This is a good spring to be a walk-on running back at Clemson.
The Tigers are down two scholarship running backs this month. Another won’t arrive until the summer. So Phil Mafah, a third-string true freshman in 2021, is the main running back for now.
That means a lot of reps are coming for some not-so-known rushers.
“You’re a walk-on running back, man, you’re fixing to have a great spring,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s going to be a lot of opportunities. Y’all going to be going, ‘Who the heck’s that guy?'”
That’s because Will Shipley (foot) and Kobe Pace (toe) are overcoming offseason procedures that will keep them out of spring ball. That duo combined for 1,380 of Clemson’s 2,184 rushing yards and 17 of the 26 rushing touchdowns last fall.
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“There’s nobody more disappointed than Will Shipley that he couldn’t do mat drills,” Swinney said. “That guy loves every ounce of everything, but he’s in a good spot with his rehab.”
Mafah will be the largest benefactor with Shipley and Pace out. He rushed for 292 yards and three touchdowns on 68 carries last season and made just one start as he spent most of the time in a reserve role.
“It’s going to be fun,” Swinney said. “Mafah’s the man, number one. It’s going to be an opportunity for him to get a ton of work. He didn’t really get that chance to go be the guy, and we were trying to redshirt him, as most of y’ all remember, and we had to nix that plan.
“He didn’t get as many opportunities or plays as Kobe and Ship did. So this is going to be great for him. I mean, I think we’re going to have a three-headed monster at running back. All those guys are really, really good and they’re really good in whatever situation you need them to be. That’s what’s a plus about the three backs that we have.”
Keith Adams Jr., a three-star recruit who signed a month ago, will get a chance to learn from those guys in the fall. Until then, there are names you’ll hear in the spring that you might not hear again this year.
“My man, Kevin McNeal and Tristen Rigby, and Wise Segars and Domonique Thomas, who’s a young kid that he’s from Union College,” Swinney said. “All those guys will get a lot of opportunity with our twos and threes, but Phil will get a chance to be the guy and I think it’ll be great. And it’s going to be good for Kobe and Shipley too, to have a good perspective mentally and to really stay engaged and as they physically get better, make sure they mentally get better too.”
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