Dec 28, 2021

Led by Skalski, Clemson All-In on Cheez-It Bowl

By Carla Mangual
Florida Citrus Sports 

There’s no need to worry about the stars shining at this year’s Cheez-It Bowl. Clemson senior linebacker and team captain James Skalski quickly shrugged off a question on Sunday morning about anyone skipping Wednesday’s game against Iowa State.

“Opt-out — like, what? That’s not a thing,” Skalski said at an introductory press conference for both the Tigers and Cyclones. The teams will clash at Camping World Stadium in a first-time meeting that also doubles as one of the most intriguing matchups of the bowl season. The game kicks off at 5:45 p.m. ET and will air on ESPN.

The Tigers are shooting for yet another 10-win season, and the sixth-year senior Skalski is so important to the culture of his team that a reporter jokingly referred to him on Sunday as “Coach Skalski.” This season, he’s totaled 85 tackles with 2.5 sacks, and he is the only player in history to play in five ACC Championship games. And yet there’s not a trace of fatigue. His love for the team and the game showed through, even on an early post-Christmas Sunday morning.

“We get to go play a game again,” Skalski said. “We all just love playing ball. We love being together.”

Of course, “together” has a bit of a different meaning this bowl season, as longtime defensive coordinator Brent Venables has left for the head coaching job at Oklahoma. Still, co-defensive coordinator Mickey Conn said he doesn’t feel like he needs to show anything new right away.

Conn said he expects the team’s defense to continue to play the way it’s been playing this season and added that the level of intensity and leadership from players like Skalski gives him confidence for a good showing in the Cheez-It Bowl.

“They bring it every day,” Conn said, “I love it, and I know we’re going to do a good job of putting them in a position to be successful. I’m really excited to watch them play.”

Despite those critical changes on the sideline, Skalski said concern is the last feeling he and the team had when the news about Venables broke.

“Uneasy? No,” he said. “We are all excited for the new pieces that are coming in, and now we get to build something a little different, a little new, and I think all the young guys that are coming back are super excited. I know I’m excited to play one last game led by these guys.

“I can’t wait to play,” Skalski added. “And I can’t wait for all of us to show up and put on a show.”

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