Walking through the Valley of Death

Walking through the Valley of Death

Football

Walking through the Valley of Death

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By William Qualkinbush.

By William Qualkinbush

Georgia Tech offensive lineman Will Jackson played against Clemson in Death Valley last season. He thought it would be the last time he would visit.

Then he looked at the 2013 schedule for the Yellow Jackets and saw the truth: Another visit to Tigertown was in store.

“I want to find out who set that up,” Jackson said with a hint of indignation in his voice. “I saw that on the schedule and thought that was a mistake.”

Opposing players approach playing in hostile environments like Clemson’s home field in different ways, all designed to enable a victory for the road team.

“It can be a little intimidating,” Wake Forest linebacker Justin Jackson said of Death Valley. “That’s just the way the sport is. I love it.”

The Demon Deacons have already begun to prepare, in some ways, for the challenge of playing at Clemson. Seniors like Jackson and wide receiver Michael Campanaro remember how a shot at a division title slipped through their fingers in 2011 and look to exact revenge, something easier said than done in Death Valley.

“We definitely have that game circled on our calendar every year, especially this year,” Campanaro said. “Death Valley is a great place to play. The atmosphere is awesome.”

The Tigers are 26-5 under Dabo Swinney at home, including 16-2 in ACC contests. This includes a pair of wins over Florida State in Swinney’s tenure. The Seminoles have not won at Death Valley since 2001, but they plan to change their fortunes and knock Clemson from atop its perch by seizing the opportunity to win in a difficult venue.

“They’re passionate about their football team,” defensive back Lamarcus Joyner said. “You go in there and you’re the enemy. It’s tough, man, but it’s a great experience.”

“We know it’s going to be a tough environment to play,” wide receiver Rashad Greene said. “We know they have home field advantage. Everybody has to get themselves together and focus a lot more knowing how crazy their fans are when we come in there.”

Many athletes feel similarly about these types of challenges. They relish the opportunity to play in such a charged environment—at least publicly. But there are all kinds of problems associated with communication and cohesiveness when a large crowd is roaring inside a full stadium.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got 80,000 people screaming and you can’t hear and execute offensively,” Jackson said. “It’s a very, very tough place to play.”

Boston College will trek down to Clemson again this season, which is just fine with linebacker Steele Divitto. He says he refuses to allow playing on the road to affect him in a negative fashion, although he acknowledges Clemson’s atmosphere presents a problem.

“(Opposing fans) might not be rooting for you, but you still feed off the energy,” he said.

BC quarterback Chase Rettig is a Californian, and he approaches the game with a laid-back mentality akin to Pacific coasters. Rettig is not easily rattled, but he says Clemson does get him amped up to play.

“It’s like a sea of orange, man. It’s crazy,” he said. “That stadium is unreal. The atmosphere is like a big-time college football place.”

The Eagles, Seminoles, Demon Deacons, and Yellow Jackets all know how tough it is to play well at Clemson. Nonetheless, all four teams will be tasked with doing it, and they plan to approach it in very different ways.

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