The New Leader
The only senior of six the returning linemen with significant playing time, he's continuing to emerge as one of the leaders on the team. After Monday's practice, head coach Dabo Swinney invited any player who wanted to speak to the team to stand up and address their teammates. Hairston spoke up. "I was just trying to get guys to buy into what coach Swinney's selling," he said. "Starting right now, it will make us a better team getting guys on the right track, on the field and off the field, so we can make sure we can go as far as we can—take our talent as far as it can take us." With the graduation of seniors Thomas Austin, Jacoby Ford, Michael Palmer and C.J. Spiller, Swinney said before the start of spring practice that leaders were in demand. "We need that from Chris, particularly on the offensive side of things," Swinney said. "We lost some really strong leaders on that side of the ball. We're counting on him to be a guy that's not only a good player for us, but to bring others with him." Hairston hopes to follow in the footsteps of Austin, who he'd first recognized as the leader on the offensive line while redshirting during his freshman year in 2006. "I couldn't even imagine trying to be the same leader Thomas was. He was a great leader," Hairston said. "I'm going to try my hardest and do my best to be the best leader I can be." It's not like he didn't want the chance. Forgoing the final year of eligibility was never really an option. Hairston would have only bolted for the NFL had he been given a first-round grade. But he didn't even bother to send his papers to the advisory committee. "It was nothing I was curious about looking in to. I just wanted to come back to be the leader of this line, somebody that could help take this team far," Hairston said. The way he sees it, Hairston won't be the only individual from the offensive front that's going to play a big part this fall. Fourth-year junior David Smith backed up fourth-year junior Landon Walker at right tackle a year ago. Smith's moved back to guard, playing at the left spot where fourth-year junior Mason Cloy was going to play before he was injured in the ACC Championship. Third-year sophomore Dalton Freeman is back at center, where he took over for Cloy midway through last season. Junior Antoine McClain returns at right guard. Hairston believes this line will be as sturdy as the group he watched in 2006. "This line has cohesion that we've had since all those guys have been here," he said. "It's not just guys that are hanging out together. It's guys that have played a lot of snaps together, guys who know how each other reacts and interacts with each other." "We're able to play football as five, instead of a bunch of individuals. That's the best thing about this line, knowing the guys, how they play and how they help on certain blocks."