James Skalski thought long and hard before answering a question about which Clemson player will surprise people in 2021.
The Tigers senior linebacker decided to go with freshman running back Will Shipley, who's turning heads the summer on the practice fields at Clemson.
"Keep an eye on Will Shipley," Skalski said at last week's ACC Kickoff, "I think he’ll have some Travis Etienne-like plays this year.”
Etienne, the school's and the ACC's all-time leading rusher, was one of college football's most explosive, big-play talents the last four years. To put Shipley in that same category means the players who have seen him the most hold him in high regard.
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It's fair to question Dabo Swinney about his lack of use of the NCAA transfer portal, but it's hard to give the right answers in the middle of a 3-2 season when everyone is trying to figure out a struggling offense.
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It turns out that the Tigers can fuel up the ROY bus again in 2021, because to the Tigers, who currently sit at 3-2, with their two losses coming to ranked teams, being unranked is a sign of disrespect.
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Despite the early season struggles, Dabo Swinney says this Clemson team will be judged for how they finish the season, not the 3-2 start.
"He's probably one of the fastest guys on the team for sure," Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei said. "Maybe him or Frank Ladson. Will Shipley is a grinder. He works his butt off. He's always working out. You can tell he has a different mindset."
The work ethic part isn't quite as impressive as the talk of Shipley's speed. The five-star prospect from the 2021 recruiting class has consistently run sub-4.5 in the 40-yard dash. Shipley, who rushed for over 2,000 yards as a junior at Weddington High School in Matthews, N.C., is not just a running back and is expected to be utilized greatly in the passing game.
"I think that Will Shipley is gonna be an exceptional player," Clemson offensive lineman Matt Bockhorst said. "I think he’s gonna make an impact this year.”
It's hard to pinpoint how much of an impact he'll make on the team this fall in a loaded running back room that includes likely starter Lyn-J Dixon along with Kobe Pace, Darien Rencher and fellow freshman Phil Mafah. But Etienne found a way to contribute with a team-high 736 rushing yards in his first season.
"(Shipley) can fly," Uiagalelei said. "He can catch the ball. He can line up at receiver. He's definitely a special talent. I'm a huge fan."