Deon Cain wanted to play in the national championship game so bad last year he could not bear to watch it. In fact, he didn’t.
Instead, he turned off all the notifications on his phone and took his girlfriend on a date. He did everything he could not to remind himself of how much he let his teammates, and more so himself, down.
“I wanted to be in that game and I could not watch it being in that predicament,” Cain said on Monday as he spoke to the press for the first time since his Orange Bowl suspension two days before the College Football Playoff Game.
Cain, along with former teammates Ammon Lakip and J.J. McCullough, was suspended for the Orange Bowl less than 48 hours prior to kickoff. After the Tigers beat Oklahoma, the suspension carried over to the national championship game.
“I knew how hard our team worked (last) year and I felt like I let my team down by not being in that game,” the sophomore said.
Later that night, Cain learned that Clemson had lost, and the disappointment hit him a little bit more. He said he finally got up the nerve to watch the game this past summer on YouTube.
“It was a hard moment for me to watch it, but it is all fine now. I’m back with the team and we are all in good graces,” he said.
Cain doesn’t know if he would have been a difference maker or not in the National Championship Game. What he does know, is by not being there he let his teammates down and that this something he will have to carry with him for the rest of his playing career.
“I can’t really say. Maybe, I could’ve been in there dropping passes or maybe missing assignments, too,” he said. “I can’t really say I would have played this play or made that if I was not physically there. But, I know my team could have needed me in certain situations throughout the game.”
Since then Cain has held himself accountable for all of his actions on and off the field.
“There wasn’t anything too major that I was getting into,” he said. “I was young. I had to grow up and see the bigger picture of the college life.”
Cain said his mom helped him get through everything and kept him positive. She showed him what was right in front of him and made him realize not everyone has this kind of an opportunity.
“I can’t say I did it on my own. I got really close to my family and really tried to get in touch with them,” he said. “I know, and they know I have a big future in front of me and there are goals that I set that I have been working towards my whole life. It’s not like there isn’t anything there that I can just really throw away.
“I really had to sit down deep and get to know myself.”
Looking back, Cain said the whole experience was a blessing in disguise. It made him more mature and made him realize no one person is bigger than the program. It also taught him how his actions can affect the entire team.
“Doing all the (requirements), and not trying to get around the program or beat the program or anything, just really doing it the right way, actually felt good,” Cain said. “It made me a better person.”
Sitting on the sidelines and having to watch spring practice as part of his punishment allowed Cain to learn more of the playbook and the other wide receiver positions.
“I learned the whole concept of the playbook. I learned why do we do this and why do we do that. I learned certain things,” he said. “Plus over that time, I would put in extra time by myself. Maybe, weight training, running or running routes by myself.
“I’m very fortunate and thankful that Deshaun (Watson) stayed after practice, after a hard practice, and would throw a few routes. That’s all I needed to keep our timing down. That was it. I was doing a lot of stuff on my own to get myself bigger, faster and stronger. Throughout that whole time I gained fifteen pounds and really got myself stronger and mentally focused because I knew the upcoming season we were going to have was going to be great, so I needed to get ready for it.”
–Photo Credit: Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports