The collective stomachs of Clemson fans sunk on Thursday night after it was revealed that star quarterback – and projected 2021 No. 1 overall NFL draft pick – Trevor Lawrence had tested positive for COVID-19 and would miss this week’s game against Boston College.
Per guidelines from the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), which No. 1 ranked Clemson is a part of, Lawrence must isolate for at least 10 days from the onset of symptoms or a positive test before returning to football activity.
Obviously, Clemson was dealt a big blow losing Lawrence, but there is hope on the depth chart in the form of D.J. Uiagalelei, a highly recruited true freshman who entered Clemson with his own share of hype.
Here’s what you need to know about Uiagalelei ahead of his first career NCAA start – which can be seen at noon ET Saturday on TSN1 – against Boston College.
He was ranked as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback
Uiagalelei, who hails from Bellflower, Calif., was ranked as the No. 1 dropback passer in the recruiting class of 2020 by all the major recruiting services and was viewed as a top 10 recruit overall. Lawrence, who Uiagalelei is stepping in for on Saturday, was also ranked as the No. 1 dropback passer in his class.
Over his high school career, Uiagalelei threw for 10,496 yards and had 127 touchdowns against just 11 interceptions. He also rushed 1,103 yards and added another 18 touchdowns.
He has size
While Uiagalelei (6-foot-4) isn’t quite as tall as the 6-foot-6 Lawrence, he’s bigger than him weight-wise. Lawrence has a slender build, being officially listed as 220 pounds by Clemson, while Uiagalelei is more solidly built, being an eye-popping 250 pounds. People in football circles traditionally prefer bigger quarterbacks as they’re seen as being better equipped to handle the physical punishment that comes with being hit in the pocket.
"He has everything that the great ones we’ve had (had), just bigger," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said of Uiagalelei last December via USA Today. "He’s not 6-6 like Trevor, but none of those guys were 240 pounds, and he can run as well as anybody we’ve had. Just a special young man. Just a very humble young man. No entitlement. No drama."
He has some NCAA experience
Saturday will be Uiagalelei’s first career start, but the first-year player has already seen action in five of Clemson’s six games this season.
One of the benefits of being a backup on the top team in college football is that Clemson often blows out teams, which affords opportunities for the backups to step in and get some game reps. Uiagalelei has gone 12-of-19 this season for 102 yards passing and has added 32 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
It also bears noting that the true freshman won the backup job by beating out Taisun Phommachanh, who enrolled at Clemson a year ahead of Uiagalelei.
He was a high school baseball star
At one point in time during his high school career, it wasn’t clearer whether Uiagalelei’s future laid on the gridiron or on the baseball diamond.
As a pitcher, he reportedly has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s, and according to recruiting service Perfect Game, Uiagalelei is also capable of playing first base, third base and outfield.
In the past, there was discussion that Uiagalelei could be a top pick in the MLB draft. In September, however, he told reporters that he "most likely" won’t play baseball, choosing instead to focus solely on football.