A lot was going through defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ mind late in Clemson’s game against South Carolina on Saturday night when juniors Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and other offensive players in their final year at Clemson huddled up, and then walked off the field as they were serenaded by passionate applause from an appreciative crowd in an emotional moment.
“I was just like, ‘man, these guys don’t have to leave. You’ve got more eligibility,’” Venables said with a smile on Tuesday.
Venables knows those guys are ready to move on to the NFL after the season, and he doesn’t think they are making the wrong choice.
He was just also thinking that he’d love to have them back at Clemson for one more year. And the cushy, sentimental core inside Venables’ ruggedly tough exterior couldn’t help but conjure up a thought about how players sometimes grow up faster than they should.
“Maybe you do, but maybe you don’t know what you really have. It’s hard, man, when you leave,” Venables said. “College is awesome. There’s an innocence in what we have right here on a college campus that you lose, and I hate that for guys. That’s all part of the growing up and leaving, and then some guys are ready for it. They all say they are. It’s hard. It’s really hard.”
“So, that’s kind of what I was thinking,” he continued. “These guys are going to do great because they’re ready and all that, but I’d love to have them just one more time.”
It was a similar feeling for Venables later in the fourth quarter when the defensive seniors, in particular Ben Boulware, Jadar Johnson, Cordrea Tankersley and Carlos Watkins, walked off the field for the final time in Death Valley in front of the cheering crowd.
“Internally, those are the things you’re thinking about — I can’t believe how much they’ve grown up and how much they’ve meant to this program,” Venables said.
Boulware, Johnson, Tankersley, Watkins and other impact contributors in Clemson’s program such as Jay Guillermo and Jordan Leggett are part of the 2016 senior class that earned its 46th victory on Saturday, tying the school record for the most victories by a senior class at Clemson.
Venables is thankful for what they have accomplished in a Clemson uniform, and he believes wholeheartedly that they will be successful both on and off the field in their lives after Clemson.
“Excited for them and what their futures hold, and I’m really excited about all four of those guys because they are ready and this experience at Clemson has really helped prepare them,” Venables said. “But they’ve had a huge part into that, too, their maturity. A lot of times guys leave and you’re like, he needs to grow up, he’s not ready, he’s going to have to learn the hard way.
“I couldn’t say that about any of those guys. These guys are ready, and I’m really excited for them. Great things are going to happen for them — in their lives, not just football.”