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Defending champs begin their climb back to the top

On Thursday, the message was pretty simple. Defending national champion Clemson is at the base of the college football mountain and is looking up at where it wants to go.

“You don’t get to stay at the top of the mountain,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Last year, that was kind of the thing. We made it to the top of the mountain, put the flag up there, but you don’t get to stay there.

“You have to start over. We are right back at the bottom with everybody else. You get what you earn.”

The Tigers, who started fall camp on Thursday, are not exactly at the bottom of the mountain. They might not be at the top where they ended the 2016 season, but they are pretty close. The coaches ranked Clemson No. 5 in the Amway/USA Today Preseason Top 25 poll, which was released on Thursday.

The No. 5 ranking is a pretty high mark to start a new season, especially considering the Tigers have to replace 78 percent of their offensive production from 2016, including all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson. Clemson had the second most first-place votes with seven. Alabama, the preseason No. 1 team, had 49 first-place votes.

But the motto in Tigertown seems to be the same – they have to go earn it again. Last year’s memories of winning it all are just that, memories. National Championship hero Hunter Renfrow said no one on his team or future opponents care that he caught the game-winning touchdown in last year’s national championship game.

“The other teams don’t care. It does not really matter anymore,” the wide receiver said. “That is something I can look back in ten years and say ‘that was a pretty cool experience.’ But this year, I have to go earn it again.”

Even when the Tigers were thrown a complement in regards to the level of respect they have from around the country, proven by its No. 5 ranking, they still feel they have to go and earn even more respect.

“We deserve the respect, I mean, but we know a lot of people are not going to give it to us,” defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence said. “We love earning it and proving people wrong. So that is what this team is really built upon.”

And no one knows about earning respect more than Swinney.

“There is something about being able to look a guy in the eye and just seeing and knowing they put the work in,” the Clemson coach said. “This is a football team that has put the work in. They have paid the price. We are a well put together team.

“We are going to get back out there, start this new journey and see what we can get done.”

And they will begin it, in their minds at least, at the base of the mountain.

“I think we put last year in the rear-view mirror,” Renfrow said. “It was a great experience last year, but we are kind of over it and we are ready to climb back up that mountain.”

 

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