“Football is important to me, but it’s not the biggest thing in my life — my faith is,” Clemson Tigers football coach Dabo Swinney said in an interview after his team won the College Football National Championship back in January. “I just know that no matter how big the situation is, it’s not going to define me.”
During the 2018-2019 season, the Tigers became the first 15-0 college football team in 121 years. It’s no wonder why a top high school athlete would be drawn to Clemson, but for D.J. Uiagalelei, it’s clear that the team’s strong Christian leadership played the biggest role in his decision.
Uiagalelei, a junior at St. John Bosco High School in Bellflower, California, has wowed the athletic world with his prodigious quarterback skills. He has thrown for a total of 6,099 yards, 77 touchdowns and only nine interceptions, according to Sports Spectrum. In 2018 alone, the 18-year-old completed 70 percent of his passes and threw 48 touchdowns, helping his team finish their season with a 13-1 record.
Given his track record, many have dubbed him a fitting successor for Clemson’s starting quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. But for Uiagalelei, his decision to commit to a team had more to do with his formation as a man of God than as a college athlete.
“Football and sports is a big thing, but I also want to become just a better person in life — get more connected with God, just get closer with Him. Whatever college can also do that, that’s where I want to be at,” Uiagalelei says in a video he tweeted Sunday along with his exciting announcement.
“This is all God’s work and God’s timing,” he wrote.
Uiagalelei had his pick of schools, but after witnessing the strong Christian fellowship among Coach Swinney and his team, he knew he’d found the right fit.
“My faith is important to me, and the first time I went out there was in June, and that’s what sold me, knowing they’re all big Christians,” he told ESPN. “I didn’t commit when I was out there, but that’s when I told myself that’s where I wanted to be.”
Trevor Lawrence, who made headlines when he attributed his outstanding freshman season to “God’s grace,” was among the first to congratulate Uiagalelei on the big decision:
“Congrats bro!!” he tweeted. “Best decision you could have made. Let’s go to work.”
Speaking to Yahoo! Sports on Sunday, John Bosco’s head coach Jason Negro had nothing but praise for his star quarterback.
“D.J. is a once-in-a-generation type talent who could transform the QB position because of his unique combination of speed, power, size and athleticism,” said Negro, who also coached Miami Dolphins quarterback Josh Rosen. “Coupled with his humility and determination, he could be beyond special at the next level and beyond.”
And football isn’t the only sport at which Uiagalelei excels — the 18-year-old is also a gifted baseball player with a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. He plans to continue his baseball career at Clemson. And while juggling two sports at a highly competitive level will be no easy task, the high schooler has proven his commitment to staying grounded amid mounting pressure. For that alone, he should be heartily commended.