CLEMSON, SC -- When Clemson's freshmen reported for workouts Monday morning, much of the media attention at wide receiver focused on Derrick Hamilton.
Hamilton, the 6-foot-4, 190-pounder from Dillon High School, gained statewide notoriety as a high school senior in 1999 by returning eight kickoffs for touchdowns, and having eight more called back because of penalties. Throw in his 36 receptions for 745 yards and nine scores, and you get the idea coach Tommy Bowden may have found one of the playmakers he covets.
But recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill is quick remind anyone who asks not to ignore the other talented freshman, Ronnie Thomas from Quincy, Fla.
"Derrick has gotten most of the publicity because he's from the state and we only have South Carolina media covering us right now," Stockstill said from his office Wednesday afternoon. "But Ronnie has the same type of potential. I think you'll see both of them push for playing time before it's over."
Of course in a perfect world, Stockstill said, both youngsters would be redshirted this season to maximize their learning curve. Performance over potential seems to be the preferred course of action in college football.
But reality says one or both may see significant time in Clemson's spread offense. When Mal Lawyer and Brian Wofford graduated, with them went 99 receptions. Returning senior Rod Gardner (80 receptions, 1,084 yards and four touchdowns) will again be the No. 1 target for Tigers' quarterbacks, but the success of the receiving corps as a whole will be determined by how well a number of others perform in starting and supporting roles.
Included in that group are senior Justin Watts (16-175-0), sophomore Jackie Robinson (2-28-1), junior Matt Bailey (5-70-0) and sophomore Joe Don Reames (4-19-0). Any playing time Hamilton and Thomas get will be determined, in part, by how well Gardner's supporting cast performs as camp progresses.
"We don't want to play either of them if they're only going to be in for 10-15 snaps a game," Stockstill said. "That would really be wasting a year. But they've got the potential, both of them, to be big-play guys. The key will be how quickly that potential turns into performance."
Thomas' claim to fame in his early days at Clemson is his association with redshirt freshman quarterback Willie Simmons. Both attended Shanks High School in Quincy, Fla., along with redshirt freshman free safety Charles Harper.
But Stockstill didn't recruit Thomas because of his acquaintances. His career average of 22 yards per reception had a lot to do with it, as did his 1999 totals of 58 receptions, 1,150 yards and 11 touchdowns. For his career, Thomas caught 130 passes for 2,850 yards and 37 scores.
So it's easy to see why Clemson is so high on both its rookie receivers. Stockstill, however, cautions fans to be patient.
"They're in for a lot of adjustment," he said. "I don't think they know how much running they're in for, and right now they have to think about every move they make instead of doing things naturally. How quickly they pick up the system and show improvement will go a long way in determining how much they play."
Full squad workouts begin Friday morning. Questions surrounding the duo will begin to be answered the same day.
Dan Scott is the sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.