Former walk-on kicker rejoins Clemson football roster, will start against FSU

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The Clemson football team is bringing a former walk-on player out of retirement to help solve its kicking woes ahead of a huge home game.

Coach Dabo Swinney confirmed Tuesday that the Tigers have added former walk-on kicker Jonathan Weitz back to the roster and he’ll likely start against No. 4 Florida State this weekend in light of starting kicker Robert Gunn III’s early-season struggles.

Weitz had left the team after the spring semester and was taking online grad school classes in Charleston before Swinney called him Sunday to see if he’d consider returning to the program.

“We called him into the bullpen and called him off the beach,” Swinney said.

Larry Williams of TigerIllustrated first reported the news Monday.

Gunn missed an extra point and a 31-yard field goal in Saturday’s win over Florida Atlantic and is 1-for-4 on field goals this season. Two field goal attempts were blocked in the season opener against Duke. Coach Dabo Swinney attributed both of those blocks to Gunn on account of “low kicks.”

In its quest to replace longtime starting kicker B.T. Potter, Clemson is now turning to his former backup.

Weitz, a Charleston native who joined Clemson as a “highly preferred walk-on,” as Swinney put it, didn’t attempt a field goal across four seasons at Clemson.

But he was 3-for-3 on extra points and averaged 56 yards per kickoff on 10 kickoff attempts from 2019-22 while backing up Potter, the school’s career leader in field goals made (73).

Weitz made 12 of 20 field goals (long of 40) and 68 of 71 extra points in three seasons of varsity play at Porter-Gaud School, according to his MaxPreps page.

As a senior in 2019, the last time he kicked a field goal in a sanctioned game, Weitz was 7-12 on field goals and 37-38 on extra points.

“He’s not just a guy off the street,” Swinney said.

Clemson kicker Jonathan Weitz(41) and kicker B.T. Potter(29) during practice in Clemson, S.C. Friday, August 6, 2021. Clemson Football Practice August 6
Clemson kicker Jonathan Weitz(41) and kicker B.T. Potter(29) during practice in Clemson, S.C. Friday, August 6, 2021. Clemson Football Practice August 6

Clemson’s unique kicking situation

Weitz left the program after the 2022 season and graduated from the program in May with a degree in financial management.

But, he has a fifth year of eligibility remaining since he competed in the 2020-21 athletic year affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The NCAA issued a blanket “COVID year” of extra eligibility to any fall or winter athletes competing that season.

Swinney said Weitz had been taking online graduate school classes in pursuit of a master’s degree remotely from his hometown of Charleston.

He had an apartment and a job lined up in New York City and was planning to start in two weeks before he took Swinney’s call Sunday and quickly answered the call, packing up his belongings and driving up to Clemson that night.

“He’s got a boss up in New York probably pissed off at me,” Swinney said.

Swinney said Weitz, who hadn’t kicked since spring practice in April, made 7-8 field goals in practice Monday and will likely start against Florida State this Saturday pending the rest of the week’s practices and pregame warmups.

During his Sunday teleconference with reporters a day before the Weitz news broke, Swinney said he was “real close” to benching Gunn in Saturday’s game against FAU after the highly touted sophomore (who’s on scholarship) continued to struggle. Swinney indicated that punter Aidan Swanson would be next up if Clemson changed placekickers.

Before re-adding Weitz, Clemson had two other kickers on its roster alongside Gunn, walk-ons Quinn Castner and Hogan Morton. The Tigers lost their top 2023 backup kicker to the transfer portal in May as Liam Boyd transferred to UNC.

Now, a former walk-on has entered that equation. Swinney reiterated he still has confidence in Gunn, who he described as a “freaky talent” who’s simply enduring some early-career growing like former kicker Chandler Catanzaro did before becoming the program’s all-time leading scorer from 2009-13.

Gunn will continue to handle kickoffs, Swinney said, and he’s still the best option on long field goal attempts.

But this week, with Clemson trying to win its first game against an AP Top 5 team while unranked since 2003, it’s Weitz’s job to lose.

“Again, we’ll see what happens,” Swinney said. “Hope it doesn’t come down to a kick. I don’t know if my heart can take that. But we’ll see.”