Given what he dealt with last time around, you can understand why DJ Uiagalelei opted out of ACC MediaDays


College football’s pontificators love to build up — and then tear down — its superstars, particularly during the talking season in July when the summer heat fuels hot takes at conference media days across the country. Everyone is a critic. No one is wrong. And no quarterback has been at the center of more debate over the last three years than DJ Uiagalelei.

It’s not a surprise that Uiagalelei, now at his third school, is again one of the hot topics in the sport. The on-again, off-again starter at Clemson revitalized his career at Oregon State in 2023 and returns to the ACC as Florida State’s next quarterback, replacing Jordan Travis in hopes of landing FSU back-to-back conference titles.

The mishmash of storylines is exactly what makes fans and media drool with images of a rising or falling star. There’s just one issue: Uiagalelei is not interested in feeding the monster.

For the first time in his career, Uiagalelei will not be on the main stage at a major media day, facing questions about his abilities as a passer and whether his comeback tour in the ACC will be memorable for all the right (or wrong) reasons. The ACC wanted him in Charlotte later this month for its annual media days, but the Florida State starter opted out.

After all, the Florida State quarterback has been there and done that.

“I feel strongly that Florida State should be represented by players who were part of last year’s ACC championship team,” he explained in a statement Monday.

Uiagalelei’s maturity and deflection of the spotlight is nothing new. Recall Uiagalelei’s situation in 2022, when the Clemson quarterback walked into the ACC’s annual media days under fire, his job in doubt among media and fans. Alongside him was a future Hall of Fame coach, forced to defend him in front of hundreds of reporters. “It’s disappointing,” Dabo Swinney said at the time. For three hours, Uiagalelei answered question after question about his disappointing debut as Clemson’s starter in 2021 (more interceptions than touchdowns and no College Football Playoff appearance) and whether he could hold off freshman Cade Klubnik for the starting job in the upcoming season.

His performance in front of cameras and microphones was not just impressive — it was the model all players in the spotlight should follow. Uiagalelei didn’t just seemingly glide from room to room inside the Westin in Charlotte with confident ease; he seemed thankful for the turbulent atmosphere. One after one, a crowd of 200-plus reporters dwindled to a single questioner at the end of the day — and they all wanted to talk about were his failings. Uiagalelei answered every question, and when there was a lull, he leaned back in his chair, awaiting another reporter to approach and ask the same questions he answered a dozen times earlier. He never cracked. He never seemed ungrateful or combative. He also never criticized others, particularly those firing the questions.

“Well, for me, I’ll just be me,” he told me at the time. “I don’t mind answering questions about Cade. He’s a great dude. I love Cade. He’s a great quarterback and I can’t wait to see him play this year.”

Many know how the story at Clemson ended. Uiagalelei improved in 2022 (22 touchdowns vs. seven picks) but was ultimately benched in favor of Klubnik as Clemson’s playoff hopes dwindled behind a less-than-explosive offense. Uiaglelei never did seem to click in Clemson’s offense after a stellar debut off the bench against Notre Dame in 2020. He even shed 30 pounds to help correct technique, but Clemson’s problems were not entirely his fault, especially with a noticeable drop in talent at receiver. Still, there were problems that held Uiagalelei back from realizing his five-star potential. He dragged his foot and his hips struggled to power through on throws. He was inaccurate down the field. His quarterback rating ranked last among starters in the ACC in 2021.

Uiagalelei got a fresh start at Oregon State last season, where late-night kickoffs played on televisions in the background. Little attention was paid to the Beavers as Washington and Oregon hogged the headlines in the Pac-12 and the usual superpowers in the Midwest and Southeast pushed toward the playoffs.

player headshot

DJ Uiagalelei

FSU • QB • #4

6-4, 255 lbs

YDS (2023)2,638

TD21

INT7

QBR81

A redshirt senior from California, Uiagalelei ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the Class of 2020 recruiting rankings — right behind good friend Bryce Young. The former Clemson starter is back in the ACC after a healing season at Oregon State. He’s 30-10 as a starter.

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For those who studied Uiagalelei, he was noticeably more comfortable with the Beavers. His offensive line was among the best in the country. The running game was reliable and explosive. Uiagalelei, taking more snaps under center, finished with career highs in passer and quarterback rating, ranking 12th nationally in the latter category. He was much better on long throws, hitting career highs in explosive plays with 30 completions of 25 yards or longer. The offense was much more explosive than Clemson, averaging 6.5 yards per play as Clemson ranked 98th in the same category last season.

“I really like what I’ve seen from DJ in just his growth and development,” Florida State coach Mike Norvell said this spring. “When he went to Oregon State, it was a big change in system and what to do. You saw him under center and the vertical passing game that emerged. The things that he was able to do were growing as a quarterback through his progressions and his overall understanding of where to go to the ball, the confidence that came with that. 

“Even whenever he went in the portal, and we got a chance to get him on campus, just listening to him talk. I mean, he’s been through a lot of experiences, he’s had some really high moments, he’s had some challenging times that he’s had to work through — just the maturity of who he is, the person, the character, the desire to be a part of something even bigger than himself. This has a chance to be a special fit.”

Uiagalelei may not face the burning questions next week at ACC Media Days, but he will still be a topic of conversation in the Westin ballroom. Swinney was still defending the quarterback nearly two years after Uiagalelei’s last start in the ACC.

“Listen, he was 22-6 at Clemson, all right?” Swinney said in May. “Two of those losses were double-overtime losses on the road and then another was a pick-six to Georgia, who won the national championship. You change about four plays and instead of 22-6, he’s 26-2. But that’s how small the margin for error is. The bottom line is good players like DJ and Cade, they get better as they mature and just keep playing and learn through their mistakes.”

The only way to properly answer those questions is on the field.





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