CLEMSON FOOTBALL: Falcinelli ready for first start at center
CLEMSON — When the Clemson Tigers take to the field Saturday, it will be with what is widely regarded as one of the best offensive lines in college football.
With four returning starters, including preseason All-ACC selection Tyrone Crowder and Mitch Hyatt, the only vacancy comes at center. Redshirt junior Justin Falcinelli is looking to use his brains, and his brawn, to prove the center is the smartest guy on the team.
“We’re a little untested at center, losing (two-time All-ACC starting center) Jay Guillermo, but I’ve got all the confidence in the world in Justin Falcinelli,” offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell said. “Justin had never snapped the ball and reluctantly went over and tried it. It’s really difficult to do when you’ve never snapped the ball — but he’s adjusted to it well.
“He’s a smart young man. You wouldn’t believe it, but he can put a computer together with spare parts. He’s a video guru.”
While Saturday’s game will not be played on the video game screen, Falcinelli understands the responsibilities that come with the position of center are not to be taken lightly.
But he can take solace in the fact that he won’t face a better defense than the one he practices against every day.
“Better? Maybe, maybe not. That’s tough. They’re fantastic players. I mean, getting to go against that every day definitely helps so much,” Falcinelli said. “I know when I get into a game I’m not going to see something crazy or something or someone I’ve never seen before -- someone too big or too fast or too strong.”
Saturday will mark the first career start for Falcinelli, who played 174 snaps last season in a reserve lineman role for the Tigers.
Throughout the fall camp, Falcinelli had to hold off hard-charging Gage Cervenka, a former defensive lineman who moved to the offensive line last year, to retain the starting job.
“It hasn’t really set in yet. We were just talking about it this morning that it’s the first game week after going through and camp and all that. I’m just excited that we’re finally there -- finally about to get going,” Falcinelli said.
It is a day that Falcenlli has worked for three years to achieve. And now that his time has finally arrived, he understands what is expected of him.
“I know that there’s a lot expected of me and that I need to perform to a standard, but I’ve been playing with these guys my entire time here,” Falcinelli said. “We’re all great friends, we all hang out together. I played next to Taylor my freshman year. I played next to Tyrone (Crowder), Maverick (Morris). I’ve been swapped in a lot. I feel like I just fit right in and just keep going.”
The challenge this week will be twofold for Falcinelli and the Tigers. First, will be the opponent — Kent State. Second will be the emotion, as this Saturday Clemson fans will be able to see their Tigers run down the hill to open a season following a national championship — as the Tigers opened the 1982 season at Georgia.
Falcinelli believes the culture built by head coach Dabo Swinney will take care of that challenge.
“That’s been our mentality here the past couple of years. That’s what Swinney always says, Coach Swinney is our windshield mentality,” Falcinelli said. “That was last year’s team. We didn’t do any of that. That was guys that aren’t here anymore - -that’s all them. So it’s just reload. We gotta go out and earn whatever we’re going to get.
“It’s still one of those things where even months later the gravity of winning a national championship still hasn’t set in. I know that’s something that in a few years I’ll look back and be like, ‘That’s insanely special.’ I think that now, but right now it’s still just Kent State coming up. We’ve gotta go play them. We’ve gotta worry about that.”