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February 27, 2009

Mother may not always know best

PATERSON, N.J. Everywhere T.J. Clemmings went as a child, people told him he was playing the wrong sport. It wasn't basketball that he should be wasting his time on, but football instead.

"Every basketball tournament that I went to, they said I should be playing football," Clemmings recalled.

There was just one problem: Clemmings' mother.

"My mother, she didn't want me to play," he said.

But as he grew into a 6-foot-6, 265-pound man-child at Paterson (N.J.) Catholic High School, the pressure on Clemmings to play football grew.

Finally, Trevor Clemmings Sr., a local pastor, relented and allowed his son to join the reigning Non-Public Group 1 state champion Cougars at defensive tackle for his junior season.

Clemmings made six sacks and notched about 20 tackles for loss, inspiring Paterson Catholic football coach Benjie Wimberly to compare him to Julius Peppers, the No. 2 pick in the 2002 NFL draft.

After playing just one year of organized football, Clemmings now holds scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Rutgers, Duke and Maryland.

"Once my mom started seeing the schools coming in, that's when she started getting excited and she was fine with me playing," Clemmings said.

Clemmings' first offer, from Duke, came on a total fluke.

Wimberly sent the Duke staff a tape of another one of his players, Maurice McDonald, and the response was surprising.

"The guy calls me back up and said, 'Thanks, but who in the world is No. 56?' " the coach asked, referring to Clemmings.

"He's a junior; he's got another year," Wimberly replied.

"Coach, if you can fax me a transcript right now we're going to offer him right now," the Duke coach responded.

"I faxed the transcript and the guy calls me back the next day," Wimberly said. "Two days later we got a letter in the mail from Duke for a full scholarship."

It wasn't long before the local school, Rutgers, got involved, too.

After the high school football season, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano flew to Paterson Catholic in a helicopter that landed on the school's football field. Schiano came ostensibly to visit 6-7 senior Jeyvi Miavivululu, who also plays both football and basketball, but his visit made an impression on Clemmings.

"I was in class and I heard the helicopter coming down on the field," Clemmings said. "It was a cool experience, but stuff like that I don't really get too excited over."

Most recently, Notre Dame offered Clemmings after assistant coach Frank Verducci, a New Jersey native, paid Wimberly a visit.

"He really is just a freak of nature athletically for what he can do with his big body," Wimberly said of Clemmings.

Clemmings, who wears large glasses that inspired the nickname "Clark Kent" from his coaches, also maintains a GPA of better than 3.0.

"He looks like Clark Kent," Wimberly said. "If you see him outside of football he's so well-mannered. He's always immaculately dressed. His shirt is always tucked in. He's very grounded."

Clemmings said he knows that football is his future, but he hopes to help out on the hardwood right now. He's missed several basketball games with a bruised knee, but he hopes to return to the court on Saturday when the Cougars face Silk City rival Paterson Kennedy for the Passaic County basketball championship.

A bruising forward with a knack for scoring in the paint, Clemmings once held a basketball offer from Seton Hall and attracted interest from other programs as well.

Now he knows he won't be playing basketball in college. The boy who was never allowed to play football will now devote his future to that sport.

"That's what I've got to do," he said. "That's what I'm supposed to be playing, so it's the best for me."

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