Skalski goes from the "best gig on the team" to possible starting role

by - Senior Writer -
Skalski during Wednesday's practice
Skalski during Wednesday's practice

CLEMSON - James Skalski says he had the best gig on the team last season, but he’s more than happy to leave that job behind and focus on becoming a starting linebacker.

Skalski, a redshirt junior out of Georgia, missed time with an injury early in August camp last season and with depth across the board at linebacker, the coaches decided a redshirt year was in order. Under new rules, however, Skalski could still appear in up to four games while saving the year of eligibility.

He replaced an injured Kendall Joseph in the game at Georgia Tech and recorded six tackles before stepping back onto the scout team. He reappeared in the postseason and had two tackles against Pitt in the ACC Championship Game and two tackles against Alabama in the title game.

“It was obviously frustrating at the beginning because I was hurt,” Skalski told TigerNet Wednesday night. “It was a good thought to get a year back, and it ended up working out, I played scout team and contributed how I could and when I could. When I was eligible to play, and they wanted me to play, I was ready to play. So it worked out perfectly.

“I wasn't complaining. I had the best gig on the team if you ask me. Wait until the last couple of games to play. It was a great year for me.”

Skalski is cross-training at all of the linebacker spots but is likely to find a home at the WILL (weakside) spot manned by Joseph last season.

“I know it pretty well. I feel pretty good about it, but I feel good about all of them, honestly. I just have to learn more and more every day,” he said. “I learned from Kendall (Joseph), Ben (Boulware), JD Davis, all of those guys. You learn something new every single day and get more consistent with things. I can't stress enough how important those guys were to me when they were here. Those guys showed us the ropes and showed us the way, so after four years of that, I am ready to take on a new role.

“I am super excited. We have a lot of guys gone so there is definitely an opportunity to pick up a bigger role and do what we can with the guys we've got and fill those roles.”

As one of the veteran defenders on a young defense, Skalski understands what he needs to work on to be the best he can be.

“You can say footwork, but the key is knowing the defense and knowing what to do and knowing your piece of the puzzle,” he said. “You never stop learning that, no matter what your position is. That is the key for me, to continue to learn and continue to do my part.

“I am ready to play football. That is what we are all here for. I know I have the ability and I am ready to play. I can't wait to show that to everybody.”

As for the naysayers who think Clemson will take a step back defensively this season, Skalski has a message to send.

“Honestly, it doesn't matter what they say because we know what we've got,” he said. “They can sit down and watch because we will show them what we've got.”

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