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Clemson's Jordan Leggett goes from lazy to lethal

CLEMSON, S.C. -- The nickname comes straight from a coach's guidebook to, uh, motivation.

It includes the player's last name, to remove any confusion about the target. The adjective is just as clear, not profane but unmistakably biting, producing maximum putdown effect. The alliteration is a bonus.

Lazy Leggett. It's perfect.

There's only one thing: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney can't take credit for it. Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett used the L-word -- a notch above soft on the worst labels that can be applied to football players -- while describing his approach as a freshman in 2013. "I'm a very lazy person," he said then, "so they are not able to trust me because of my practice habits." What Leggett lacked in drive, he made up for with unbridled introspection.

Leggett is still, admittedly, lazy. He spends his free time sleeping or watching Netflix. He just finished "Breaking Bad" and "Sons of Anarchy," and looks forward to Season 6 of "Game of Thrones," premiering later this month. When he ventures outside, he enjoys the lakes near campus.

"I'm just real laid-back, real chill, in my off time," he said.

Fortunately for Clemson, he has found the "on" switch. Leggett is anything but sedentary on the field, using his 6-foot-5, 255-pound body to make catches, blocks and whatever else his team needs. He comes off of a breakout junior season in which he led Clemson with eight touchdowns and finished third on the team with 40 receptions.

Highlighted by a team-leading 101 receiving yards in a program-shifting win against Florida State, Leggett was a Mackey Award finalist. And he's coming back for another year alongside quarterback Deshaun Watson and a receiving corps welcoming back Mike Williams.

"Lazy Leggett," Swinney said, grinning. "He's gone from lazy Leggett to committed Leggett."

"Now he's Leggett the leader," added co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott.

The new nicknames might not be as catchy, but Clemson will take the tradeoff.

Leggett's story is like the stories of many who play at the highest level of college football. He had it easy in high school, propelled by his natural gifts as a gargantuan wide receiver. Few players made it big out of Navarre High, just east of Pensacola along the Florida panhandle, and Leggett acknowledged, "I didn't take it as seriously."

Shifting to tight end at Clemson, Leggett expected to redshirt in 2013. He ended up playing even though Swinney admits now that Leggett wasn't ready. Leggett found himself competing with players of equal stature and greater experience like Stanton Seckinger and Sam Cooper.

"He thought, 'I'm going to come in and beat out a 21-year-old grown man who's been working because I am who I am,'" Elliott said. "It don't work like that."

Leggett still had 12 catches, two for touchdowns and two for longer than 20 yards, as a freshman. But he put up similar numbers in 2014 while struggling through injuries. He still needed a jolt.

After Leggett missed Clemson's bowl game with a knee injury, whispers began about a possible transfer.

"We kept telling him, 'You can transfer, but the same problems you've got now, you're going to have wherever you go. So you might as well stay here and put in the work,'" said co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott. "Last spring was a big moment. We didn’t notice any of the laziness like we had in the past."

Leggett never lost faith in his ability. He knew he was a matchup migraine for almost any linebacker or safety in the passing game. But he also knew he had to work at areas like blocking.

Although he came to Clemson largely because the coaches featured tight ends as field-stretchers -- he admired Dwayne Allen, the Mackey Award winner who had 50 catches for the Tigers in 2011 -- he had to show his coaches, his teammates, himself even, that he could be a complete player. That he could work hard enough to be one. He decided to use the resources at his disposal, like lining up against defensive ends Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd at practice.

"It really just dropped me in the grease," he said. "I knew I had to get better or I was going to get beat up."

Leggett has newfound appreciation for his position, which he considers the second most intellectually demanding behind quarterback, because of the responsibilities as a run-blocker, pass-protector and route-runner. He announced he would return to Clemson immediately after the Tigers' loss to Alabama in the CFP national title game. The senior will enter the fall as the favorite for the Mackey Award.

Clemson's coaches have seen Leggett-like transformations before.

"We understand when we first get them, we've got to push them around in a wheelchair," Elliott said. "Because they’ve been babied, they've been entitled, we’ve got to push them around and then eventually, we've got to make them stand up. That's what you’re seeing in Leggett. He came in a wheelchair, even told you, 'I'm lazy Leggett.' Didn’t know how to work.

"Now he's going to leave here as a college graduate and one of the best tight ends in the country."