Deep down, Kelly Bryant has always been a Clemson Tiger. When he was growing up, even in elementary school, when asked who he was going to pull for Clemson or South Carolina, the Calhoun Falls, S.C., native always said Clemson.
“I feel like deep down I was always a Clemson guy,” he said. “There was something about wanting to be here and wanting to come here and play.”
But unlike most little boys who dreamed about being the starting quarterback in the state’s biggest game, Bryant said he never thought about it.
“I just messed around and imagined myself playing football in general no matter where I was at,” he said. “I did not grow up thinking I would be here playing in this game.”
But here he is as the third-ranked Tigers’ starting quarterback as Clemson travels to No. 24 South Carolina Saturday for the annual Palmetto Bowl in Columbia.
“It’s special to participate in this rivalry and be a player,” Bryant said. “I can say later on down the road that I played in this rivalry and I was a starting quarterback in this rivalry.
“It means a lot to a lot of people in this state. A lot of people plan their whole lives around Clemson-South Carolina.”
It will mean even more for Bryant if the Tigers win. A victory, will not only keep Clemson in the playoff hunt, but it will also mean Bryant will set the Clemson record for most wins by a quarterback in his first year as a starting quarterback.
He is currently tied with Tajh Boyd (2011) and Chris Morocco (1989) with 10.
“It is special. I’m really looking forward to it, and I know the guys are looking forward to taking the trip down to Columbia on Saturday,” Bryant said.
One thing Bryant is not looking forward to is the environment the Tigers will have to play in Saturday night. He remembers how hostile the Tigers last trip to Williams-Brice Stadium was in 2015 and that game was played in the afternoon.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 7:30 p.m.
“It was loud,” he said. “You hear their little fight song, Sand Storm or whatever it is called. They kept playing it and playing it so the fans were into it from start to finish. There is a lot of pride down there in Columbia.”
Based on all the talk coming out of Columbia this off-season, and during the week, Bryant knows Saturday’s game is going to be an intense one.
“It’s an in-state rivalry,” he said. “Neither one of us really like each other and we are also playing for a trophy. So we want to be on the winning side to keep the trophy here in Clemson rather than it going down there so that is why it is so special.”