Every year in college football there’s a collection of players who seem like they’ve been around forever. We might as well call those guys the James Skalski All-Stars.
A 3-star linebacker barely rated as one of the top 700 players in his class, Skalski committed to Clemson on Feb. 4, 2015 out of Newnan, Ga., and signed nearly a year to the day later. (Skalski signed with Clemson so long ago the December signing period hadn’t been invented yet. I think we had color TVs back then but I’m still checking on that.)
He played largely on special teams as a true freshman on Clemson’s 2016 national championship team, and played a little more as a sophomore in ’17. Skalski took advantage of the new-at-the-time 4-game redshirt rule in 2018, but still recorded two tackles in Clemson’s national championship game blowout of Alabama.
You’re probably surprised by that, aren’t you? That Skalski was a part-time player on Dabo’s dominant 2018 squad? He seemed as integral to those Clemson teams as Trevor Lawrence, right? A couple things contributed to that. Skalski stood out more than your typical linebacker: the tattoos wrapping around his giant left arm, the throwback neck roll, and the edge that he played with, of a guy that played every snap with the goal of getting an opposing player to punch him. It was as if he was trying to become his generation’s Brian Bosworth. Now add in that he always seemed to be around the ball for a team that played in a ton of important games and it’ll start to make sense.
The 2019 season marked Skalski’s fourth year on campus, yet the beginning of his impact on the field. He finished second on the team with 105 tackles in 15 starts in 2019, then earned Second Team All-ACC honors as a team captain in 2020.
Skalski then utilized the covid exception to return for a sixth season in 2021, a First Team All-ACC campaign that saw him lead the team with 90 tackles while collecting 4.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and four passes defended.
Skalski finally moved on in 2022. He signed with the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in May but was released at the end of August, and was not picked up by another team.
Skalski has now announced he has joined Oklahoma’s coaching staff as a graduate assistant.
The move makes sense for a pair of reasons.
Obviously, he spent six years learning directly under Sooners head coach Brent Venables; Venables spent a decade at Clemson — an eternity for an assistant coach — and coached more games with Skalski on the roster than not. Venables coached 138 Clemson games; Skalski played in 69 and was on the roster for 84.
Second, Skalski’s father John played for Oklahoma in the 1980s. John Skalski died suddenly of a heart attack during Skalski’s freshman season. James’s tattoo “War like the warrior you are” was a favorite saying of John’s.
Starting in 2023, Venables’ proverbial coach-on-the-field will, at last, be a coach-in-a-headset.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.