Will DJ Uiagalelei transfer from Clemson or go to NFL?

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei warms up before the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game against North Carolina on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei warms up before the Atlantic Coast Conference championship NCAA college football game against North Carolina on Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022, in Charlotte, N.C. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)


The Clemson football sideline was buzzing, ready to celebrate a seventh ACC championship in eight seasons, when ESPN’s Sean McDonough addressed the elephant in the room.

“Perhaps we’ve seen the last of DJ Uiagalelei as a Clemson Tiger,” the longtime broadcaster said in the final moments of Clemson’s 39-10 win over North Carolina on Saturday night.

He wasn’t alone in proposing as much after Uiagalelei, the Tigers’ starting quarterback for the past two seasons, ceded his job once again – and likely for the last time – to true freshman backup QB Cade Klubnik.

No. 9 Clemson (11-2) mustered just seven net yards and went three and out on both of Uiagalelei’s first quarter possessions before Swinney pulled the junior, whom he’d previously described as having “no room for error” against UNC, in favor of Klubnik.

The Tigers’ next three drives with Klubnik in the game? Three touchdowns, 182 yards and a massive momentum swing you could feel from the skyscrapers overlooking Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium.

From down 7-0 to up 21-7, Clemson caught fire with Klubnik in the game and never looked back. The true freshman quarterback finished 20 of 24 for 279 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and a rushing touchdown – a stat line fitting for an ACC championship game MVP.

It was a stunning performance on a national stage in front of a primetime audience: enough for ESPN’s Pete Thamel, among many others, to deem it a “new era” at Clemson.

Coach Dabo Swinney agreed in as many words, naming Klubnik the starter for the Orange Bowl later this month and praising the true freshman for taking control and never looking back.

“Cade was ready, and you got a chance to see what he can do,” Swinney said. “He played in rhythm … It was a great night, and again, a glimpse of our future and what it looks like at Clemson. I’m really happy for him. He’s definitely earned his opportunity to go start.”

As for Uiagalelei? He was his usually classy self in a smattering of postgame on-field interviews, describing himself as a “team-first guy” who wants to “see everyone succeed … I ride or die for my brothers. That comes before anything.”

But player and coach both remained coy about the larger question facing them: did Uiagalelei play his final snaps as a Clemson Tiger on Saturday night? The NCAA transfer portal opens Monday, and Uiagalelei is now officially a backup with two remaining years of eligibility. He also goals of playing in the NFL.

Uiagalelei said he’ll treat Saturday’s demotion “the same way I’ve always treated it, man. Go out there and compete and put my best foot forward and play football.” And he wasn’t thinking about his future on Saturday.

“I’m just worried about the ACC (title), baby” Uiagalelei said.

Uiagalelei was among Klubnik’s most visible supporters on the sideline as he led Clemson to a decisive 29-point victory against No. 23 UNC (9-3).

“Just nothing but encouragement,” Klubnik said. “I love that dude, and like I said, he’s been so awesome to me since I got here … I’m super thankful for him.

Swinney didn’t directly address the possibility of Uiagalelei transferring but admitted “there will be plenty of conversations,” especially with Uiagalelei reaching another end point when he officially graduates from Clemson in three years with a bachelor’s degree later this month.

And he spoke from the heart – with a notable sense of finality – about a quarterback he’d stuck with and defended day in and day out for the better part of two seasons.

“Obviously it didn’t end tonight the way he would like, but he’s got a bright, bright future as a football player,” Swinney said. “He’s a guy that will always have a special place in my heart because nobody has ever worked harder. Nobody has ever been more respected in this program. These guys love DJ, and I do, too.”

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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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