spring with lots of installation and “overload” so his staff can evaluate how they process the playbook and decision-making.

“We try to meet them where they are and have meetings and things like that and try to give them as much as you can, but those guys have to take a lot of ownership on their own,” Swinney said. “Meet with Trevor, things like that, to try to bridge that gap, but we don’t slow down. We’ve got a day one installation and they’ve got to be ready.”

During the portion of practice open to the media, Uiagalelei looked like a kid on his first day of school at times. He had to watch two players ahead of him and talk about what he saw with veteran players. When he got his chance during drills, he bobbled a snap that was hard to handle. He floated a few passes that didn’t have near the zip of incumbent starter Trevor Lawrence, but Uiagalelei has already made an impact on the guy he’s expected to follow as early as 2021.

“He looks good,” Lawrence said about Uiagalelei. “Kind of the way he carries himself, I think we’re similar. We’ve got a good relationship.”

Lawrence said Uiagalelei is picking up the offense quickly and that the prospect knows football well.

“Even though he doesn’t know all the plays yet, when he sees them once or twice he’s already learning them and getting them down,” Lawrence said. “He’s really smart. He’s a natural. He’s got a knack for the game.”

Those instincts will be put to the test this spring. Taisun Phommachanh, a four-star prospect from the 2019 class, looked in shape and confident as the No. 2 quarterback Wednesday coming out of his redshirt season.

He won’t give up the backup job easily, but for Swinney and the coaching staff, the spring is more about seeing what all Uiagalelei can handle mentally. They already know what he can do physically.

“We throw all the mud at them and a lot of this is going to fall off and then we pick it back up and throw it at them again,” Swinney said. “By the end of the spring, hopefully the majority of it is sticking.” 

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