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Clemmings takes advantage of "last option"

Like some other NFL Draft prospects in a tightly packed group atop the offensive tackle rankings, T.J. Clemmings fielded a question at the NFL Combine about the possibility of hearing his name called in the first round.

"As of right now, it is all talk," Clemmings said. "I don't get into what the media says and people think, because things change on draft day a lot."

If there's one thing Clemmings is familiar with, it is change.

Eight years ago, the only sport he played was basketball. Just three years ago, the only experience he had in football was on the defensive side of the ball.

But coaches came along at the right time to point Clemmings toward a path that now has him in this enviable position. Before his junior year at Paterson Catholic in New Jersey – a school since closed that counts Victor Cruz among its graduates – a coach there convinced Clemmings to play football for the first time in his life.

Clemmings kept playing basketball and landed scholarship offers from Providence, Rutgers and Seton Hall, but the football offers poured in as well, and he decided to play football at Pittsburgh.

"I played basketball all the way from eight years old through my senior year of high school. It was an amazing time, and I had fun," Clemmings said. "Honestly, some of the athleticism from basketball transferred over to football and definitely helped me. Being able to change directions and the constant running, it all helped to switch over to football."

Initially, his hoops experience aided him on the defensive side of the ball. Despite playing just two years of organized football, Clemmings developed into the top overall prospect in New Jersey and one of the top defensive end prospects in the nation.

Once at Pittsburgh, however, things didn't pan out as hoped. Clemmings played sparingly as a true freshman, was redshirted the next year by a new coach and didn't make an overwhelming impact the next year under yet another new coach.


But that coach, Paul Chryst, had an idea at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season. After the Panthers squeaked into a bowl game with a season-ending win in which Clemmings didn't even play, Chryst approached Clemmings about giving him a chance on the offensive line during the additional practices before the bowl game.

"At the time I wasn't having the success I wanted on defense, and offensive line was literally my last option," Clemmings said. "If I didn't switch over to offensive line, that might have been it for me as far as playing football. I definitely wanted to play again, so it was a no-brainer.

"It felt right. I am not sure why, but something inside felt right, and I am glad I made the decision."

That attitude helped Clemmings make the tough transition, and he went on to earn the starting right tackle job entering the 2013 season. He started every game and made such an impact that his teammates tabbed him as their offensive captain for the 2014 season, when he again started every game at right tackle and earned All-America honors.

Now, Clemmings could be asked to again make another significant change.

Given his rare combination of size and quickness, some NFL teams see the 6-5, 309-pounder as a left tackle – even though he hadn't played a snap there before doing so during Senior Bowl practices.

"They definitely asked me if I was willing to play both sides," Clemmings said a month later at the NFL Combine. "It is not an easy transition to make. I had spring ball and a camp to be ready to play in 2013 at right tackle. That's all the time I had. I was learning each week.

"But it doesn't matter to me. I am prepared to work and play both sides. Whatever the team wants me to do, I will be prepared."

And some NFL team might be prepared to invest a first-round pick in Clemmings, a player considered to be raw but one who has successfully overcome daunting learning curves before.

"I only have two years on the offensive line under my belt, and that's not going to change from now to the draft," Clemmings said. "I need some work in some things, and I am not afraid of that. I am ready to work on things that people feel I need to work on."

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