I’m a believer, a dreamer, it’s who I am. A fellow dreamer, in Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Family is blessed to have such a man leading this team. Often, his belief in a plan, an opinion and yes, even a player can be seen, as both gutsy and shortsighted.
However, sometimes the masses, in their ignorance of the facts, view some of his beliefs do more harm than good. Even the most generous believers, out of respect/deference, remain quiet and watch. So it was in the “Belief Triangle” of 2021.
I won’t go into a full recounting of this past season because it’s probably too soon and too painful. However, as time and distance has a way of doing, it is time for a more rational view.
Now, with clear vision, emotions in check and yes, true belief, it’s time. There will be no blame casted on one player or coach because we grownups should know, one person doesn’t win a game nor does one person lose it either. Unfortunately, the 2021 season, from it’s start, some inside the fanbase forgot that fact.
“Somebody has to benched, somebody better be fired” or “bring in a different player, this one is terrible, he’s forgotten how to play!” Yes, all remember the pain, frustrations and blame hurled at one particular young man, quarterback, DJ Uiagalelei. Now that I’ve said it, let’s take a look ahead at 2022. For Uiagalelei, next season could go down in one of two ways.
Unlike a lot of predictions for 2022 and Uiagalelei, these two paths are an earnest attempt at articulating what I can realistically see happening and for Uiagalelei, both are hopeful.
First path. Uiagalelei, now completely healthy after playing most of the 2021 season with a myriad of ailments, will silence all doubters. This young QB, from his two spectacular showings in 2020, will rise to the expectations of all. He will show who he truly is as a player.
It will also prove, Swinney’s perceived “blind confidence/faith” regarding his QB, was justified. Down this path of least resistance, Clemson moves expeditiously back towards its rightful place in the college football universe. Sure, there will always be doubts by some naysayers in the fanbase and the media, but Uiagalelei and this comfortable, updated offense will stifle the “noise.”
One of the most overlooked, potentially season affecting issue, is one a lot of students go through, home sickness. 3000 miles is a long way between members of a close family. I imagine, for Uiagalelei, it had to have felt more like a million miles away with him being on an isolated island. It had to affect him and his confidence. Heck, we’ve all been home sick, it’s real.
Second path for the 2022 season is summed up in one word, competition. I don’t believe for one second that last year, even injured, even with all his obvious, painful struggles, Uiagalelei was really ever challenged from within. Iron sharpens iron and a healthy, vigorous competition is what every true competitor wants. To be the best, you’ve got the play the best. Again, without openly criticizing anyone, last season that lack of competition had a huge impact on the quarterback room.
With the arrival of Cade Klubnik on campus, the competition issues of last season should be no longer. Add the sixth year veteran, Hunter Johnson, as well as Hunter Helms and Billy Wiles, you can feel nothing but excitement.
I’m of the belief, Klubnik will prove his immediate value to his team. He is the future but he might need to be “the guy” in 2022 and play or not, through competition, he and Clemson will be the better for it.
So, for Clemson and Uiagalelei, this spring and fall could be the most anticipated, the most challenging and the most valuable of Swinney’s coaching career. I guess that’s the beauty of being led by a realistic dreamer, an unapologetic over believer like Swinney. His is passion, excitement, it’s infectious.
The statement made at the beginning of this article, for Uiagalelei, 2022 can go one of two ways, and it will. However, it isn’t intended as gloom but rather one of hope. The weight of the immense, unfulfilled expectations on this young man’s broad shoulders can now be shared, it’s not all on him.
Competition indeed is the best of things and will determine which path Uiagalelei’s career will take. All one can hope is he will be the best version of himself. Then, the rest will take care of itself.
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