DJ Uiagalelei is blessed. That is his word and he uses it earnestly and often.
For instance, he woke up Monday morning, two days after beating Wake Forest in overtime while throwing for 371 yards and five touchdowns, and for that, he is blessed. He arrived at Clemson's football facility and worked out with his teammates, the ones who have had his back through 13 months of turmoil and frustration, and for that, he is blessed. He carried a jug of water from the gym to his weekly meeting with the media. He slouches in a chair, wearing moccasins, a Clemson football T-shirt and a bejeweled Jesus pendant on a gold chain around his neck. He chats with a phalanx of reporters, many of whom spent much of the past year lambasting his performance and, as recently as three weeks ago, wanted him benched.
And yes, even for that, he is blessed.
"I don't take any hard feelings from that," Uiagalelei said. "You have stories to write. That's totally fine with me."
There are good days and there are bad ones, and Uiagalelei finds value in them all, he said.
Of course, lately, there have been a lot more good days. Clemson is 4-0 and hosts No. 10 NC State on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN App), and its much-maligned QB is finally hitting his stride. Last week's win over Wake Forest felt like catharsis for so many people in Uiagalelei's orbit, a moment when even the harshest critics had to admit that, yeah, the kid looked sharp.
It was, as his head coach Dabo Swinney noted, a good time for the doubters to eat crow.
"After four games, if you don't recognize this kid's special ability, then you're blind," Swinney said. "You just want something else to write about. Hopefully, everybody can tear up all those articles you've written, or take some ownership for them at this point."
Swinney is right. Uiagalelei is special, but those criticisms weren't unfounded. In 2021, Uiagalelei went from preseason Heisman hype and a national ad campaign with Dr Pepper to throwing just nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions over 13 largely ugly football games. What the critics missed wasn't his talent, but his resilience. What makes Uiagalelei special is that he endured one of the worst seasons by a high-profile quarterback in recent memory, and he somehow righted the ship and turned it all around.