When Xavier Thomas walked through the football facility on July 19 during Clemson's 2021 media outing, the words of Brent Venables rang true.
"He'd probably tell you he's in his best shape since he's been at Clemson," Venables, the Tigers' veteran defensive coordinator said about the edge rusher.
It was apparent that Thomas, heading into his fourth season on campus, is taking this season very seriously. A player who once weighed 290 pounds, according to head coach Dabo Swinney, fought back from multiple illnesses, including COVID-19 last year, to get under 270 pounds.
This renewed physical commitment from a defensive end who missed Clemson's last two games and put off the NFL for another shot at living up to immense hype is a welcomed sight for Venables and the Tigers defense.
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"We're expecting a big year," Venables said. "He's incredibly talented. He's powerful, he's explosive, he's got a great pass rush. Hopefully, this is the year he'll put it all together. I believe, based on what we've seen from him, this is the time for him."
It would also be a welcome sight for Clemson fans, who have been waiting on one of the most heralded recruits in the last decade to play like it. Thomas' numbers have been underwhelming as he's totaled 14 tackles and 5.5 sacks in 19 games the last two seasons.
He struggled with health most of last year, missing the first three games, and was never able to produce big numbers. Part of that was the weight and conditioning, and Venables said Thomas has set personal records in the weight room this offseason and gained extra strength.
Venables doesn't like to use an "ideal weight" for a player, he believes Thomas is capable of being a big-time pass-rusher anywhere from 265 to 280 pounds.
"Xavier's worked really hard," Venables said. "He's had the injury bug and a variety of issues. Some of it was out of his control and some of it maybe wasn't, but I think he's in a good place right now."
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