The 2020 Clemson Tigers are a veteran-laden squad, with plenty of proven players manning the team’s charge to return to the College Football Playoff for the sixth season in a row. However, multitudinous youngsters make up the core group of the Tigers’ impactful players, including several sophomore stalwarts. While some of the sophomore stars were expected to be early contributors during their Clemson careers, such as defensive end K.J. Henry, linebacker Mike Jones Jr. and wide receivers Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata, who were all highly touted recruits, others have made a mark rather abruptly. These sophomore stalwarts have taken under two years to establish themselves as noteworthy playmakers for the Tigers and are poised to put together quite the impressive playing careers by the time their Clemson tenures are all said and done.
One such sophomore stalwart is cornerback Andrew Booth Jr., who has used up little time in making a name for himself in the Clemson secondary. Like Henry, Jones, Ladson and Ngata, Booth was a renowned high school recruit. However, the defensive back was not necessarily expected to become one of the ACC’s most notable cornerbacks this early. A five-star recruit out of Dacula, Ga., Booth was a standout prep star at Archer High School. Booth’s sophomore campaign got off to a fantastic start, with the corner going viral after making a one-handed interception in the end zone against the Virginia Cavaliers. Electrifying the Memorial Stadium crowd with the jaw-dropping play, Booth showed off his tremendous athleticism, which has been on full display in several instances thus far this season. He was named ACC Defensive Back of the Week following his stellar showing in Clemson’s win over Virginia. In Clemson’s triumph versus the Syracuse Orange, Booth swung the momentum in the Tigers’ favor by returning a fumble 21 yards to the house for the first touchdown of his career. Booth complements fellow Clemson cornerback Derion Kendrick, the leader of the Tigers’ secondary, very well and is positioning himself to compete at the level of an All-American in the not-too-distant future.
While Braden Galloway is the primary tight end for the Tigers this year, Davis Allen, a sophomore stalwart, is competing at a really high level. Allen is a tight end from Calhoun, Ga., and he came to Clemson by way of Calhoun High School. It has been a while since the Tigers boasted a legitimate one-two punch at the tight end position, but, if Davis continues on his current trajectory, the 2021 slate might feature the Tigers reaping the benefits of the collective receiving production by Davis and Galloway. Sporting a 6-foot-6-inch frame, Allen weighs 250 pounds and has proven difficult for opposing defenses to contain at times this season. Allen barreled his way into the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown reception in the Tigers’ win versus the Miami Hurricanes, marking his first career score. The following week, he returned to the end zone with a 34-yard touchdown catch in Clemson’s destruction of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Making it three straight weeks with a touchdown grab, Allen then caught a 17-yard touchdown pass against Syracuse. With an adept blocking acumen and a solid route-running ability, Davis is a well-rounded tight end whose attributes bode well for ever-increasing production in the Tiger offense.
Returning to Clemson’s secondary, like Booth, sophomore stalwart Lannden Zanders is making waves as a great pass defender this fall. The hard-hitting strong safety is taking part in his first season as a starter for the Tigers, and he has already showcased his knack for making eye-catching tackles. Hailing from Shelby, N.C., Zanders committed to Clemson while competing for Crest High School. As a freshman in 2019, Zanders made the most of his playing time and tallied two sacks, an impressive feat for a first-year defensive back with limited snaps. This season, Zanders has caught fans’ attention via his on-field tenacity and tackling prowess, in addition to having one of the most memorable, unique names in college football. Zanders’ intangibles include impeccable athleticism, speed and strength, and his foremost football skill is his conspicuous tackling instinct in the open field, contributing to him taking part in several notable stops thus far in 2020.
Zanders is rapidly solidifying himself as one of the ACC’s top sophomore stalwarts to watch for in the coming years, as are Booth and Davis, and Clemson is proving to be teeming with young talent set to carry the torch for this year’s senior class and keep the Tigers in the national title hunt next season and beyond.