When star quarterback Trevor Lawrence contracted COVID-19 last season, there was cause for concern that his absence would leave the Tigers without an uber-talented thrower for the two games Lawrence would miss. Although Clemson did end up going 1-1 in those two games, it became clear from the start that freshman quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei had the skillset to be the quarterback of the future. Now, Uiagalelei is one of the top players on the Heisman watch list for next season, setting high expectations for his sophomore season.
Putting Uigalelei in the top three of Heisman favorites for the 2021-2022 season on most sites and oddsmakers creates a sense of hope for fans that there may finally be a Heisman trophy coming to Death Valley. From running back C.J. Spiller to quarterback Deshaun Watson to Trevor Lawrence, Clemson has had plenty of players that were just short of bringing home the Heisman trophy. For many fans, and even head coach Dabo Swinney, it has been disappointing for no Clemson Tiger to have won the Heisman trophy.
Before Lawrence placed second in the 2020 Heisman trophy winner race, Swinney said, “It would be a crying shame if the Heisman didn’t attach their name to Trevor Lawrence.”
Although Uiagalelei has very tough competition in Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler and Alabama quarterback Bryce Young, both of whom are in the top three on most watchlists as well, Uiagalelei has the benefit of learning Clemson’s system behind Lawrence and having real-game experience. That real-game experience will likely be pivotal in Uiagalelei beginning the season on a high note, especially with how he played in his only two starts last season.
In his sole two starts against Boston College and Notre Dame, the 6-foot-4-inch quarterback finished with 808 total yards and six total touchdowns. In both games, Uiagalelei faced a deficit and had to crawl the Tigers back to win against Boston College and force double overtime against Notre Dame.
This leadership did not go unnoticed to Swinney, who, following the Boston College game, said, “What I love the most about D.J. was his poise, his demeanor… easy for a young guy in his first start to maybe get a little frustrated, but he just hung in there and stayed poised, and he led his team.” That leadership and poise are characteristics that will have to be displayed next season for Uiagalelei to bring home the Heisman trophy.
Opening the season as one of the top Heisman favorites does not guarantee that Uiagalelei will win the award or even that he will have a sensational year. What being on the Heisman watch list does guarantee is that many football experts across the country believe that Uiagalelei has tremendous skills and that fans should be on the lookout for yet another star quarterback in the making for the Tigers.