He plans on attending Clemson’s pro day, where professional football scouts will be on hand to evaluate his strength and athleticism. He has hired an agent, who would negotiate terms for his employment.
He may be taking his shot at a career in the NFL, but if there’s anyone who has truly gotten the most out of a college experience, it’s Justin Falcinelli.
Reached by phone last week, the 2014 Middletown graduate was two days removed from basking in the glory of his second national championship as a member of Clemson’s football team, which dominated Alabama in the College Football Playoff final. He spoke from a Clemson campus he will soon leave having obtained a bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree, both in business administration.
Falcinelli seemed awestruck as he reflected on everything he and his teammates accomplished on the field over the past four years. However, he placed just as much value on Clemson being the place he thought it would be when he first stepped foot on campus.
“I knew Clemson was a good program, and I knew we were climbing, just based on what I saw with how they treated the players, where it’s focused on growing the player and not just getting football done,” Falcinelli said when asked if he expected the Tigers to become a perennial national championship contender. “It’s about school, it’s about development. I knew it was the right place to be.”
During most of his stay at Clemson, Falcinelli gave no thought to playing in the NFL. That’s why he placed so much stock in getting the most of out of his education. Before he started his junior season in 2017 — Falcinelli redshirted during the 2014 season — he had obtained his bachelor’s degree and prepared to dive into his Master’s program.
“I was thinking, ‘I’m going to go get a job, I’ll enjoy my career at Clemson,’” Falcinelli said. “But I thought that was going to be the end of it.”
Even when the possibility of an NFL future entered Falcinelli’s mind at the end of the junior season, he appreciated the concessions the Clemson coaching staff made to work around his Master’s course schedule.
During his final semester, Falcinelli was allowed to miss practice on Mondays and leave in the middle of practices on Thursdays so he could attend class and devote time to an internship. Being in Clemson’s MBA program required Falcinelli to make a 40-minute drive to Greenville, South Carolina.
On Mondays, the Tigers placed a heavy emphasis on film study and game planning, and it was up to Falcinelli to keep up. He engaged in morning film sessions with Tigers offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell.
“I don’t think any other school in the country would have let me do what Clemson had let me do, so my thanks goes out to the coaching staff and Coach [Dabo] Swinney for allowing that,” Falcinelli said.
Clemson’s staff made similar concessions, Falcinelli said, for two other Tigers in the MBA program, defensive back Kyle Cote and offensive lineman Pat Godfrey. For Falcinelli, taking a genuine interest in academics makes players want to succeed that much more on the football field. He proudly pointed out that Clemson entered the postseason with more athletes who had earned at least one degree (26) than any other bowl team this year.
“When we have the great leadership we have in our coaching staff, knowing that they’re there, they’ll fight for you, they want what’s best for us, it just makes us want to play that much more for them,” Falcinelli said.
The second of the two national titles proved more gratifying for Falcinelli.
The backup center behind Jay Guillermo for the Tigers’ 2016 national championship team, Falcinelli played a more prominent role on the 2018 Clemson team as a two-year starter at center. Also, the Tigers had to overcome some fairly turbulent times in late September, when Swinney decided to replace senior quarterback Kelly Bryant — he helped lead Clemson to the national semifinals last year — with highly touted freshman Trevor Lawrence.
Bryant decided on transferring out of the school, and Lawrence suffered a head injury in the first half of his first start against Syracuse. The Tigers found themselves trailing by 10 points in the fourth quarter, and another freshman quarterback, Chase Brice, led a come-from-behind win. Clemson scored the game-winning touchdown on a Travis Etienne 2-yard run with less than a minute left, but Falcinelli vividly recalls Brice’s 20-yard completion to Tee Higgins on fourth-and-6 during that drive.
“That’s the moment that essentially saved the season,” Falcinelli said. “[After the game], we’re like, ‘All right, if we can get through that, we can pretty much do anything.’”
Throughout much of the season, Falcinelli heard encouraging words from Caldwell, someone the Middletown alum found hard to please during much of his time at Clemson. Falcinelli, Caldwell told him, could do well at the next level.
“Really knowing almost nothing about football coming in to learning so much, he was always tough,” Falcinelli said. “I think that was part of why I didn’t think I’d have a future in it.”
Often enough, Falcinelli believed he had done his job correctly during a rep in practice. Caldwell always had a different take.
“He’s always a stickler for perfection,” Caldwell said. “It’s always like, ‘Well, I blocked the right guy, but I didn’t take the right steps or I was [positioned] too high or my hands weren’t fit right. It was always those little things that pop up.”
But Falcinelli stuck with his craft, making big strides during his junior season, which earned him first-team All-ACC honors. For Falcinelli, it was a matter of gaining the experience needed that made him feel comfortable. As a result, “you play faster when you know what to expect and where to go.”
“Then when I figured it out, got it down, learned how to do it, [Caldwell] was always the person to tell me that I could make a career out of it if I kept going.”
Falcinelli said Clemson’s pro day, where Tigers will showcase their athletic skills, will take place in early March. Last week, he signed with agent Brett Tessler, who also represents his former Middletown teammate, Rick Leonard.
Falcinelli hopes to receive an invitation to the NFL combine, where many draft-eligible players will attempt to impress scouts from all 32 NFL teams by taking part in an assortment of drills that test athleticism, in addition to meeting with coaches and executives for short interviews.
Falcinelli recently spoke with Leonard about all of the work football players put in before the NFL draft, which takes place April 25-29 in Nashville. He said Leonard, now an NFL free agent, gave him some simple advice.
“A lot of it is on you,” Falcinelli said. “With the training how it is, you’re going to get out of it what you put into it. It doesn’t matter where you go or who trains you, but what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it.”