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How crazy is it to see these words? ‘Defending national champions’

I don’t know about you, but it feels kind of weird seeing all the preseason football magazines out there and seeing them saying “defending national champion” Clemson.

It brings me back to my youth when I was 10 years old in 1982 and was seeing and hearing some of the same things. Of course then, growing up the son of a Clemson graduate and a huge Clemson fan, I was beaming with pride. I remember how I bragged to all of my Gamecock friends because, let’s face it, they weren’t very good.

At the time, I always wondered what it would be like if Clemson won the national championship, again. So as I grew up, each and every summer, I would beg my mom to buy me all the preseason college football magazines I could find. With my birthday in June, I even asked her to just get me the football magazines as my birthday present.

Every summer when we went the beach for vacation, and I hate the beach by the way, I would sit on the beach and read every single issue, from the front cover to the back. I soaked up the information and it got me ready for the next football season.

Every year, I had hope that this would be the season Clemson would get back to the top and would win its second national championship. I remember all the hype surrounding the 1987 season the most. The Tigers had eight home games that year, which included a home game against Georgia, perhaps their toughest test of the season.

People said, “If Clemson gets past Georgia, then the Tigers are on their way back to the national championship.” That got me so fired up. I just knew that was going to be the year.

Well, they beat Georgia on a last-second David Treadwell field goal. They appeared to be on easy street from there. That team started the year 6-0 as they cruised to easy wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia in the weeks to follow.

They did struggled to knock off Duke, 17-10, but they were still undefeated and ranked No. 7 in the country heading into an Oct. 24 game against NC State. In those years, the Wolfpack was Clemson’s nemesis. Dick Sheridan’s teams always seemed to play their hardest against Clemson and they always gave the Tigers fits.

That was the case on October 24, 1987. NC State jumped out to a 30-0 halftime lead as the more than 81,000 fans inside Death Valley were stunned. However, Clemson put on a fierce rally in the second half behind the passing of quarterback Rodney Williams. At the time he threw for an NCAA record 46 passes in the second half, while throwing for 271 yards.

The Tigers found themselves down just two points, 30-28, and with the ball late in the game. But Williams’ fourth-down pass across the middle to fullback Tracy Johnson, who was running wide open on the NC State side of the field, hit the official and fell to the ground incomplete.

Clemson’s national title hopes were squashed that afternoon and Danny Ford’s 1988 and ’89 teams would flirt with national title aspirations as well, only to have them squashed by Florida State and Duke.

So I waited, went to college, moved on and became a sportswriter and never imagined I would see Clemson win another national championship in football. Eventually, as we all know, my career brought me to Clemson where I will be entering my 14th year this football season.

I never imagined growing up I would get the opportunity to cover major college football—the sport I love above all others—especially my favorite school.

But it happened.

So for the last 13 years I have chronicled the Tigers’ journeys for you the reader and I have enjoyed every second. But I’ll be honest. I never imagined I would cover Clemson winning a national championship in football.

So when Alabama defeated the Tigers in the 2016 National Championship Game (the 2015 season), I quietly thought to myself, see, “it’s not going to ever happen again.”

However, that all changed after Clemson steamrolled Georgia Tech in Atlanta last September. There was just something about that night that when I left the game and drove back to Clemson, I told Gavin Oliver, our great recruiting writer who was with me, “Clemson is going to win the National Championship.” He asked me “Why do you say that? What’s your reason?” I replied, “I just have a feeling.”

When the NC State kicker missed a chip-shot field goal that would have beaten the Tigers, I still felt like they were going to win it all. I even had the same feeling after they lost to Pitt, especially when Iowa made that last second field goal to beat Michigan that same night.

There was just something that told me they were going to win it somehow. We know the rest of the story.

I have since written tons for articles about Clemson’s national championship and what a great experience it has been. On Monday, I’ll get the opportunity to cover the Tigers’ visit to the White House where they will be honored and hosted by President Donald Trump. I will be with them when they get to tour the Capitol Building later that afternoon as well.

So as we get set to hit the “Dog Days of Summer” in a few weeks it has been weird seeing all the preseason magazines talk about Clemson’s national championship. It’s even weirder to think I have written in one myself – TCI’s “Best is the Standard” which is now on newsstands.

It is funny how life works, is it not?

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