Clemson football ‘grown men’ committed to championship reload, look to Georgia

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ATHENS — Dabo Swinney and his Clemson Tigers don’t need to look at the schedule to know what’s ahead, or what it will take to conquer it.

Georgia will play Clemson on Sept. 4 in Charlotte, N.C., in what’s expected to be one of college football’s biggest games of the 2021 season, with both schools projected in the preseason Top 5.

Swinney’s Tigers have won 10 straight regular-season games against SEC teams dating back to the last time Clemson and Georgia played in 2014. The Tigers have faced Alabama in the postseason four times since then, going 2-2 against Nick Saban and the Tide.

Clemson has an offensive reload on its hands with the departure of likely No. 1 NFL draft pick Trevor Lawrence and first-round projected tailback Travis Etienne, but Swinney is confident in his program.

WATCH: Dabo Swinney opens up on 2021 Tigers

“We have some grown men that are very committed, and they know what it takes,” Swinney said on his season-opening Zoom press conference call. “They know what they have to do, and it starts with that leadership.”

Senior captain and All-ACC linebacker James Skalski is one of those grown men. Skalski, a Georgia prep product from Northgate High School in Newnan, said playing the Bulldogs does add a little fuel to the fire — but only to an extent.

“It does, playing a team as talented as Georgia, as good as Georgia, it’s going to be a good game, it’s very good,” Skalski said. “It definitely does motive you a little bit.

“But we’re motivated every year, We’re just excited to play football, it doesn’t matter who lines up in front of us.”

Skalski and the Tigers are particularly motivated to get the program’s mojo back after getting beat by Ohio State, 49-28.

“The most disappointing aspect of that game, we got punched in the mouth, we got outphysicaled,”  Skalski said. “ They kicked our ass, plain and simple and that’s never ok playing football. That’s rule No. 1, that’s what football is about.”

Clemson safety Nolan Turner made it clear the Tigers know it will take hard work to be ready for the Bulldogs and their run for a sixth-straight ACC title and College Football Appearance.

“We have a lot of potential, but that doesn’t mean anything,” Turner said. “We have to get better and improve physically, all of us. We have to improve mentally with our knowledge of the game, especially on the back end.

“We have to step up,” he said. “We have guys growing up, this offseason coming up, we’ll take advantage of it, and we’re going to get right.”

Indeed, Swinney isn’t about to lower the bar. Clemson reportedly dismissed former All-ACC cornerback Derion Kendrick from its team, per the Columbia State.

“We have to develop the chemistry and leadership, those are things you don’t carry over,” Swinney said, “and you have to re-establish them.”

The Tigers were scheduled to hold their third spring practice session on Monday leading up to the annual spring game on April 3.

“We’ve got a lot of guys back on this team,” Swinney said. “This is the most veteran group that we’ve had since that 2018 bunch.”

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