Coach Dabo Swinney got word over the weekend that former backup Jonathan Weitz is still actively enrolled as a Clemson student, pursuing an online master’s degree in data science and analytics from his Charleston, S.C., hometown. Weitz, who retired from football last spring, still has another year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and agreed on Sunday to come out of retirement.
Weitz is on track to graduate with his master’s degree in December. He recently accepted a job in New York City that was expected to start two weeks from now.
“It’s either gonna be a great story or it’s gonna be terrible. It’s not gonna be anything in between,” Swinney said. “I hope (Saturday) doesn’t come down to a kick. I don’t know if my heart can take that.”
Weitz was formerly on Clemson’s roster from 2019 to 2022 as a walk-on. He appeared in seven games and went 3-for-3 on PATs as BT Potter’s backup. He also had a 56-yard average on 10 career kickoffs.
Swinney calling Weitz back to the Upstate is a direct result of the Tigers’ kicking woes under current starting kicker Robert Gunn III. Gunn, a redshirt freshman, is known for his big leg but has struggled with the easy chip shots. He had field goals blocked from 41 and 23 yards in Clemson’s season opener against Duke — a direct result of low kicks.
Gunn made a 23-yarder against Charleston Southern in Week 2 but missed an extra point on Saturday against Florida Atlantic. He also missed a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter.
How this came together
Swinney didn’t know that Weitz was still enrolled as a Clemson student until someone told him over the weekend. He then called Weitz on Sunday afternoon — joking that Clemson was pulling him off the beach — and floated the idea of a return to the Tigers.
“He spent the whole spring in France studying abroad and hanging out at the Eiffel Tower. Had a great summer and has his life planned out. He just rented an apartment in New York,” Swinney said. “He starts his job in two weeks … and he gets a call from coach Swinney on Sunday (saying), ‘Hey, you wanna come up and kick against the ‘Noles this weekend?’ He’s just crazy enough to want to do it. And might be what we need right now.”
Weitz told Swinney that he hadn’t kicked a football since April and that he’d call him back after he tested out his leg for the first time in five months. After he went outside and kicked a few practice balls, he felt confident enough to accept Swinney’s offer.
On Monday — his first practice back — he went 7-for-8, Swinney said. Weitz is consistent from about 45 yards in, Swinney continued, and pending warmups on Saturday, would be the No. 1 option for shorter field goals.
“If we had to kick a long one, Robert (Gunn), he’s definitely your best option there,” Swinney said, adding that Gunn would also still handle kickoffs. “But we just need somebody who makes layups now.”
Swinney said Gunn’s backups had the opportunity to seize the job, but hadn’t performed well enough in practice to do so. He joked that Weitz’s future boss would probably be “pissed off” at him for calling Weitz out of the bullpen, but said that Weitz told him his boss handled the news well.
“We’ve got to have a change there. It’s just where we are and we’ll see what happens,” Swinney said. “Hopefully they’ve still got a job for (Weitz) up in (New York in) January. … We’re going to Syracuse next week so maybe he can moonlight.”
Can this work?
As the Tigers’ former backup, Weitz doesn’t have a ton of experience, thanks to the way Potter dominated throughout his career. But the Tigers have no other option at the moment and have to at least give it a go. This development is all the more intriguing considering Clemson is making the change this week, ahead of such a high-stakes matchup against the Seminoles.
If all goes according to plan, this move could give the Tigers depth at a critical position while Gunn works to get his confidence back.
What does this mean for Gunn?
Swinney raved about the redshirt freshman and his pure talent as a kicker but said that Gunn started to struggle around the season opener against Duke. Since then, the issues started to compound themselves, culminating with the missed extra point and 31-yarder on Saturday.
Gunn gave it all he had, Swinney said, but this decision came down to adding “maturity” at the position.
“(I) haven’t lost any confidence in Robert Gunn at all. I mean this kid is, when you say this kid is talented, you’re really not doing it justice. This guy is freaky. He really is,” Swinney said. “This is a great kid who really cares a lot, but sometimes you just need to catch your breath.
“This is just mental and technical. That’s all it is. He’ll work through it and he’ll look back on it eventually and go, ‘Man that was a crazy year.’ And it’s gonna make him better. There’s no doubt about it. … He’s just at that point where he thinks trying harder is better and it’s really not. He’s just gotta kinda work through this phase that he’s in. And he’ll get there.”
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