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A Farewell to Clemson Linebacker James Skalski

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James may be the hardest piece to replace on this defense

NCAA Football: Cheez-It Bowl-Clemson at Iowa State Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For the past few seasons, #47 has been the heart and leadership of a vaunted Clemson defense. Part hard hitter, part coach on the field, James Skalski has been a force to be reckoned with. Joining Clemson’s class of 2016 as a three star-linebacker from Newnan, Georgia, Skalski chose Clemson over the likes of Louisville, North Carolina and South Carolina. Six seasons later, he is a player Tiger fans will never forget.

2016 and 2017 saw Skalski a more limited role, mainly serving on special teams and getting to study under linebackers like Ben Boulware and Tre Lamar. 2018 saw Skalski and the Tigers utilize the new redshirt rule to allow him to play four games while redshirting. He started that season’s game against Georgia Tech in place of Kendall Joseph. He also recorded two tackles in the national title win over Alabama.

2019 is when Skalski became the starter and quickly became a guy Clemson fans loved. He was tough-nosed, played with a high motor, and had a high football IQ. He fit the mold of a Brent Venables linebacker, making late adjustments to the defense up until the snap and then punishing quarterbacks and ball carriers. Sure, there were the unfortunate penalties against LSU and Ohio State, but hits like those are often a risk taken when you have a linebacker playing with such a high level of energy. Neck injuries limited some of James’ 2020, but he was there the Tigers needed him, and even in injury acted as a coach on the sidelines, imparting his knowledge to the defense.

In James Skalski’s freshman year, while sitting in a team meeting the day prior to Clemson’s matchup with North Carolina State, he got a call that his father had a heart attack. He was later informed that his father had passed away. James has credited his teammates, coaches, and the Clemson football community for helping him through that dark time.

Playing on five ACC Championship teams, five Playoff teams, and two National Championship teams, James and teammate Darien Rencher probably are the most bejeweled players in Clemson history, having a collection of rings that out numbers each player’s fingers. Yet, with all that success, Skalski noted that this season, which ended with a Cheez-It bowl win, may be his favorite of all of them. It was frustrating to see James get injured and not get to finish the last bowl game, but in typical James fashion, he joined in the celebration with his teammates and kept his head high.

Skalski’s NFL projections show him being a later round draft pick. In a way, that’s probably fitting. He didn’t come to Clemson as the highest rated recruit. He wasn’t necessarily a guy that everyone was salivating over in a very talented class, but through hard work and tenacity, he leaves Clemson as a legend. Whether James’s career in the NFL is long, or whether he finds himself in coaching or even some other field, the Clemson faithful know he will be a success anywhere he goes. Thank you and good luck, James Skalski!