DT Dexter Lawrence, two other Clemson players could miss Saturday's game vs. Notre Dame

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

ARLINGTON, Texas — Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly delivered an early Christmas present for Irish fans, saying in Monday’s press conference that all of his players are eligible to play this postseason.

No. 2 Clemson (13-0), which third-ranked ND (12-0) will face in a College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday, could not promise the same. Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney said three of his players, including starting defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, could be ruled ineligible for failed drug tests.

The teams meet Saturday at AT&T Stadium at 4 p.m. EST (ESPN). No. 1 Alabama (13-0) and No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) clash in the Orange Bowl Saturday night at 8 EST, with the survivors advancing to the CFP National Championship Game, Jan. 7 at Santa Clara, Calif.

The Clemson administration is working to combat the possible suspensions, detailed in three letters sent by the NCAA Thursday to Tigers athletic director Dan Radakovich. Backup offensive lineman Zach Giella, backup tight end Braden Galloway and All-American Lawrence were alleged to have a "trace" of ostarine in their drug tests.

“Usually when you say a guy fails a drug test, people have their own stories, their own innuendos, their own narrative and those type of things,” Swinney said at a Monday press conference at AT&T Stadium. “And a lot of times, those things are accurate. But in this case, I think it is important — very important — that the message is accurate, and that the truth is total. Because these are three great young men, three great young men that I believe in.

“I know, without a doubt, they have not intentionally done anything to jeopardize their opportunity or this team.”

Ostarine is deemed an illegal substance by the NCAA. It is a selective androgen receptor moderator (SARM) — a performance-enhancing substance — and can enter the system through creams, hair products and more, according to a story on the Clemson247 website.

All three players thought it was a joke when Swinney told them, he said.

“I had no idea what ostarine is,” Swinney said. “But I have become almost an expert in it over the last few days.”

The trio will have legal representation. Clemson will learn Wednesday or Thursday, Swinney said, if the B sample being looked at to determine if the substance was unquestionably in their systems matches the original sample.

“I would be willing to bet that there’s a likelihood that if they tested all of us right now, we might all, or some of us in here, have something in our system that we had no idea how it got there,” Swinney said. “A sliver, a trace, a fraction. This particular substance can come from anything.”

If the second sample is positive, the players could appeal the decision, but they would be ruled ineligible for Saturday’s game, because an appeal wouldn't be completed in time. Should the test come out negative, the three will be available for the game against the Irish. The Tigers are preparing as if they will be without Lawrence, Galloway and Giella, Swinney said.

Lawrence, a 6-foot-4, 350-pounder, was No. 13 on ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay's prospect rankings last week, projecting for the 2019 NFL Draft. The junior recorded 36 tackles, seven tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, one fumble recovery and an interception through 13 games this season. 

“I don’t know how it is in their system, how it got there,” Swinney said. "But I do know that these three young men had not intentionally done anything.”

Clemson’s Dexter Lawrence sacks Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett on Dec. 1 during the Atlantic Coast Conference championsbhip game in Charlotte, N.C.