by Austin Silvey @SilveyESP
CLEMSON, SC -- On Friday evening, after the “sixth or seventh” (according to Dabo Swinney) spring practice, the Tigers' head coach had good things to say about his first group of offensive linemen.
“Our first group, offensive line-wise, is a big time thumbs up. I am super, super encouraged with those guys.”
One of the members of that first group is none other than redshirt junior Matt Bockhorst. Since arriving in 2017 out of St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, Matt has been waiting his turn to step into a prominent starting role in the Clemson trenches.
He alluded to the process of redshirting and how you go through it as a young player. “Playing on scout team, being redshirted, getting into Power Hour, you really kind of find who you are. You come into your physicality a little bit and you learn how to grind.”
“Being redshirted is not easy. You’re not in the spotlight. You’re not in any of the social media posts. It’s definitely a year of growth but I would find it hard to believe that they didn’t come out of that year more ready to play at this level.” - Matt Bockhorst
Listed at 6-4, 310 pounds, Bockhorst will presumably step into the starting left guard position this fall, thus trying to fill the proverbial shoes of his predecessor John Simpson.
“Theres big shoes to fill with John Simpson, quite literally,” Bockhorst said with a laugh. Simpson was known for his huge feet. In high school he was already wearing size-17 cleats.
“So now it’s on me. I think that I’ve done what I can to prepare and now, moving forward, it’s about performance and doing what I can to help the offense be the best in the country.”
Bockhorst will enter the 2020 season having played only 599 snaps in a total of 28 games with one start. But if you’ve seen him play, you know one thing for sure about him….he is nasty. When it comes to offensive lineman, ‘nasty’ is something you look for. It’s a good thing...at least when it isn’t out of control and waving in a lot of yellow hankies.
Even though he plays with an intimidating nastiness that can strike the fear of God into any defender opposite of him, what makes Bockhorst such a unique player is his noted intelligence both on and off the gridiron. He currently majors in financial management and has already completed microinternships with Cisco (2018) and Merrill Lynch (2019). He is also a two-time ACC Honor Roll selection (2017-18).
When asked if Bockhorst could be one of the faces of the team this year, Dabo confidently stated, “Absolutely. He’s gonna be the face of a company or governor of a state. I think he’s a 4.0 student. He’s brilliant. He’s unbelievable. He’s one of our PAW Journey top ambassadors…”
“That would be an honor,” Bockhorst said in response to the same question. “It would really be special to me to be one of the faces of the team. I never do it for glory. Playing offensive line, there’s just not much glory in it.”
“But if I can be looked at by my teammates as a leader and someone who’s well respected, I’d really love to try and earn that.” - Matt Bockhorst
“He’s just an amazing young person,” Swinney continued saying, “...who just happens to be a nasty guard and can play this game at a high level. He’s strong, athletic, flexible. He can do splits. He’s just a very unique guy at his position. He’s so committed...one of the best leaders we’ve got. And he has been. He was a great leader for us last year.”
There is no doubt in Bockhorst’s ability to be an arresting leader on this Clemson team. And with so many veteran players gone and new faces in, his presence in the team's leadership hierarchy will be pivotal for the success of the offensive line, and in turn, the offense as a whole. But to be an effective leader, it requires you to operate in a different manner.
“The biggest thing about being a vocal leader is you never want it to be fabricated,” Bockhorst said. “If you’re gonna be a vocal leader and someone that guys really listen to, it’s gotta be genuine; from a deep-down place of caring.”
“Whether you’re holding teammates accountable or singing their praises, the biggest thing is being who you are. And some guys aren’t gonna be vocal leaders.”
“For me, I’ve always kind of had a loud personality and it’s not something that I’m ashamed of. It’s a place that I can take hold in this team and it’s something that I’m really excited to do.”
The 2020 Clemson offensive line will look a lot different but Bockhorst says he doesn't expect the level of play in the trenches to fall off at all.
"I wouldn't buy into that," Bockhorst said in response to a question regarding the notion of a drop in level of play in this year's offensive line.
“Having Coach Caldwell as your coach first off, he doesn’t accept much less than perfect. Number two, obviously we lost a bunch of talented guys last year that are likely gonna see a lot of success at the next level but I wouldn’t say theres a drop-off.”
“We certainly have a ways to go but that’s why you go through spring, you go through summer workouts and then through fall camp. Time will tell but I would disagree with that right now.”