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Clemson loses 3 starters for bowl game


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Clemson loses 3 starters for bowl game
« on: December 19, 2007, 11:35:18 AM »
Tigers lose three starters for bowl game
Billie, Watkins and Capote will miss the Chick-fil-A Bowl for academic reasons
By PAUL STRELOW - pstrelow@thestate.com
CLEMSON — As Clemson players filed out after Tuesday’s practice, senior linebacker Tramaine Billie drove up to the ramp leading to the locker room.

Billie slapped hands and offered a ride to sophomore Kavell Conner, acting as if the two had not seen each other in some time.

It had been more than a week since Billie last practiced with his teammates, but Tuesday brought the separation the former Dreher High standout had been dreading.

Clemson announced that three senior starters — Billie, fellow linebacker Nick Watkins and right tackle Christian Capote — will be academically ineligible for the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Bowl against No. 22 Auburn.

“It will be tough to watch the bowl game, but those guys are going to play well and do what they’ve got to do,” Billie said. “Everything will be good.”

As coach Tommy Bowden intimated, the academic casualties allow No. 15 Clemson (9-3) to get a good look at its potential 2008 lineup.

The Tigers have been left with three scholarship seniors on their two-deep depth chart, all starting offensive linemen.

Two of the three casualties will be replaced with young but talented players. The only concern is whether the lack of experience will come at a cost.

“They’ve been in my office telling me they’re as good as the starters anyway,” Bowden said. “Now we’ll find out.”

Freshman Scotty Cooper is slated to replace Billie at strongside linebacker.

Redshirt freshman Chris Hairston, the heir apparent at right tackle, will make his first career start in place of Capote.

The biggest shoes likely will be filled by Conner and junior linebacker Antonio Clay, who will play at Watkins’ weakside linebacker spot.

Watkins, a three-year starter, has led the Tigers in tackles each of the past two seasons and finishes his career seventh on the school’s all-time tackling list.

Bowden said he does not know when a decision will be reached regarding the availability of junior middle linebacker Cortney Vincent, who was charged with DUI on Dec. 9.

If there is a silver lining to losing three veterans with a combined 77 career starts, Bowden said Clemson’s younger players have an example of what happens when academic duties are not fulfilled.

One player did not meet the school’s requirement of six credit hours earned toward his major. Another did not complete the terms of an internship, his only requirement for graduation.

“Just disappointed those guys didn’t qualify,” Bowden said. “They were surely given every opportunity.

“I think they’re learning about accountability, which is one thing even some adults don’t understand. With responsibility goes accountability. They’re learning firsthand exactly what that is.”


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