When he first came to Clemson in 2012, D.J. Reader knew South Carolina was Clemson’s rival, but he did not truly understand what it meant to the people of South Carolina.
Reader grew up in Greensboro, N.C., where basketball is King and football is an afterthought. Duke and North Carolina basketball rule the school and it’s really all anyone cares or talks about, especially in the Raleigh-Durham Triangle.
“It’s Duke or North Carolina. You pick a side. If you are an NC State fan, no one really cares about you,” Reader said.
Reader was a part of two of the Tigers’ five straight losses to the Gamecocks. He admitted as a freshman he did not really know what it was all about and he was a little confused when a South Carolina fan would give him a hard time.
But after losing to the Gamecocks in 2013, a game in which Clemson dominated on both sides of the line of scrimmage, yet turned the ball over six times in a 31-17 loss, Reader began to feel why the South Carolina game was so different than all the others.
“You are walking around and somebody is holding up the five to you. I realized this is something we live with every day with around here,” Reader said.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says losing in a rivalry game always makes everyone appreciate the game a little more than if you were on the side that won all the time. Swinney is 6-6 all-time in the series against the Gamecocks as a head coach and as an assistant coach.
As he pointed out, most of the guys on this year’s current team were a part of that five-game losing streak so they can appreciate what this week is all about and why it is important for them to beat the Gamecocks.
“When you lose a couple of them, then you will know how important this game is real fast,” Swinney said.
Reader says he gets it now. He understands that the Clemson-Carolina game runs a lot deeper than he originally thought.
“The first couple of years were rough,” he said. “I just did not understand what it was really all about.”
“It was something that I truly did not understand at first,” Reader continued. “Now I truly understand that it is a lot deeper than what I thought it was.”
So how does the Clemson-Carolina football game compare to Duke-(North) Carolina?
“From a football perspective, that is kind of hard for me, being from North Carolina and that’s my home state,” he said. “Nothing in my eyes compares to (the Duke-North Carolina) rivalry, but it is right up there with it.”
By the way, Reader says he pulls for Duke over the Tar Heels, who will be Clemson’s opponent in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 5.
As for Clemson, he says it was great to finally get that win last year over the Gamecocks and end the streak. He was also glad he was able to help his head coach finally get that monkey off his back.
“That (monkey) had been looking over his shoulder for a long time,” Reader said. “I was proud of him and we were all happy to finally get that off our backs because that’s what we heard about all the time. Clemson fans, they care about the season and they are glad it is going well, but if we beat South Carolina at the end of the year, even if we had a bad year, everything is forgiven.
“We were just glad to finally get that out of the way and get that done.”
Reader and the Tigers will try to make it two years in a row over the Gamecocks on Saturday in Columbia.
“It would mean a lot because it would mean we (the seniors) got even in the series. That’s all you really want,” he said. “Then the juniors will have a chance to win the series, and the sophomores will have a chance to never lose to them, as will the freshmen.
“It would mean a lot to us. It’s important. It’s a big rivalry. I’m excited.”