Super Senior Spotlight: James Skalski, Clemson’s Defensive Chess Master

The game of chess might seem highbrowed, archaic and something that only interests old men but it’s not. It’s cerebral, it’s strategic, it’s intuitive. This, my friends, is exactly how Clemson Super Senior, James Skalski plays linebacker but with him you’d need to add toughness and relentlessness.

I’ve said it before, former Tiger, Ben Boulware, was the outward, emotional embodiment of what being a true Clemson Tiger is all about. Now, just a few years removed, I feel the exact same way about Skalski. His play, his tenacity, his leadership is brilliant and the hallmark of this defense.

In a season marked by a sluggish, struggling offense, it’s easy to lose sight of the true greatness of this defense. The undisputed leader of this stalwart bunch is Skalski. His unharnessed drive, his undaunted passion, his strong will to lead this team is without question, nothing short of amazing.

Like those two old men, playing chess, using strategies, always anticipating their opponents next move, always thinking three moves ahead, Skalski brings that same approach to his linebacker position. I believe he’s probably always been intense but after a family tragedy, the untimely death of his father, somehow it’s enhanced his intensity. Out of personal tragedy, he channeled his pain in other ways. That’s what real champions do.

On the chess board, there is a hierarchy amongst the pieces. Of course, you have the king and queen, the bishop, the rook, the knight and finally, the pawn. Even a novice chess player knows the value of the front line of defense, the pawns.

I understand the term pawn carries a negative, useless, disposable connotation but they are actually the most valuable pieces on the board. If there were such a piece known as the King Pawn, that would be James Skalski. He is the centerpiece of this defense but he’s never, if ever useless nor disposable. He is the energizer bunny of pawns, he just keeps going and going and going.

While the sum total of the success of 2021 might not be too meritorious, don’t look at the math and records too deeply. If you do, you’ll miss the beauty, the poetry, the brilliance of Clemson’s chess master, it’s King Pawn, the irrepressible, James Skalski.

He is a defensive aficionado and I doubt he’s ever thought of himself in these terms but to those that look at his play, one can’t think of any more perfect descriptor for this young man. In his honor and mastery of the game, chess now has a new maneuver.

We’ve heard of the Fibonacci Maneuver, the Queen’s Gambet, the King’s Gambit and the Four Knights Game. Well, now we’re witnessing the birth of the Skalski Maneuver. That’s the one, where the King Pawn, changes the entire match in such a way that few, if any can overcome. Like it’s namesake, James Skalski, It’s a total game changer.

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