By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Thursday morning Derrick Cannon got the opportunity to do something he has wanted to do since he was a little boy – touch Howard’s Rock and run down the Hill at Clemson Memorial Stadium.
“It was awesome,” said Cannon, who grew up in nearby Pickens, S.C.
Cannon was one of a hundred or so injured war veterans to experience Clemson’s famous running down the Hill tradition, one in which ABC’s Brent Musburger dubbed, “The most exciting twenty-five seconds in college football.” The war veterans were in Clemson as part of the Wounded Warriors Program, the fourth such year Clemson has hosted the group.
“I grew up a Clemson fan so it was nice to come back here and experience this and learn a little bit more about Clemson and it’s great military history,” said Cannon, who is a corporal and returned home last week after fighting in Afghanistan as part of the War on Terror. “I have only had the opportunity to come to one game (Ball State in 2002) and I would love one day to come back for more, but being in the military it’s hard to get back here.”
Clemson’s military history goes back from the time it first opened its doors in 1893. With an enrollment of 446 the small college began as an all-male military school and it remained that way until 1955 when the change was made to “civilian” status for students and it became a coeducational institution.
Since then, 482 former Clemson students have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their lives to America, while fighting for its freedoms. Clemson University has honored its fallen heroes with Clemson Memorial Park, where it houses its “Scroll of Honor” for all of its 482 heroes.
“A lot of people ask me what makes Clemson so special,” Former Air Force Pilot and Clemson graduate Danny Rhodes said to the group. “This is why. Clemson has a strong military history that it is very proud of. We have had men that have fought in a war and then came to Clemson. We have had men that have come to Clemson and then went and fought in a war. Most of them came back, some of them did not.
“We currently have students in our ROTC program where some of them will one day serve in our military armed forces. And we have regular students that will never serve. So how do we connect with them?
“You now see how we connect with them.”
Rhodes along with Colonel Sandy Edge, who is now an academic advisor at Clemson’s College of Business and Behavioral Science, led the Wounded Warriors on a tour of the Memorial Park, The Scroll of Honor and then of Memorial Stadium, where they touched Howard’s Rock and jogged down the Hill.
The tour carried over to the WestZone where they toured the weight room, the locker room, the team meeting rooms and the coaches’ offices. The tour ended with a speech from Associate Athletic Director Brad Scott, a video presentation on “The Hill” and then carried over to lunch, which included a short speech by Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich.
Scott’s speech was especially touching as he read a writing on the differences between football players and soldiers. He spoke about how football players are highly trained athletes that are taken care of at the highest level and how their bodies are watched and catered to in making sure they get the proper rest, exercise and diet they need in order to compete.
Football players know their opponents and in most cases they are friends. Then, especially if they beat their opponent, football players are somewhat put on a pedestal and looked upon as heroes by fans and media alike, even though it is only a game.
Like football players, soldiers are highly trained athletes who have to condition themselves for combat. But unlike football players, they do not get to take days off. They sometimes will go days without eating and their bodies and minds do not have the luxury of resting.
There is no opponent, but rather an enemy. And after fighting this enemy for six or more months at a time, they might get to come home, all be it just for a little while, and when they do, it often goes unnoticed.
“People like to think football players and athletes are heroes, but I appreciate and respect you, and I love your team,” Scott said the soldiers.
So on a day when men like Corporal Derrick Cannon came to Clemson hoping to see some of his heroes from the football field, he actually discovered he was the hero Clemson was glad to see.
“It’s an honor to be a part of this,” he said. “You can’t help but be moved by what they have done.”