Summer 2024

Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei thanks God for challenges in 1st year as starter: 'Jesus put me in this position'

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei picked his word for the 2021 season when he was a Heisman trophy favorite leading a team expected to compete for the national title. The fact that the season didn’t go the way Uiagalelei had hoped ended up making his choice even more fitting.

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“My word for this year, before this season even started, was ‘faith,’” the Clemson quarterback said (via FanNation’s All Clemson blog) after the Tigers’ 20-13 victory over Iowa State in the Cheez-It Bowl on Dec. 29. “And to be able to pick that word, and just to be able to go through the whole season, after going through this season, I know exactly why that word, and why God gave me that word.”

A depleted supporting cast certainly factored into the way the former five-star recruit’s transition into the starting QB role played out. The Tigers were often shorthanded on the offensive line and at wide receiver due to a combination of injuries and players leaving the program. A staggering seven wideouts on scholarship were lost to injury or the transfer portal.

Head coach Dabo Swinney made a point of acknowledging the resiliency and perseverance his young quarterback displayed.

“I’m just really proud of where he is and how he led and how he never flinched,” Swinney said, according to All Clemson. “He’s been in a skillet, in a frying pan all season long. And I’ve been right there with him, and he hasn’t flinched. He’s a winner. Just appreciate his leadership.”

Clemson lost three of its first seven games, the first time the program suffered multiple regular-season defeats since 2014. The Tigers then reeled off six straight victories to post an 11th consecutive 10-win season.

As a result, Swinney became the third coach with 150 wins in their first 15 seasons.

Uiagalelei threw for more than 200 yards in three straight games for the first time in his college career during the winning streak. The only other time he’d posted back-to-back 200-yard games was in 2020. Filling in for Trevor Lawrence, Uiagalelei threw for 781 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions in his first two starts as a true freshman.

Those two performances were the primary driving force behind all the excitement the Inland Empire, California, native generated as he took over for Lawrence.

Ending his first year as a full-time starter on a high note, Uiagalelei went 21-of-32 for 187 yards in the bowl game. His completion percentage of 65.6 percent was his second-best mark of 2021 and he also tied a season high in completions. In 13 total games, he threw for 2,246 yards while accounting for 13 total touchdowns.

Struggling to live up to the hype this past year led Uiagalelei to lean on his faith and brought him closer to God. When he committed to Clemson in 2019, he cited the strong Christian influence within the program as one of the main reasons for his decision.

In the same All Clemson story, Uiagalelei expressed gratitude to God for the challenges he faced this season.

“Faith is something that you don’t know, you can’t see, but you know you believe in your heart,” he said. “Going through it, I know Jesus put me in this position to be able to go out there this season and put me through these trials and took me through these different struggles and just different challenges, and I thank Him for that.”

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