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Trip to Billy-Brice gave Leggett glimpse of rivalry

Dec 31, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Clemson Tigers tight end Jordan Leggett (16) works out before the game for the 2015 CFP Semifinal at the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As a freshman in late November 2013, Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett didn’t quite know what to expect when the team traveled to Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia for the annual rivalry matchup against South Carolina. At that time, as a player from Navarre, Fla., Leggett didn’t fully have a grasp or understanding of what the rivalry game means each year to the players of both teams, coaching staffs, fans bases and the state as a whole.

That changed quickly, though, as Clemson’s team bus pulled near the stadium on game day. Leggett remembers some fans of South Carolina watching Clemson arrive and then surrounding the bus at the sides before pushing it and causing it to rock.

“Just everybody telling us that ‘we’re number one’ and just flicking us off and rocking the bus and everything like that,” Leggett recalled of that day. “Their fans are great, but they’re pretty crazy. They’re going to ride or die with their team no matter what, so it’s pretty cool, but it’s just pretty crazy, too.”

“I was just sitting there like, ‘There’s no way they can get on the bus, right?’” Leggett added with a smile. “There’s no way, but other than that, I was just ready to get in the locker room.”

Before that experience, Leggett only had memories of his high school rivalries, and he found out that those rivalries didn’t match the intensity of the Palmetto Bowl.

“It wasn’t really a big deal for me, but then just seeing all the hate, pulling around on the bus going to their stadium in Columbia, it was kind of pretty terrible honestly,” Leggett said. “You just kind of develop that hate for it and develop that rivalry.”

South Carolina went on to defeat Clemson that night and extend its streak in the series to five games.

Three years later after victories in 2014 and 2015, Clemson is looking to push its own streak in the series to three games when the Tigers and Gamecocks meet for the 114th time on Saturday in Death Valley.

Clemson holds a 67-43-4 advantage all time in the series that dates to 1896, the first year of football at Clemson and the fourth season for South Carolina. Saturday will mark the 108th consecutive year the teams have played, which is the second longest active string of consecutive years played in a rivalry in the nation behind Minnesota versus Wisconsin (109 games).

“It’s definitely a huge game for all of us because it’s our next-door neighbor,” Leggett said. “It’s like the bully at school. It’s always fun to play them at the end of the year because then whoever loses has to deal with it for the whole year after that. So, it’s pretty exciting. Hopefully we come out on top and keep this streak going.”

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has established a culture emphasizing the importance of his team approaching every game the same, like the biggest of the season, and his players have bought in to that philosophy.

So, Clemson’s practices thus far in preparation for the game have been no different than the previous 11 games. However, Leggett knows that the game on Saturday will feel different than the others.

“Practice is pretty much similar for every game, but the game is definitely going to be different. With rivalries like this, you never know what’s going to happen,” Leggett said. “Doesn’t matter if the team’s unranked or if you’re going against a top-five team — it’s always something different about it and you can never put a score on a game or anything like that.”

The recent history of the series backs up Leggett’s point.

Clemson has a 42-18-3 record in the overall history of the series when entering the rivalry game with a better record than South Carolina, but seven of the last 11 years, the team with the better record entering the game has lost.

So, as Swinney likes to say, Clemson and South Carolina can “throw out the record books” when they clash on Saturday and continue the storied, passionate and deep-rooted rivalry.

“They’re definitely going to play us the hardest, just like every other team has this year,” Leggett said. “We’re just going to have to stick to our game plan, play ball and just go out there and try to get it done.”

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