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Playing, coaching in rivalry gives Elliott perspective

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Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott experienced four rivalry games against South Carolina as a player at Clemson from 2000-03.

It was after his playing career ended, though, when Elliott began to gain a different perspective on the rivalry and a greater appreciation for it.

“I think I learned the most about the rivalry when I stepped away from the game and was done playing,” Elliott said on Monday. “Going to work at Michelin and just seeing how much it meant to the people of this state and how hard they pulled for their schools, it gave me a greater appreciation. Going up there to the state of South Carolina, you understand it, but I don’t think you really understand it until you’re done playing.”

After graduating from Clemson, Elliott spent two seasons as a coach at South Carolina State (2006-07) and three seasons as the wide receivers coach at Furman (2008-10) before becoming the running backs coach at Clemson in 2011 and eventually earning a promotion to co-offensive coordinator prior to the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl.

As a wide receiver for the Tigers, Elliott went 3-1 against the Gamecocks, with the lone loss coming against then-No. 22 South Carolina in 2001.

Two years later as a senior in 2003, Elliott was a part of Clemson’s famed 63-17 victory over South Carolina.

He made a shoestring catch during the game and almost scored on the play.

“I tried to score, man,” Elliott said with a smile.

“When I was playing, I never cared about accolades and statistics,” he continued. “I just wanted to do everything I could to help my team win. But to see the way we came out in that game and to watch Derrick (Hamilton), one of my best friends, have a couple touchdown catches early in the game… I was trying to score, but at the end of the day, as long as we won, that’s all that mattered.”

Elliott doesn’t deny that he felt a strong dislike toward South Carolina as a player. But in the end, he respected his rivals.

“The things I remember the most is I had two high school teammates that went to South Carolina,” Elliott said. “I was the Clemson guy, and there was a lot of trash talk, but a mutual respect. Obviously you hated them on that week of the game, but at the end of the day, we were just guys on the field competing with each other.”

It is similar for Elliott as a coach who is well aware of the game’s significance and fully understands what it means to the players and the state as a whole.

“I think from a coaching standpoint, you get to know guys, and I know several of the guys on the staff. So, there’s a mutual respect,” Elliott said. “But when you’re in rivalry week, we understand what it means to our players, to our community, to our university, to our state, so there is a little bit of hatred in terms of the rivalry. But at the end of the day as a coach, you have respect for what coach (Will) Muschamp is doing down there.

“But when we strap it up on Saturday, we’re trying to win the football game.”

To that point, Elliott wants as badly as anyone for Clemson to claim the bragging rights for another year.

His sister and aunt both graduated from South Carolina, and he was subjected to their smack talk during South Carolina’s five-game winning streak in the series from 2009-13.

“There was a rough little spell there,” Elliott said, laughing. “But it’s always good to have those bragging rights. I think I always took the high road when I had the upper hand, but when we were on the losing end, trust me, they let me know about it.”

So, Elliott hopes the Tigers can extend their own winning streak in the rivalry to three games when Clemson and South Carolina meet for the 114th time on Saturday in Death Valley.

“We have a lot of guys from the state of South Carolina and a lot of guys from the state of Georgia who move into the state and understand what it’s about,” Elliott said. “Ben Boulware is not going to let them not know what this game means to him. So, I think just the fact that it’s a rivalry game, there’s a lot on the line, and they understand that for a while we were on the lower end of this and we’re trying to get if shifted back in our perspective.”

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