Today we start our “Time To Shine” series, looking at players from the Clemson football team who for one reason or another, really need to step it up in 2020.
Over his first two seasons at Clemson, it is fair to say that Xavier Thomas has yet to deliver the kind of production most expected from the defensive end when he signed with the Tigers.
Playing in a reserve role as a freshman, Thomas wowed fans with flashes of his potential. He racked up 43 total tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks on his way to earning first-team Freshman All-American honors from USA Today, ESPN, The Athletic and 247 Sports.
After that freshman season, big things were expected from Thomas in 2019. While he was named a third team All-ACC selection, he also had his share of struggles as a sophomore. Despite logging 130 more snaps last year, his numbers were down across the board as he finished with 31 tackles, 8 tackles for loss, and 2 sacks.
Faced with not having as much depth at defensive tackle, defensive coordinator Brent Venables chose to employ a three man look up front last season. While it was what was best for the team, at the same time it had a negative effect on Thomas.
There is no debating the fact that the scheme played a role in Thomas not playing up to the standard most expected, but when asked about that back during the spring, Thomas was making no excuses. In fact, he pointed the finger squarely in his own direction.
“I’m not really an excuse type of guy,” Thomas said. “It really was me just needing to put more work into it and get better. I didn’t really put this out publicly, but I kind of got the big head. Kind of like an entitled mindset coming off my big freshman year that I had. Like I said, I got big headed a little bit, and I definitely humbled myself.”
The talented defensive end from Florence, South Carolina is now ready to put 2019 behind him. He is only looking ahead and is ready to get back on the field.
“I would say I definitely have that edge back that I had my freshman year,” Thomas said. “Throughout your journey here, there are a lot of different things, and you grow maturity wise, and it’s definitely been hard I would say. I am just going to try and get better with my guys every day. Just put my head down and go to work.”
Thomas is already being looked at as a possible second round selection in next April’s NFL Draft. However, with a productive junior season, it is easy to envision him making a big jump up the boards, eventually being a first round selection.
If Thomas is to be that first round pick though, he has to get it done on the field in 2020. With the Tigers switching back to the more traditional 4-3 look on defense and having more help on the interior, Thomas is primed to have exactly the kind of season most expected of him when he first arrived on campus.