CLEMSON FOOTBALL: O’Daniel knows the goal is winning the closer

December 27, 2017 GMT

CLEMSON — Few members of the Clemson defense have had a bigger impact on the Tiger rise to the No. 1 seed in the College Football Playoff than senior linebacker Dorian O’Daniel.

O’Daniel entered Clemson as an Army All-American in high school and a Top-150 recruit, but the problem was that he played much of his high school career as a running back — not a linebacker.

The change to playing linebacker for defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Venables meant a redshirt season was needed for O’Daniel to get acclimated to playing defense at the college level. But that was something he agreed was necessary.

“I knew that coming in, me playing running back my whole career (I wasn’t ready to play linebacker),” O’Daniel said. “I didn’t rely on fundamentals and details — just because in high school, when I did play linebacker, it was easy; see ball, get ball. When I got here, they were calling calls, fronts, reads and everything else and I didn’t know who to read, what to key or anything like that.”

Following his redshirt season, O’Daniel saw the majority of his playing time in the 2014 and 2015 seasons come on special teams and reserve roles, before finally moving to the starting linebacker spot in 2016.

Entering the 2017 season, O’Daniel had amassed 116 tackles — including 15.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 641 career snaps over 40 games (11 starts).

This season, the light has come on for O’Daniel in a big way.

Through the Tigers first 13 games, O’Daniel leads the team in tackles (99) and has 10.5 tackles for loss and five sacks. His all-around abilities and two interception returns for touchdowns have helped O’Daniel garner the national recognition every player would love to have in their final season.

O’Daniel was named a finalist for the Butkus Award and the Bowden Award, as well as being named a first-team All-American by Sports Illustrated.

“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” O’Daniel said. “I just keep going out there and working every day with my teammates to try to win a second national championship. That is all I am thinking about right now, winning this next game against Alabama and getting to the national championship.

“I’m sure that when the season is over, I will sit back and think about how far I’ve come in my time at Clemson. But for now I haven’t really thought that much about it, because we still have work to do.”

If O’Daniel is to continue his magical season, he understands that he will have to play his best game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day (8:45 p.m., ESPN).

“I know what is on the line when we get to New Orleans — everybody does,” O’Daniel said. “You win, or you go home, it’s that simple. Easy. Both teams are in the playoffs and you know that when you step on that field you had better be ready to go because if you aren’t, there’s no tomorrow. It’s game over. Done.”

While the prospect of possibly playing in the final game of your college career may cause many athletes to become nostalgic or sentimental, O’Daniel says he will save those thoughts and feelings for after the Tigers’ final game — in Atlanta.

“I haven’t thought about this being my last game, because we aren’t planning on being done after this game,” O’Daniel said. “We have other goals. I mean our last goal of the season is the only one that is left: Win the closer.

“There’s only one way to do that — to win the whole thing, and that is our goal.”