Has Clemson Found Its Next 80-20 Receiver?

Since Tee Higgins left for the NFL following the 2019 season, Clemson has been looking for a wide receiver who can go up and highpoint the football.

These passes are generally referred to as 50-50 balls, but since the days of DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins from 2010-’13, the Clemson Football program called them 80-20 balls. Hopkins, Watkins and eventually Charone Peake, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett and Higgins rarely missed on these kinds of passes which made things extremely difficult for opposing defenses.

But the Tigers have not had that luxury the last three seasons, and as a result the passing game has suffered somewhat. Dabo Swinney, offensive coordinator Garrett Riley and wide receiver’s coach Tyler Grisham hope those days are over.

In both the ACC Championship Game and the Orange Bowl, redshirt freshman Cole Turner surprised North Carolina and Tennessee defenders when he leaped into the air and snatched Cade Klubnik aerials. Turner even did it in a recent practice.

In each instance, it was almost as if he surprised those that were covering him.

“Probably. Yeah, I would say they wouldn’t expect it. A white guy, you know, that is kind of fast and can jump,” Turner laughed while hinting to the 1992 film White Men Can’t Jump starting Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson.

Like Harrleson’s character in the movie, Turner played basketball, starting at Vestavia Hills High School in Alabama. In fact, basketball is his favorite sport to play. He did not start playing football until he was talked into playing prior to his junior year.

“I love basketball, so basketball was my number one sport,” he said. “I knew I was a good athlete. And shoutout to my basketball coach, Coach Davis. In my junior year, he kinda of encouraged me to play football. He was like, ‘You got to play football.’ So, I played football my junior year. I like it a lot. I was pretty good, so the rest is history.”

With his older brother Nolan starting at safety for Clemson, Swinney and Grisham were able to convince Cole to come to Clemson, singing him as part of the 2022 class. His recruitment to Clemson flew under the radar, as most rival schools did not know about him due to his late start at football.

Cole earned All-State honors during his senior season, catching 42 passes for 581 yards and seven touchdowns, while also averaging 19.5 yards on punt returns and 34.5 on kickoffs. He finished the year with 1,160 all-purpose yards.

The younger Turner admitted football came natural to him. From the first day he walked on the practice fields he knew he could play at a high level.

“I was naturally just faster than everybody out there,” he said. “I don’t want to sound cocky, but yeah, I realized I could do this for real.”

Still having a lot to learn about playing wide receiver in college, Cole redshirted last season. The freshman played in just three games in 2022, two of which were in the postseason.

“It was tough at first, for sure,” he said. “But then again, I had Nolan. He told me what to expect out here, so nothing really caught me off guard. I knew it was going to be tough, so I just had my head down and grinded the whole time.”

After making his college debut with a nice 9-yard completion against Miami, Cole introduced himself to the college football world when he blew past North Carolina’s DeAndre Boykins in the ACC Championship Game to catch a 68-yard bomb, the Tigers’ longest pass play of the season.

He later caught a 50-50 ball to become the first Clemson receiver to surpass 100 yards in a game in 2022, finishing the night with three catches for 101 yards. Cole went on to catch four passes for 51 yards against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl.

“I would say, it comes easy for me for the most part,” Cole said. “I am just having to work on specific releases and stuff and having a feel for the defense and what they are in. I kinda of adjust my routes based on that, so that is kinda of what I have been working on.”

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