CLEMSON, SC -- Rod Gardner is many things, both on and off the football field. Shy and lacking self-confidence are not among them.
To understand the very essence of Gardner, Clemson's leading receiver a year ago, you need only read the following quote he delivered Thursday concerning his statistical goals for the 2000 football season:
"I'm trying to get the maximum," he said, eyes wide and flashing his trademark smile. "A hundred catches, 1,500 yards, 15 touchdowns...I'm gonna try to do it all, baby. I'm gonna try to be Superman this year."
Man of Steel or not, Gardner will anchor the receiving end of an offensive system in which he thrived in 1999. Tommy Bowden's spread formations and multiple receiver sets kept the Jacksonville, Fla., senior isolated in single coverage for most of the season.
He responded with a breakout campaign, finishing with 80 catches for 1,084 yards and four touchdowns. Broken down, that's 6.7 catches and 90.3 yards per game.
Given those numbers, along with his self-proclaimed improvements in both strength and speed, you get the sense Gardner's goals are at least within the realm of possibility.
However, another set of numbers are working against him: 99, 1,189, 6.
Those are the sum totals of Brian Wofford's and Mal Lawyer's 1999 on-field production, Gardner's partners in pass-catching heaven. The duo performed well enough to keep opposing defenses honest, allowing Gardner to gain the type of national respect which has him ranked among the top 10 wide receivers in the country as play begins this fall.
But with a supporting cast of unproven, first-and-second-year receivers battling for playing time as full-squad practices begin today, will Gardner's effectiveness be limited by opposing defenses determined to shut him down?
Good question. Let's ask Rod.
"I've got faith in all my boys, all the receiving corps," Gardner said. "We've got talent all over the field. Once they get in their mind they can take a role and be productive, be next to me and stand by me on the field, it's unbelievable what can happen. That's the type of players we've got."
But players like Justin Watts (the only other senior at the position), Matt Bailey, Jackie Robinson, Joe Don Reames and Kevin Youngblood must do more than stand beside Gardner and hope his talent and experience rubs off on them. They must work hard, study hard and produce.
If they do, Gardner could very well pull off that monster year he's predicting. If they don't, it may be a frustrating year of double-teams and missed opportunities.
The coaching staff can only hope the young receiving corps' inexperience isn't to Gardner what kryptonite was to the real Superman.
But then again, opposing defenses don't have Lex Luthor as a defensive coordinator.
Dan Scott is the sports editor of Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Daily Messenger.
His columns can be read at www.dailyjournalmessenger.com.