By Josh Roller | @Roller_01
Sports Capital Journalism Program
SAN JOSE, Calif. — Clemson will be without All-American defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence for the College Football Playoff National Championship game against Alabama on Monday night. Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich said last Thursday that the NCAA confirmed that Lawrence and two other Tigers, Braden Galloway and Zach Giella, would be ineligible for the national title game.
“From a team competitive standpoint, Dexter was the guy that was starting, playing a lot of ball for us,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Sunday. “We miss him. He’s a great player, tremendous, one of the best in the country at doing what he does.”
According to the university, the three players were part of a group of 18 or 19 randomly selected players for a drug test that occurred on December 20. Six days later it was announced that Galloway, Giella, and Lawrence all had traces of ostarine, a steroid, in their urine sample.
Two days before the semifinal victory, Swinney told reporters he was not aware of the cause of the positive tests and said the suspended players had done nothing wrong. “So we’re going to look at anything and everything,” he said. “I mean, because it could literally come from anything. The only thing I know is these guys have not intentionally done anything.”
Lawrence, a 6-foot, 4-inch, 350-pound junior, was one of the most anticipated recruits in Clemson football history three years ago. He was named a first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association this season. He told the media before the Cotton Bowl that when Swinney told him about the development, he was shocked by the news. “I’m not the type of guy to do a selfish act like that,” he told reporters prior to the game. “I have too much pride [and] I love this team and my family too much to even think about putting a substance like that in my body. I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how it got there.” While university officials said Lawrence could travel with the team to the championship game, he would not be available to discuss his suspension.
“I just felt so bad,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said here on Saturday. “The sickening feeling I had was for Dexter and his family. Just what a terrible thing to go through. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy….I really feel this, that it would have been hard to have the same kind of consistent success the last three years had it not been for him. He’s been such a huge part of it, and he’s worked so hard for this opportunity.”
Clemson’s defense, with 6-foot, 3-inch, 315-pound Albert Huggins in Lawrence’s place, held Notre Dame to only three points. Notre Dame’s previous low for the year was 19 points against Pittsburgh, and the Irish had averaged 35.4 points since the Pittsburgh game. Venables’ defense looked like it had not missed a beat on its way to a 30-3 victory.
Venables was pleased with Huggins and the rest of the defense in the semifinal victory. “Incredibly proud of him,” he said of Huggins. “I think it validates that stick-to-itiveness. Just hang in there, and you’re going to get your opportunity.”
“Albert would have been a starter on [any other] team in the playoffs,” said senior linebacker Jalen Williams. “Albert knew what he was doing…Albert is a senior and has been to all four College Football Playoffs and three national championships as well.”
Junior linebacker Tre Lamar agreed. “I feel like Albert could start anywhere in the nation if he decided to go [to another school],” he said. “He stayed here, which we are all thankful for. He stepped into that position very well. I feel like there wasn’t any drop off anywhere in the game. I feel like he really just showed the country what he could do.”
Junior safety Tanner Muse shared his belief that the only issue of losing Lawrence was the reduction of depth in the defensive unit. “He is definitely going to be playing for a really long time,” Muse said. “I think you will see [Huggins] and he will burst out as a player at the next level and that will be something good to see.”
Huggins received praise and encouragement from Venables, his staff, and teammates. “He’s worked really hard for this opportunity, and he really stepped up last week and really played well,” Venables said.