Freshmen Look to Impact Immediately


by - Correspondent -
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Aaron Hunt was All-state kicker in Tennessee who made a school record 52-yarder in 1999.

Photos from Practice

Photos from Practice I

CLEMSON, SC - In three previous seasons as a head coach, Tommy Bowden never handed a starting position to a true freshman on the first day of fall camp. Then again, he never suffered through last season's kicking fiasco.


Clemson's year-long struggles on field goals and extra points in 1999, coupled with a lack of improvement by incumbent Tony Lazzara this spring, has prompted Bowden to name Aaron Hunt (Oak Ridge, Tenn.) his starting kicker as freshman practice opened Monday morning.


According to Bowden, the job is Hunt's to lose.


"Had I seen progress during the end of the year, or progress during the end of the spring, I'd go ahead and have a normal pecking order where he comes in and beats the guy out," Bowden said after this morning's first workout. "We might as well try it. That way I don't have to ask a lot of questions after the first game. I can try to get those answered. And the other kickers (sophomores Lazzara and Bo Charpia, and walk-on freshman Fletcher Anderson) we have here on campus might beat him out. But at least we'll know, and we'll know early."


Lazzara and Chris Campbell combined to make just 52.9 percent (9-of-17) field goal attempts a year ago. Lazzara, who ultimately won the position last season, finished just 7-of-12 with a long of 43 yards. He also missed two extra point attempts.
Campbell left the team earlier this year.


Meanwhile, Hunt is one of several freshmen who have a chance to push for playing time this fall.


Wide receivers Derrick Hamilton (Dillon) and Ronnie Thomas (Quincy, Fla.) both have big-play potential at a position where Clemson lost 99 receptions due to the graduations of Brian Wofford and Mal Lawyer. Hamilton also should get a long look as the Tigers' kick returner.


Keith Kelly, the speedy running back from Walterboro, could be a factor in the backfield if, Bowden said, he can take a hit and show big play ability. Ronny Delusme (Naples, Fla.) and Ryan Hemby (Orangeburg) will have the opportunity to win playing time in the Clemson secondary.

But of the 11 scholarship freshmen and eight walk-ons, only Hunt was a starter as camp opened Monday morning.

"The normal rule is performance over potential," Bowden said. "You want performance, and a guy with lot of potential can get you fired a lot of times. But since we struggled with performance at (kicker), I don't feel nearly as bad putting (Hunt) out there unproven."

Other notes from Monday's early workout:

- Bowden again refused comment on the circumstances surrounding tight end Todd McClinton's current ineligible status.
McClinton (Columbia), ranked as the best high school tight end in the country by at least two recruiting services, has yet to be admitted to Clemson because of academic questions, although it's unclear exactly who is keeping him out: the NCAA Clearinghouse or Clemson's own admissions office.
Bowden referred all questions on the matter to Cathy Sams at Clemson News Services. Sams, reached at home late Monday night, said McClinton's status hadn't changed since Sunday, but with two weeks remaining before classes convene "we're hoping we can get him eligible."
Sams refused to say why McClinton's eligibility was being delayed, citing the confidentiality of student records.


- If McClinton's status is not resolved by Friday, the first day veterans report for workouts, Bowden said he'll likely pull a defensive player over to offense and working him at tight end. He did not speculate as to who that player might be.
Sophomore Pat Cyrgalis has been suspended by Bowden for the season opener vs. The Citadel because he skipped classes during the spring semester, although he is being allowed to practice.


- Unhappy with the 1999 performance of sophomore long-snapper Henry Owen, Bowden said walk-ons Geoff Rigsby and Tommy Sharp will compete for the job this fall. The winner of the three-way battle gets the scholarship reserved for the position.


- Punter Rusty Curry kicked well during the morning session, and seemed to get stronger as practice went on. Bowden said the left-footed Curry could be one of several kickers competing for kick-off duty.


Dan Scott is the sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at
www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.

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