Clemson defensive end Justin Foster was inserted into Saturday’s win against Texas A&M early in the second quarter and immediately made his presence felt.
The sophomore came flying off the edge and sacked Aggies quarterback Kellen Mond for a 4-yard loss on a series that ended with a three-and-out.
But when Foster got to the sideline he didn’t receive praise from Clemson All-American Clelin Ferrell.
“I made the play and got the sack and everything. The next play I missed the tackle for loss, and that’s the first thing he said when I came to the sideline,” Foster recalled. “He was like, ‘Hey, how’d you miss that tackle?’”
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It is that kind of constant nagging to get better that has Foster headed toward being the next star on Clemson’s defensive line.
The converted linebacker added a fumble recovery in the third quarter of Saturday’s matchup when Ferrell sacked Aggies backup quarterback Nick Starkel while knocking the ball free in the process.
Foster saw action in nine games last season and had one tackle for loss. He already has two through two weeks in 2018.
“Justin, man, he’s been a real bright spot in two games… He’s been very consistent, very encouraged,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “He’s quietly put together a great camp and a very good two games, very productive. He’s just kind of a lunch pail guy, man. Big motor, high effort, heavy handed, physical. And just dependable.”
While Ferrell gave Foster a hard time on the sideline Saturday, he also views him as a little brother with star potential.
“It’s been a long journey for that one. He came in so raw and just so tentative with just how he played,” Ferrell said. “To see him go out there, I think his first play out there he got the sack. To see that, that was huge for me.”
Foster isn’t the only young defensive lineman who showed up on Saturday.
True freshman Xavier Thomas also received playing time during the showdown and got a hit on Mond the first series he was in.
“He was ready for his opportunity, and the plays that he did get, he maximized those things,” Ferrell said. “We put him in late in the fourth quarter for a couple of snaps when it was a big passing down and their offense needed to score. Hopefully he can keep progressing and working hard.”
With Foster, Thomas, Logan Rudolph, K.J. Henry and other young talent on Clemson’s defensive line, the Tigers should continue to have success up front, even if all four starters leave for the NFL after this season as expected.
“They just set a standard with how they play and everything. That’s just how it should be when I go in the game as a backup or when they leave. That should be a standard,” Foster said. “It should never change. You’ve just got to go out there and play well with good effort and have fun.”