As Clemson and South Carolina prepare to clash on Saturday night in Death Valley, we take a look at…
One last time down the hill
There is one glaring omission. Not since Dabo Swinney was the interim coach has Clemson beaten South Carolina.
Back then, Rashard Hall, Brandon Ford, Spencer Benton, Dalton Freeman, Jonathan Willard, Xavier Brewer, Jaron Brown and Andre Ellington were nearing the end of their first football season on the Clemson campus.
Corico Wright and Malliciah Goodman were high school seniors. Jonathan Meeks was a post-graduate at Hargrave Military Academy.
Swinney, several of the seniors and Tajh Boyd reflect on the good things from the last three-plus seasons.
Four years later, that senior group has the longest home winning streak ever [at Clemson], most wins since the class of 91 seniors, most conference wins in history with the win [Saturday]. Those guys deserve a ton of credit because they have really just knocked the lid off of this program. For whatever reason, there was a certain level this program achieved to and we couldn't seem to get beyond that for a long, long time. It was almost like this is as good as we can be. It became a mentality. Those players have changed the mentality. I'm just really proud of that senior group. It's a special group.
Just changing the culture, I'd have to agree 100 percent with coach Swinney on that, just changing the culture from the inside out. That's what I'm proud of mostly. Just being a part of that, more than particular awards or team goals. I think having that is going to mean much more and last much longer than any awards or victories.
There have been a lot of great memories. The thing that helped us out is we were here when things weren't so pretty. It wasn't cool to come to Clemson. When we committed here and everybody else decommitted, me, Meeks, Malliciah, Quandon [Christian] and Darrell [Smith], Tajh and Roderick [McDowell], all of us, we committed here when it wasn't cool to commit here.
I can say it was an uphill and downhill ride. At first, we were kind of on the downhill slope. Then, we had the one year that we went to the ACC Championship and come up short, then went back downhill. Then we went uphill last year and we're uphill from there. This program has to only go up from here. It can't rely on going down to the standard they used to play. That's having an eight-win season and just getting by. I think we've set the standard the last two years. We can compete with everybody in the country. That's the mentality. And we expect to win every game. The things that we've been through the last four years have been crazy. It's the blink of an eye before you even know you're a senior and you're sitting here about to play your last home game.
It's a little emotional. Those guys being true seniors, I'm sitting here a redshirt junior, not knowing what's going to happen between everybody. This is, essentially, the last time that you play with these guys in this setting. The chances of you playing on the same team again are slim and none.
But there's been a lot of great memories, a lot of great relationships have been built. We've had the worst seasons to some of the best seasons…it's only going to get better from here, I think. It's just been an unbelievable experience, one that I'll always remember. When I come back here, sit in the stands and watch the games or be on the sidelines, I'll always think about the times I had with my friends on the sideline or in the game, the summer conditioning. It's been an unbelievable experience, one for the books.
With what we've been able to do in four years, with what they've been able to do in four years, it's kind of transforming Clemson and making us relevant again.
We take a lot of pride in that [2009 signing class], that ‘Dandy Dozen' as coach Swinney tagged it, dubbed it that year. It's been a special time for us. I wouldn't trade that group of guys for the world. It's going to be an emotional time not being on the same field as those guys. A lot of the guys that we came in with, we had such a small group, they became my best friends, as well. I'm just excited to try and go out with a bang. I'm going to leave it all on the line for those guys.
When we got here, we had a great group of guys who were experienced, who helped us a lot from a leadership standpoint, who taught us how to be leaders. They molded us into carrying the program and carrying the torch out for the rest of our duration here. We've done the same to a lot of young guys that are on the team now. They're going to continue to carry the torch.
Those guys taught you how to lead and embrace a program, how to respect the program. That's just kind of what our senior class is trying to leave, because we have a younger team. We're trying to leave with them. Those guys were great, overall, in jus teaching us respect for the program.
Ifeel like the last couple of classes have done a great job of taking what coach has been trying to teach us and kind of spreading it out through the younger guys. I think that's where we're growing. I think the leadership has been very good, because learned from some of the older guys. It's passing on, building some more traditions around here. We pride ourselves on being the best group that we can be, and controlling what we can control and just winning as many games as possible. The group that's about to graduate has done a lot of great things. But one of the great things that we haven't done collectively as a group is beat South Carolina. It's not something that you want to go out, labeled as a group that didn't win the game.
We're breaking all kind of offensive records as a group. It's just fun to be remembered with that group. We won an ACC Championship. We won three divisional championships. It just goes to say a lot about this program and what we've done since we've been here. I think that's a big accomplishment for the program and us. There wouldn't be a better way to go out than South Carolina Saturday.
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