Clemson recruits getting a ‘head start’ for Orange Bowl

Vic Burley, a four-star 2023 defensive line recruit who signed with Clemson on Wednesday, is one of three early enrollee freshmen cleared to practice with the Tigers leading into the Orange Bowl.

Vic Burley, a four-star 2023 defensive line recruit who signed with Clemson on Wednesday, is one of three early enrollee freshmen cleared to practice with the Tigers leading into the Orange Bowl.


Thanks to an NCAA rule change, at least three of Clemson football’s 2023 signees will get a head start on their college careers leading into the Orange Bowl.

Coach Dabo Swinney confirmed during his Wednesday signing day news conference that defensive lineman Vic Burley, safety Khalil Barnes and cornerback Shelton Lewis are already on campus and practicing with the team.

But, in a twist, those three incoming freshmen will also be allowed to travel with the Tigers to Miami next week and practice there ahead of the Dec. 30 Orange Bowl against Tennessee.

“This is new,” Swinney said. “We’ve never been able to do this. We’ve been able to bring guys in the past, maybe to do some practice here or there, but we’ve never been able to take guys with us. So I think it’ll be a great experience for them — kind of an eye-opening thing.”

Defensive lineman Stephiylan Green and offensive tackle Ian Reed are also expected to travel with Clemson to the Orange Bowl, a team spokesman told The State, though their practice participation is to be determined.

All five of those players are allowed to participate in Orange Bowl week for Clemson in some capacity (but won’t play) because they’re midyear enrollees or “early enrollees,” recruits who have graduated from high school and will formally join the program in January 2023.

Midyear enrollment is a growing trend in college football — especially for the upper echelon of a signing class. That’s the case for the Tigers, with each of the top eight signees in their 11th-ranked recruiting class joining the team ahead of spring practice.

Clemson has 14 total early enrollees among 26 high school signees, which Swinney said is the most he’s had in a single class in his Clemson tenure

Burley, a four-star defensive line recruit from Warner Robins (Ga.) High School, is the most prominent early enrollee who’s been cleared to participate in bowl practices. He’s the No. 5 player at his position and the No. 55 recruit nationally, according to 247Sports.

On-campus and bowl practices will also provide a head start for Barnes, a three-star safety recruit, and Lewis, a three-star cornerback recruit. As the No. 545 and No. 668 recruits in the class of 2023, respectively, both of them project as developmental reserves as freshmen.

Clemson’s still figuring out if Green, a four-star defensive line recruit from Georgia who ranks No. 108 nationally, and Reed, a four-star offensive tackle from Texas who ranks No. 284 nationally, can actually participate in drills. But they’re planning to be around, at least.

Swinney said any exposure is good exposure.

“Just starting that acclimation process, that transition,” he said. “We can start working with them and teaching them. They’ve gotta go through a couple of days in shorts. I think a couple of them will actually be able to maybe get in shells (shoulder pads and helmets) one of the days. … Obviously, they don’t know your schemes and stuff, but you can just start that process.”

NCAA bylaw states that a student-athlete may “practice during the official vacation period immediately preceding initial enrollment” as long as they’ve been accepted by their future school for enrollment, aren’t actively enrolled in high school (essentially meaning they’re graduated) and are eligible under all school and NCAA requirements.

Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, right, speak during a news conference for the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022, in Hollywood, Fla. The two teams will play in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 30. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) Lynne Sladky AP

Early enrollees practicing on campus has been a frequent occurrence under that setup, according to a 2019 story in The Advocate of New Orleans. Then-Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts was among the first notable players to do it, imitating then-Clemson QB Deshaun Watson for the Crimson Tide’s scout team in practices ahead of the 2016 national championship game.

Clemson has had various early enrollees practice on campus ahead of bowl games over the years, Swinney said. Now, thanks to an update to the bylaw, a few of those players can get another head start — and a week in what projects to be some ideal Miami weather.

“It’s just being in the meetings, starting that process of learning your teammates, getting exposed to some of the drill work, the terminology, those type things,” Swinney said. “And they get to have a great trip to the Orange Bowl.”

2022 New Year’s Six bowls

Peach Bowl: No. 1 Georgia vs. No. 4 Ohio State (CFP semifinal)

Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Michigan vs. No. 3 TCU (CFP semifinal)

Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Alabama vs. No. 9 Kansas State

Orange Bowl: No. 6 Tennessee vs. No. 7 Clemson

Rose Bowl: No. 8 Utah vs. No. 11 Penn State

Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Southern Cal vs. No. 16 Tulane

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Chapel Fowler has covered Clemson football, among other topics, for The State since June 2022. He’s a Denver, N.C., native, a 2020 UNC-Chapel Hill alumnus and a pickup basketball enthusiast with previous stops at the Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer and Chatham (N.C.) News + Record. His work has been honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the North Carolina Press Association and the Associated College Press.

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