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Wednesday, Feb 22, 2017
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Clemson, Alabama players offer championship advice for high schoolers

TAMPA — Bright lights, screaming fans and a throng of reporters pushing, shoving and shouting to grab their attention isn't new for football players at the University of Alabama and Clemson University.

Consequently, the recent College Football Championship Media Day struck them as fairly routine.

But just a few years ago, the only bright lights shining down on theses players sat atop stadiums and the only screaming fans sat in the parent and student sections.

"Most of the guys in this room, who were the hotshots that they were in high school walking onto a campus like Alabama or Clemson, had to put their ego aside," said Alabama backup quarterback Cooper Bateman. "(When you come on to the team) you're going to be right down to the bottom. You can't walk in thinking you're the best guy out there anymore.

"You have to know that you're the worst and have to work your way to the top but can't let that discourage you."

When asked what advice would they give high school versions of themselves during the Jan. 7 interview session, the Tigers and Crimson Tide players with years of experience provided a wide range of answers, touching on skills on and off the field and the transition from high school to college football.

Local athletes, and any Tampa student headed for college, can find pearls of wisdom in what they offered.

For Bateman, attempting to juggle both football and school proved a struggle, and if he could give his high-school self advice, he would say be conscious of that.

"(If I could go back and change something, it would be) my time management honestly," Bateman said. "I mean you're doing too many things, juggling classes, meetings and practice.

"It's tough and you really just have to prepare yourself for that at the start of every day."

As Bateman's practical advice plays helpful in the world of busy calendars and full to-do lists, Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins delivered a simple message: success is not achieved without the help of others.

"You always need others to be successful. You can't do it all on your own," Wilkins said. "It really takes a village to raise someone, to raise a child and I've been lucky to have a lot of people in my life that have been there for me and have helped form me into the person I am today."

Focusing strictly on football advice, ArDarius Stewart, Alabama's starting wide receiver, jokingly remarked about his physical high school appearance.

"Eat more. Get heavier before you get here," Stewart laughed. "I was a smaller guy so I just wanted to get my weight up."

But as a high school quarterback, Stewart didn't worry about being the biggest guy out there. Not until he landed a spot on Alabama's roster did he have to focus on switching positions while transitioning from high school to college football.

"When I got here, coach was like 'Do you want to be offense or defense?' I could have played safety, but I wanted to be with the ball so coach put me as receiver," Stewart said. "I was horrible. I didn't have the footwork, I didn't have a great stance. It was hard for me to play the ball. It was a big change but having Coach Nick (Saban) and watching guys like Coop (former Alabama All-American Amari Cooper) has helped me a lot."

Clemson backup quarterback Nick Schuessler said taking a deep breath and enjoying the high-school experience is the best advice he would give to his high-school self.

"Just enjoy it (high school) because in college there are so many ups and downs and sometimes I think you just get so wrapped up and you have this vision in your mind that everything is going to go smoothly and perfect and you have those rocks in the road," Schuessler said. "But it goes by so fast."

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said incoming freshman need a focus on actions instead of words and a willingness to "start over" and be humble.

"Winning in the mind is way more important than winning on the field."

Contact Macy McClintock at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

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