CLEMSON, S.C. -- K.J. Henry could be the answer to one of the Clemson Tigers' biggest question marks entering fall camp, and coach Dabo Swinney said the former five-star recruit might not be ready to fill a hole at defensive end if he hadn't asked to redshirt a year ago.
Henry, who was the No. 6 recruit in the 2018 ESPN 300, walked into Swinney's office after the Oct. 6 game against Wake Forest and told Swinney that he wanted to take a redshirt and sit out the rest of the year.
"It totally caught me off guard," Swinney said. "I haven't had a lot of guys who wanted to redshirt, let alone a five-star freshman."
Due to a new NCAA rule passed last year, players could participate in up to four games and still maintain a redshirt. The Wake Forest game was Henry's fourth. What made things more shocking, however, was that Henry had played his highest total of snaps in that game and finished with five tackles, including two for a loss.
Swinney said Henry was in line to see an increase in action as the year progressed, but the freshman felt he needed more time in the weight room before he was ready for a bigger role.
Swinney said he agreed to sit Henry the rest of the way, barring an injury to one of the other defensive ends.
The plan worked out.
"It was an interesting conversation to have with a five-star recruit," Swinney said. "Him looking at Clelin [Ferrell] and Austin [Bryant] every day, he saw where he was. And he said, 'I want to be ready for spring and ready for next fall.' ... He wanted to get in and grind and that's why he'll be a great player."
Ferrell was a first-round selection by the Oakland Raiders, and Bryant was taken in the fourth round by the Detroit Lions in this year's NFL draft. They'd both been three-year starters at defensive end for the Tigers.
Clemson must replace its entire defensive front this year, and Swinney said it remains his biggest concern entering fall camp. Xavier Thomas appears to have a lock on one edge position, but the other remains up for grabs.
Swinney said Henry is poised to take on the job, in part because he focused on 2019 during last season's championship run.
"It's neat to see a young guy have that self-awareness and a big-picture, long-term view of what they want to do and what it's going to take to get there," Swinney said.