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Swinney: ‘Heart of a champion' Uiagalelei never ‘flinched’ all season long

The Clemson Insider
The Clemson Insider
 2021-12-31

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The development of a quarterback is never linear. That goes without saying.

It was ever so apparent in the play of D.J. Uiagalelei this season. And while the quarterback was up and down with his play and sometimes erratic, he often found ways to put Clemson in a position to win. That’s what he did in Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl.

Fighting through an injured knee and down seven scholarship wide receivers — Justyn Ross, Brannon Spector, Will Taylor, Ajou Ajou, E.J. Williams and Frank Ladson, Jr. — Uiagalelei found a way. Again.

His starting receivers during Wednesday’s 20-13 win over Iowa State? Will Swinney and two true freshmen — Beaux Collins and Dacari Collins. Yes, he did get Joseph Ngata and Troy Stellato back in the fold, but neither was a factor.

“DJ, what he’s been through this year is going to make him better,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said postgame. “His last four or five weeks, he’s been at his best. He hasn’t complained one time. Seven scholarship receivers. Who can survive that? Who can survive seven scholarship receivers out three games in a row and just keep finding a way? This guy here. He’s got the heart of a champion, unbelievable character and just really, really proud of him.”

Swinney insisted that Clemson’s play around Uiagalelei earlier this season wasn’t good enough. It’s part of the reason why the Tigers were 2-2 and starring a lost season in the face. As we now know, the team rallied around Uiagalelei and won 8 of its last 9 games.

“We weren’t very good around him early in the season,” Swinney said. “Because of that, his mistakes as a young player were magnified. Every young player at quarterback I have had has made mistakes, but we weren’t quite as good around him as we were those other guys.”

“But, his process has been sped up because of that,” Swinney added. “His process of becoming a leader, his maturation, his preparation, his attention, everything, man. I am just really proud of where he is and how he led and how he never flinched. He’s been in a skillet, in a frying pan all season long. And I’ve been right there with him, and he hasn’t flinched. He’s a winner. Just appreciate his leadership.”

Uiagalelei finished Clemson’s Cheez-It Bowl win completing 21-of-32 passes for 187 yards with an interception. It surely wasn’t all pretty, especially the interception, but he found a way to lead Clemson to its 11th straight 10-win season.

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