By William Qualkinbush.
It was one tweet on one solitary day in the offseason, but Clemson’s players have not forgotten it, and they probably will not forget it any time soon.
Months after his Florida State team came into Memorial Stadium and demolished the Tigers 51-14, Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston felt the need to rub salt in the wound. He tweeted out a picture, snapped from the Jervey parking lot, of Death Valley with the caption “Our house”.
Depending on the perspective, it was either another black mark on Winston’s checkered track record or another example of a fun-loving college student enjoying some hi-jinks. That track record was put on display again on Wednesday, when Winston’s inappropriate exclamation in the student union led to a suspension for the first half of Saturday’s rematch with the Tigers.
For better or worse, Clemson’s defense was not amused.
“It was pretty disrespectful to the Clemson program, to the people that came to Clemson even before us,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “It’s a guy that wants to make it about him. He wants it to be about him, so we’ll let him have that. But it’s a team game, and we plan on going there as a team and putting up a good show.”
“I saw it when it first came out,” safety Robert Smith said. “I’m not a fan of it at all. You’re not going to say much about it, but it’s going to be in the back of our minds. I’m never going to forget that.”
Winston was a largely unknown commodity—at least on the national stage—when he came into Clemson and carved up the Tigers last season. If that embarrassment was not enough, the poking and prodding from the offseason further convinced the Clemson defense to sharpen itself heading into this week’s matchup.
“I acknowledge that he’s a great player, but we don’t fear him,” Jarrett told the Clemson press corps on Tuesday. “I don’t want y’all getting that. We’re going after him, but we know what we’re up against.”
Winston’s performance against Clemson turned him into a national treasure—at least for a little while. Until his misdeeds—alleged and otherwise—cost him some good will with certain corners of the public, Winston’s persona was attractive to college football fans everywhere.
Clemson’s defenders see it another way. They see someone starving for the limelight and eager to put himself up on a pedestal—something they refuse to do themselves.
“If he feels that way, we’ll let him feel that way,” Smith said. “I guess we have to go out there and prove a point in the competition that’s going on.”
“You don’t have any time to hold your breath. We’ve got to try to get to him,” Jarrett said of watching Winston play. “We can’t worry about what the outcome is going to be if he makes a nice pass.”
Even though the task is somewhat different with another quarterback in the picture for the first half, Clemson’s defenders are eager to face off against Winston with a fuller picture of what he can do. When the ball kicks off, Jarrett says, any unsavory aspects of the Seminole quarterbacks give way to the task at hand.
“That picture, his TV performances—because they are performances,” he said, “they have no implication on the game.”