Standing at 6-foot-6, weighing more than 300 pounds, and ranked as not only a 5-star prospect, but also as one of the Top-15 players in the country coming out of high school, some couldn’t understand why Tristan Leigh didn’t really see the field during his freshman season. Particularly with the Clemson offensive line struggling mightily at times and ravaged by injury.
However, not all offensive linemen are plug and play type guys. In fact, more often than not, it takes time for one to acclimate to making the jump from high school to Power-5 football. Especially if that lineman is a tackle prospect who will be tasked with protecting your quarterbacks blind side.
Fortunately for the Tigers, having both Jordan McFadden and Walker Parks has given the coaching staff the luxury of bringing Leigh along slowly, and after his first season with the program, head coach Dabo Swinney knows that he has a player that is dedicated to being the best he can be,
“He is a worker,” Swinney said before the start of spring practice.
While Leigh may have needed a year before being ready to contribute, Swinney knows exactly what kind of players the Tigers recruited in the offensive lineman.
“We know who he is as a player,” Swinney said. “What we saw on tape was a guy who knew what he was doing and was playing at a different level and those types of things, but he was playing with a lot of confidence, but then COVID hit, didn’t have a season, it was just a lot.”
Leigh was not an early enrollee, so he didn’t participate in spring practice last season. Not arriving until just before the start of fall camp meant Leigh was already starting behind the eight-ball from a mental standpoint, and knowing the offense. Add in that COVID negatively impacted his senior season of high school ball, and he was behind physically, as well.
“He came in here so far behind, I mean he’d be the first one to tell you,” Swinney said. “Not only was he physically behind, he was mentally behind and just overwhelmed so much.”
However, during his time on campus, Leigh has been putting in the work, and his head coach has taken notice.
“That kid has worked his tail off since he got here in the summer,” Swinney said. “He did a great job in the power hour. His numbers, he has transformed himself physically from a strength conditioning standpoint. And then what he’s doing with his body composition.”
Swinney already knows the redshirt freshman possesses all the necessary tools to great, he just needs to continue to develop.
“He’s got all the tools,” Swinney said. “So the next step is, now let’s go be a more fluid, more confident, efficient, productive offensive linemen than anything we’ve seen.”
This spring the plan is to get Leigh a lot of work, and see where he is, and Swinney is confident that if the former blue-chip prospect keeps doing what he’s been doing, Clemson fans will finally get to see what the coaches saw during the recruiting process. And that is an offensive lineman with an extremely high ceiling.
“It was pretty easy to see he wasn’t gonna be ready so he’s been on the shelf,” Swinney said. “Now we get a chance to go really get some very good work and really work with him. And I’m excited about it because his attitude is tremendous. And he’s a guy that, if he will keep progressing based on what he’s done in a short amount of time, continue that path, then by the time we get all August, he’s a guy that hopefully can help us.”
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