Jordan Leggett has watched last season’s championship game more than a half dozen times, reliving plays that kept Clemson from winning its first national title since 1981.
The loss still stings, but the Tigers’ senior tight end is able to find positives from what he sees on tape.
“We played an extremely good game,” he said earlier this week.
Leggett continues to wear his hat from the national title game, not just because it’s the only black hat he owns and it matches most of his outfits.
“I still wear this hat with pride,” he said. “Nobody’s going to say anything to me about it.”
Leggett and Clemson will begin their journey to return to the title game on Saturday when the Tigers open the season at Auburn.
The Florida native considered entering the NFL Draft after his junior season, but chose to return to Clemson with the goal of again reaching the title game and finishing the job this time.
“I wouldn’t have (returned) if I didn’t think this team could do it,” he said. “I really have a lot of faith in this team.”
Leggett said the opportunity to earn a college degree and potentially play for a national title was too much to pass up.
“It was definitely a difficult process. I looked at it and they had a really weak tight end class last year, so I could’ve left, but I feel like I would have regretted that decision because I didn’t have my degree in my hand,” he said. “Statistically people with a degree in their hand get paid more and play a longer time in the NFL, so I wanted to come back and get my degree and then I also wanted to play for a national championship.”
He played well as a freshman and sophomore in limited opportunities and had a breakout year as a junior.
The thought of entering the NFL Draft early crossed his mind as early as his freshman season, but he also made the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Earning his degree became more of a priority than when he arrived at Clemson.
“You definitely have to grow up. It’s definitely a different mentality coming in and going to school and playing football as well,” Leggett said. “My education is important. I do want to finish strong.”
Despite being a finalist for the Mackey Award last season, Leggett still had areas of his game he wanted to improve. He feels that he did so, and will be even better this year.
“I wanted to become a more all-around tight end, from a blocking aspect really, and after that, just running after the catch I can get better at,” he said. “I just took a look at myself and really asked what do I need to work on to become a more dominant tight end, as far as blocking.”
Leggett’s also ready to be more of a leader. The senior tight end on the team is in charge of giving the pregame speech to the unit on the field, and that will be Leggett’s responsibility.
“That’s probably the time that it’s going to hit me that it’s going to be my last first game of the season playing for Clemson,” Leggett said. “I’m just going to try to keep them as confident as possible and let them know that if I’m out of the game, I’m going to be as confident in you as possible and let them know I have faith.”
Who: Clemson vs. Auburn
When: 9 p.m., Saturday
Where: Jordan Hare Stadium, Auburn, Ala.
TV: ESPN. Radio: 1130 AM
Line: Clemson by 7 1/2