I’ve read hundreds of things online about him. I’ve listened to many interviews with him. I’ve mentioned him by name or have referred to him without mentioning a name time or two. However, it’s time for me write about him. The mysterious conundrum known as DJ Uiagalelei.
Unfortunately, he nor Clemson, has the luxury of time where his position as starting quarterback is concerned. Come this fall, he has to show something, anything that resembles the player that was so prolific in 2020, and quickly. It’s not always the best situation for a player to be in but regardless, it’s Uiagalelei against the world.
What a huge, almost monumental task for anyone, especially a 20-year old young man to face. At times, he has appeared lost, scared, shaken and yes, inept.
However, putting the emotions of last season aside, I believe that when faced with the new talent within the quarterback room, he will be forced to rise up to meet expectations, his and the world’s. He’ll do it with humility, pride and yes, talent. It’s still there waiting to be displayed.
Cade Klubnik’s arrival on campus in January has been fortuitous for all involved. Klubnik, Clemson and even, Uaigalelei. Last year, had to have been daunting to know, on the field, Uaigalelei stood alone, against the world. With little if, any quality depth due to an insanely high number of injuries, and playing virtually the entire season with one injury or another himself, he really did stand alone.
I’ve tried to place myself in his shoes and attempt to understand how he must have felt. Disappointment abound, relief nowhere in sight and criticism from everywhere. Uiagalelei was disparaged by the national media as a total bust and by many in his own fanbase. To his credit, he stayed the course, never quitting, even though everyone, seemingly the entire world, hoped he would.
Rightly or wrongly, many held him in responsible for last season because he didn’t ‘cut the mustard’ and that he was just a mere mortal unlike his predecessor, Trevor Lawrence, who was a football god.
When everything is going wrong, the cold wind is blowing you in the face, yet you still shoulder every ounce of blame, that’s the hallmark of a leader. No, I’m not re-writing history, I’m just looking at things from a different perspective.
I’m not a hypocrite nor a blind fool. I saw what you saw, I was critical in my comments and in my selfish, whinny entitlement, I failed to even think what this young man was struggling through. Just imagine, his rocket arm that could throw a 60+ yard pass the previous season, couldn’t seem to find the receiver’s hands, it had betrayed him. The calmness in the pocket, the mobility to elude the oncoming defense was nowhere to be found, and he was constantly pummeled.
I believe, most importantly the family support he depended upon a season earlier was no longer visible in the stands. Also, family issues being played out on social media had to be extremely painful, leaving him to feel pulled by different forces in different directions. Not offering excuses but anyone would be affected by all of that, especially a 20-year old young man.
At some point, he appears to have lost something that every struggling athlete can least afford to lose, his self-confidence. One can only say ‘my bad’ so many times before those three words begin to haunt them and come to define them.
I don’t know what this upcoming season will hold for Uaigalelei but I suspect we’ll see a different quarterback. Knowing it’s on him and with his fate firmly in his own grasp, he’s ready to face whatever.
After last year’s disappointing campaign, it’s no longer just him against the world, he knows he’s got help, if needed and that is a good thing for everyone.
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