Five Players to Watch in 2001


by - Correspondent -
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CLEMSON - With Clemson's 2001 season opener with Central Florida now
officially less than a week away, here are five players who could play a
significant role in the Tigers' degree of success this season.


- Akil Smith, Offensive Tackle


Unquestionably the most talented of Clemson's offensive linemen, Smith is
mired at No. 2 on the depth chart because of effort, or lack of it, according
to coach Tommy Bowden.


A starter his first two seasons, the 6-foot-4, 290-pounder from Richmond, Va.
sat out 2000 recovering from a blood clot in his lung. Because of a team rule
instituted by Bowden, no player loses a starting position due to injury or
illness. So when last spring rolled around, Smith was installed at his usual
first-team slot.


Halfway through spring practice, however, Smith fell to No. 2 behind both
Derrick Brantley and Gary Byrd. There he has remained, and seemingly is
locked into a backup spot for Saturday's season-opener against Central
Florida.


It would be advantageous for the entire line if Smith were to suddenly
reestablish himself and force his way into the starting lineup. That kind of
competition and depth can only help Clemson's offensive fortunes.


- John Leake, Star Safety


New position, new star on Clemson's defense?


Listen to the universal praise coming out of Tiger Camp this preseason and
the word is clear:


John Leake, aka "The Freak," could be better than Keith Adams or Anthony
Simmons.


Lofty praise, to be sure, but then Leake has earned the accolades with a
flurry of stunning performances during August camp. His intensity and drive
have become the stuff of legends and, to a man, every player and coach
expects Leake to have a breakout season as the focus of defensive coordinator
Reggie Herring's 4-2-5 alignment.


Now, all Leake has to do is transform those practice feats into game-day
exploits.


Legends aren't made on the practice field.


- Aaron Hunt, place kicker


It has been said that Hunt, the sophomore from Oak Ridge, Tenn., already has
made the biggest kick of his life.


His 25-yarder with three seconds left gave Clemson a stunning
come-from-behind victory over hated rival South Carolina in the 2000 regular
season finale, a kick which assured his spot in Clemson folklore.


But counting that kick, Hunt was just 10-16 as a true freshman, and a nagging
leg injury that occurred in preseason dragged on throughout the year,
limiting his long attempt to just 41 yards.


Bowden has completed two seasons as Clemson's head coach, both of which were
littered with failures in the kicking game. A healthy, confident Hunt could
remedy all that in year three.


His preseason performance had Bowden so excited he said Hunt would get shots
from the 50-52 yard range in 2001.


Provided, of course, he makes the shorter kicks first.


- Nick Eason, Defensive Tackle


Grasping a new position may have been a little more than Nick Eason bargained
for in the beginning, but one can be assured the challenge won't phase him.


After all, this is the guy who graduated college in three years. With two
years of eligibility remaining, Eason will be working on his Masters Degree
by the time his Clemson career is complete.


Now, if he can only master the switch from defensive end to tackle.


The Clemson coaching staff is counting on Eason's experience, strength and
quickness to wreak havoc on the interior of the defensive line. The position
has been a pariah for Herring over the past two seasons, who watched
helplessly as opposing offensive lines dominated in the trenches.


Herring and Bowden hope Eason can out-thing, out-run and out-maneuver
offensive guards and tackles and get pressure on the opposing quarterback.


If he - along with his three mates on the defensive line - can't, Clemson's
secondary might have to build air-raid shelters.


- Airese Currie, wide receiver


Wait. Shouldn't this be the spot for Roscoe Crosby?


Well, there's no doubt Crosby needs to have a big year to justify the hype
surrounding his arrival on campus. But just as important, maybe moreso, will
be the play of Currie, the other highly-touted true freshman.


What Clemson desperately needs is a legitimate deep threat at wide receiver.
Someone who can blow past defensive backs and be a legitimate scoring option
every time he steps onto the field.


That takes speed, and Currie has plenty of it. His only drawback has been a
nagging hamstring injury that, in all likelihood, has kept him at No. 2
behind Matt Bailey.


A healthy Currie, one who can catch the ball on a regular basis, could make a
huge difference in Clemson's offense, not to mention softening the losses of
Rod Gardner (graduation) and Kevin Youngblood (broken leg).


As they say, speed kills.Who it kills is up to Currie.


Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger and the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9.

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