CLEMSON— The game of college football provides millions of people with a reprieve from their trials and struggles, allowing them a few hours in which they get to put aside their struggles and cheer for favorite team.
But in that reprieve, quite often, the fans are unaware that those 18-to-22-year olds providing them a momentary break from reality are going through trials of their own.
For Clemson linebacker Jamie Skalski, his freshmen season was filled with excitement, big plays, big kicks and a tragedy that no one should have endure.
Oct. 14, the day before the Tigers were to take on N.C. State, Skalski’s father, John, passed away after suffering a heart attack.
John had been mowing the grass when his wife found him in the yard, unresponsive. It was a day that Skalski and head coach Dabo Swinney will never forget.
“That was a very difficult situation,” Swinney said. “We went and got him out of the meeting and brought him into my office and literally was sitting there. They just told us that they were taking his dad to the hospital, and then his sister called, so I was sitting there with him when they called and said he passed.”
Skalski would miss the Tigers’ thrilling overtime victory against the Wolfpack on homecoming, but would finish out the season as one of Clemson’s special team’s leaders—producing 14 tackles in 20 snaps in 14 games, with more than half (eight) of his tackles coming on special teams.
But now, with the memory of his father forever emblazoned in his mind, Skalski is looking to have an impact, not just on special teams, but on the entire defense in his sophomore season.
“In that jump from high school to college—just the mental aspect of the game is incredibly different,” Skalski said. “Just learning to study the game, getting into the film room, get your stuff down and then bring it to the field.
“(I’m) Just being more independent and just making everyone around me better–still working on it, but I think we’re doing pretty well. Mainly just knowing what to do, because the playbook’s massive.”
It is the extra work that he has put in through the spring that has Skalski being mentioned for more than just his unique name.
“Man, he just brings a great name. Skalski, does that just not sound like a linebacker,” Swinney said. “He’s just awesome and he had a great spring. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a player. He’s going to be a really, really good football player for us. We didn’t know what to expect last year when he got here. Sometimes you just assume some guys are going to play and some guys are going to redshirt and I think he’s one of those guys.
“From the moment he got here he caught everybody’s eye. He’s very natural, very instinctive and very athletic—you have no idea how athletic he is…He’s just a heck of an athlete and has great instincts for the game so I’m just excited about his future.”
Whether it is at linebacker, where he is currently listed a co-backup with J.D. Davis and Shaq Smith at the Will linebacker, or on special teams—Skalski is relishing his opportunity to help the Clemson Tigers get back to the playoffs in whatever fashion he can.
“I’m always excited to have a chance at this level,” Skalski said. “I just want to prove that I start at linebacker—that’s what all of our goals are. I just want to compete and make tackles and make plays and be a playmaker.
“Whatever role I’m given or whatever role I earn, I just do that to the best of my ability, and I think everything will play itself out.”