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Second-year stars: Clemson

4/30/2014

The 2013 signing class has already made its mark on the ACC, from Tyler Boyd and Stacy Coley shining on offense to Jalen Ramsey and Kendall Fuller starring on defense to Ryan Switzer racking up All-America honors on special teams. But for most players, the transition from high school to college takes a little time, and it’s not until Year 2 that they truly shine. With that in mind, we’re taking a look at the best candidates for second-year stardom in the conference — the players who didn’t quite hit the big time as true freshmen, but are poised for a breakthrough in 2014.

Next up: Clemson

Class recap: The Tigers inked the country’s 13th-best class in 2013 and the second-best in the ACC, according to ESPN’s rankings, with 15 four- and five-star players. Several standouts, including Shaq Lawson, Jayron Kearse, Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett, earned regular playing time as true freshmen last year.

Second-year star: CB Mackensie Alexander

Recruiting stock: Alexander was the No. 2 cornerback and the No. 4 overall prospect in the country coming out of high school and was Clemson’s top signee in 2013.

2013 in review: The expectations were high for Alexander entering the year, but his debut was delayed early on when he suffered a groin injury in fall camp. By the time he was ready to return to action, a redshirt was waiting.

2014 potential: Much has been made of Clemson’s ferocious defensive line, but the secondary should be improved in 2014, too. Still, there are questions at corner with Bashaud Breeland off to the NFL and Garry Peters suspended for the opener against Georgia. That meant an opportunity for a healthy Alexander to showcase his skills this spring, and coordinator Brent Venables came away impressed. Alexander figures to have the inside track on starting the opener, and he could easily secure the job for good with an impressive fall camp. And with a pass rush that projects as one of the best in the country, the rewards for Clemson’s secondary could be rich.

Also watch for: There’s ample depth in Clemson’s backfield at the moment, and coaches haven’t given much indication of who’ll get the lion’s share of the carries, but redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman has earned raves. Swinney said he nearly lifted Gallman’s redshirt last year in a pinch, but he’s eager to see what the 6-1, 200-pounder can do in 2014.