CLEMSON—How does a team like Clemson replace two of the most decorated wide receivers to ever play?
The answer is simple if you are head coach Dabo Swinney—reload.
The Tigers will not have to look very far in finding suitable replacements for former Lake Marion Gator Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, both of whom are headed to the Los Angeles Chargers in the National Football League, because the experience that they have coming back is more than many teams could ever hope for.
“We’ve got a good amount of experience back there with Ray-Ray (McCloud), and Hunter Renfrow and Deon (Cain) and Trevion Thompson,” Swinney said. “Those four guys have good experience going into this year. They’ve all made some big plays in big moments.”
“Big plays in big moments” might be a little bit of an understatement.
Hunter Renfrow caught the game-winning touchdown catch in the Tigers 35-31 come-from-behind victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide in last year’s national title game, his fourth touchdown reception in two national championship appearances against Alabama.
Ray-Ray McCloud finished the 2016 season third on the team, behind Williams and Scott in receptions, with 49 for 472 yards, while adding 176 punt return yards on 21 attempts.
Deon Cain returned from his postseason suspension in a big way for the Tigers last season finishing second on the team with nine touchdown receptions, part of 36 catches over 15 games. Cain also averaged a team-high 19.1 yards per reception, one of the top season figures in Clemson history. He had two touchdown receptions against No. 3 Louisville, two receptions for 69 yards in the ACC Championship Game and had five receptions for 94 yards against Alabama, including a 43-yard reception.
And Trevion Thompson, who suffered a broken hand in the Tigers victory over Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship Game, produced 11 catches for 108 yards in 13 games last season, including a touchdown. However, Thompsons biggest catch of his young career came in the 2015 season finale against the South Carolina Gamecocks, securing a crucial 24-yard reception on third down to set up the game-winning touchdown.
“Those guys stepped up, and I thought had their best springs,” Swinney said. “Certainly Ray-Ray, and Deon and Trevion. I thought they were the best they’ve been since they’ve been here. That’s what you want to see is guys progress.”
It is not only those four, however, the Tigers’ head coach has his eyes on heading into the summer.
There are others that hope they can play a key role in the Tigers’ offense this fall.
“Then Cornell Powell, Diondre Overton, T.J. Chase—three young guys that had a ton of opportunity this spring, and took advantage of it,” Swinney said.
Powell saw the most action in his freshman season, amassing 12 receptions for 87 yards. While Overton had two receptions for 48 yards, including a 45-yard touchdown pass and Chase redshirted last season.
Even though the three former four star recruits saw limited playing time last season, there is little doubt that they will have their chances to contribute in big ways this fall along with incoming freshmen Tee Higgins and Amari Rogers.
Rogers a four-star recruit out of Tennessee spurned his father, and current Southern California assistant coach Tee Martin (former Tennessee quarterback), when he announced that he would be decommitting from the USC and committing to the Tigers.
Rogers was the No. 34 ranked receiver in the 2017 class and even though small in stature, standing only 5-foot-10, he has emerged as a dynamic playmaker—amassing 1,570 receiving yards and 23 touchdowns last season, while gaining 2,511 all-purpose yards.
Higgins, a five star recruit out also form Tennessee, was the two-time Mr. Football award winner and the nation’s No. 2 wide receiver prospect in the 2017 class. At 6-foot-5, he possesses the unique ability to not only make the jump ball look routine, as did former Tiger Mike Williams, but he also has the speed to leave opposing defensive backs.
Only the third five-star wide receiver to sign with head coach Dabo Swinney (Sammy Watkins-2011 and Deon Cain- 2015), Higgins will have a chance to move up the depth chart the second he arrives on campus.
All the stars (both on the field and recruiting), as well as the experience of the Tiger receiving corps have given the Tigers head coach plenty of reasons to believe that his wide receivers will be just fine this season.
“We’ve got a good group, and a couple of other coming in this summer, that I think will have a chance to get in that mix too,” Swinney said.