Sensei: Skalski taking on role of teacher to younger players


by - Senior Writer -
Skalski is the old man on the defense.
Skalski is the old man on the defense.

CLEMSON – Never fear, the sensei is here.

During Clemson’s early spring practices, linebacker James Skalski could be seen instructing the younger linebackers on where to line up, how to perform drills and myriad other items that the freshmen have to learn.

I asked Skalski Monday if he feels like a dad out on the field and he laughed and said the freshmen have given him another nickname: sensei. In martial arts, a sensei is a teacher, and Skalski has been doing plenty of teaching.

"The young guys started calling me sensei," Skalski said. "I mean, I'm a fifth-year. I better know my stuff. I've had plenty of time to learn what everyone around me is doing. Anytime I get a chance to teach, I'm with it."

Being around for five years means Skalski knows his stuff.

"You better know your stuff if you're going to teach something, so you got to start right there," Skalski said. "If I'm going to come out here and say that I'm going to be an extension of Coach V, I better know what I'm talking about. That's a challenge to myself really and having confidence in the work and time I did put in to earn that. I just need to be confident in what I'm saying because I know it. Just be a leader, be someone they can lean on out there.

“I think I just have to be an extension of Coach V, really. Nolan (Turner) and I are the oldest two guys now on the defense. I have to know it like the back of my hand. I just need to be the extension of Coach V on the field. I can always get better and do stuff for myself, but I think what makes a great middle linebacker is making everything around him better too, and that's been something I have been trying to focus on, just knowing everyone's job and getting everyone on the same page so we can all play good team defense."

Skalski was asked if it will be easy to replace a player like Isaiah Simmons, and he immediately touted the progress of Mike Jones. Jr.

"Of course when you lose a player like Isaiah (Simmons), you are going to notice they're gone, but we recruit guys that can replace and fill the job, and he's doing a great job,” Skalski said. “He's improved a lot, and spring ball, I think, is when a player makes a lot of strides, and he's definitely moving in the right direction for the kind of player we are going to need him to be next year.

"I think it's unfair to compare anyone to Isaiah Simmons. Look what he (Simmons) just did at the combine. We've been telling y'all that he's an absolute freak, so it's hard to compare to that guy. He didn't play nickel SAM for us; he played defense for us. That guy played everything. It's not fair to compare to Isaiah, but that's the cool thing about being your own individual: you get to make your own name, and I know Mike Jones is ready to make his own name."

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