FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Perhaps the best thing Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd had going for him the past few years was his patience.
He had to wait to get to Clemson, spending a year at Hargrave Military Academy. He had to wait for his injured knee to heal after missing most of 2013. He had to wait for his turn to start, learning behind talented pass rushers just a step better than him.
Having all that patience proved to be an asset. Because when he got his opportunity to finally start this season, Dodd emerged as one of the biggest unsung heroes on the team, going from scrappy reserve to an important cog on a completely retooled defensive line.
“A lot was going to be expected out of me because a lot was expected out of the guys ahead,” Dodd said. “They left a lot on the line and just knowing that I had to fill those shoes if not do better, I trained as hard as I ever did this offseason just putting myself in position to make plays.”
One of the biggest story lines headed into the season revolved around the D-line, which had to replace all four starters. Everybody figured Shaq Lawson would be a star, taking over for NFL draft pick Vic Beasley.
But not much was known about Dodd, who took over for Corey Crawford. Even defensive coordinator Brent Venables had no idea what to expect. After all, Dodd had played 219 total snaps in three years.
“Kevin Dodd had no real track record,” Venables said, before mentioning linebacker B.J. Goodson and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley. “All three of them have far exceeded my expectations. Those three have played outstanding this year.”
Dodd ranks second on the team behind Lawson with 15.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. His six quarterback hurries also rank him second. And he has played 649 snaps, nearly triple what he played in his first three years combined.
To prepare himself for his expanded role, Dodd said his training not only involved what was required in the strength and conditioning room. He added in more running. Dodd said he would run 3.5 miles around his neighborhood when he went home “because anybody can play at a high level the first three quarters, but if you can play at a high level in the fourth quarter, that says a lot about you.”
His teammates have taken notice.
“It’s been great having that end over there,” defensive tackle D.J. Reader said. “We had Shaq, and a lot of people hadn’t seen Kevin so it was awesome to have Kevin come in, step in and be the player he is. He’s a great guy. I was excited for him, just to watch him play and perform the way he did. He’s a guy who’s been waiting a long time, been through some struggles, so it’s awesome having him play the way he is this year.”
Indeed, Dodd’s performance has helped the Clemson defense become one of the biggest stories of the season.