Remember the old advertising slogan, “With a name like Smuckers it has to be good!”
I guess when your name is the combination of two sports legends; you’re bound to be an athlete.
Like Bearcats linebacker Clemente Casseus.
“I have a unique name,” he told me. “It’s like Roberto Clemente and Cassius Clay. It’s a sports name so I’m thankful for it.
“My father got me a big poster of Muhammad Ali (formerly Cassius Clay). It’s in my room and I look at it every day when I wake up in the morning.”
This coming season, the Bearcats will be looking to Casseus to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” as he takes over the middle linebacker position from Jeff Luc who led the American Athletic Conference in tackles and forced fumbles last season.
“Those are big shoes to fill – both in terms of production and physically,” said linebackers coach Jeff Koonz. “Clemente has embraced the role. He wants this and you can tell that he’s passionate about the opportunity.”
“There have been big shoes to fill at that position for a long time with JK Schaffer, Greg Blair, and now Jeff Luc,” said Casseus. “A lot of hard work and faith have brought me to this point, so I’m grateful for the opportunity to be the middle linebacker.”
Ironically, he would not have had the opportunity without an injury.
Casseus was four games into his senior season when he suffered a season-ending elbow injury at Miami (FL) last year. In February he was granted an extra year of eligibility from the NCAA due to medical hardship.
“I guess if it’s ever fortunate to lose a guy in the middle of the season, it’s going to help this team because he got that fifth year,” said head coach Tommy Tuberville. “He’s been in a lot of games at linebacker and he was one of our best special teams’ players. It’s good to have him back.”
“I wasn’t really happy that it happened, but I am grateful for the extra year,” said Casseus. “We prayed about it and got blessed with another year, so it’s an amazing opportunity.”
“He’s was going to be one of the seniors we lost last year and it just kind of worked out,” said Koonz.
Casseus is from Miami and turned down scholarship offers from smaller college programs to attend Cincinnati as a preferred walk-on.
“My father asked me before I came up here if I thought I could play college football and I told him, ‘Yes.’” Clemente told me. “I was prepared to come up here and earn a scholarship no matter what it took.”
After paying out-of-state tuition for two years, Casseus received a full scholarship before his junior season.
“It was really tough on my family,” said Casseus. “We stuck through it and prayed about it and it was a blessing when we finally got a scholarship. I’m thankful to Coach Tuberville and the staff.
“I was emotional. I called my mom and she cried a little bit. I called my dad and he was very excited that we didn’t have to pay for school anymore.”
Now the kid with the unique name gets a chance to make a name for himself in the middle of the Bearcats defense.
“Not just on the field, but the leadership part too,” said Coach Koonz. “Jeff Luc brought a lot to the team and Casseus is trying to step in and be that guy. He’s the catalyst in the linebacker room right now and that’s going to spread to the entire defense. It’s been fun to watch.”
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