Clemson is expected to have a new starting target on Saturday when the No. 4 Tigers host Florida State in Death Valley.
Coach Dabo Swinney got word over the weekend that former backup Jonathan Weitz is still actively enrolled as a student at Clemson, pursuing an online master’s degree in data science and analytics from his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. Weitz, who retired from football last spring, still has another year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and on Sunday he agreed to come out of retirement.
Weitz is on track to graduate with a 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 going to be a great story or it’s going to be terrible. There’s not going to be anything in between,” Swinney said. “I hope (Saturday) doesn’t miss the kick. “I don’t know if my heart can handle it.”
Weitz was previously on Clemson’s roster from 2019-2022 as a walk-on. He appeared in seven games and went 3-for-3 on PATs as a backup to BT Potter. He also had a 56-yard average in 10 starts.
Swinney calling Weitz back to Upstate is a direct result of the Tigers’ kicking woes under current kicker Robert Gunn III. Gunn, a redshirt freshman, is known for his big leg but has struggled with easy 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 did this come together?
Swinney didn’t know Weitz was still enrolled as a student at Clemson until someone told him over the weekend. Then he called Weitz on Sunday afternoon — joking that Clemson was pulling him from the beach — and floated the idea of returning to the Tigers.
He spent the entire spring semester in France studying abroad and hanging out at the Eiffel Tower. He had a great summer and planned his life. “He just rented an apartment in New York,” Sweeney said. “He starts in a couple of weeks…and he gets a call from Coach Swinney on Sunday (saying): ‘Hey, do you want to come out and bat for the ‘Noles this weekend?’ He’s crazy enough to want to do it. And maybe it’s “This is what we need now.”
Weitz told Sweeney that he had not kicked a football since April and that he would call him again after testing his leg for the first time in five months. After getting out and kicking some practice balls, he felt confident enough to accept Sweeney’s offer.
On Monday — his first practice — he went 7 for 8, Swinney said. Swinney pinned Weitz from about 45 yards out, and Saturday’s pending warmups will be the No. 1 option for shorter field goals.
“If we have to kick a long ball, Robert (Gunn), he’s definitely your best option out there,” Sweeney said, adding that Gunn will also still handle kickoffs. “But we just need someone to throw the ball now.”
Gunn’s backups had the opportunity to seize the job, but didn’t perform well enough in practice to do so, Swinney said. He joked that Weitz’s future boss might be “mad” at him for calling Weitz out of the bullpen, but he said Weitz told him his boss was handling the news well.
“We have to have a change there. It’s where we are and we’ll see what happens,” Swinney said. “I hope they have a job for (Weitz) in (New York in) January. …We’re going to Syracuse next week, so maybe he can moonlight.
Can this work?
As a former reserve for the Tigers, Weitz doesn’t have a lot of experience, thanks to the way Potter has dominated throughout his career. But the Tigers have no other choice right now and they should at least give it a try. This development is even more interesting considering Clemson is making the change this week, ahead of this high-stakes matchup against the Seminoles.
If all goes according to plan, the move could give the Tigers depth at a critical position while Gunn works to regain his confidence.
What does this mean for Gunn?
Swinney raved about the redshirt freshman and his pure talent as a kicker, but said Gunn started to struggle in the season opener against Duke. Since then, the issues have been mounting, culminating in a missed extra point and 31-yard scoring drive on Saturday.
Sweeney said that Gunn gave his all, but this decision came to add “maturity” to the position.
“(I) haven’t lost any confidence in Robert Gunn at all. I mean this kid, when you say this kid is talented, you’re really not doing him justice. This guy is terrible. He really is,” Sweeney said. “This is a wonderful, caring kid.” A lot really, but sometimes you just need to catch your breath.
“That’s just mental and artistic. That’s all he is. He’s going to work through this problem and he’ll look at it at the end and say, ‘Man, that’s been a crazy year.’ And that’s going to make him better. There’s no doubt about it. … He’s gotten to that point where He thinks trying harder is better, and he’s really not. He’s got to kind of work through this phase he’s in. He’ll get there.
(Photo: John Byrom/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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