Being from Richmond, Va., and being one of the top defensive players in the state coming out of high school, most people just assumed Clelin Ferrell was headed to Virginia Tech. If you play defense in the state of Virginia and you are one of the best, that’s what you do.
But as we all know, that’s not what Ferrell did. Instead, he chose Clemson over the Hokies. It was a bitter pill for some of those in his hometown to swallow.
“Everybody was asking, ‘Why Clemson, man?’ And I was just like ‘because it is different.’ And when we got here, it really was different,” Ferrell said.
It was different for a lot of reasons. Clemson had already emerged as a national power after beating teams like Ohio State in the 2014 Orange Bowl and Oklahoma, the season prior to his arrival, in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Tigers were playing at a level of consistency few in the country were and the next step seemed inevitable.
“When I first committed to Clemson, a lot of people, and I did not even realize, how good we could be,” the redshirt sophomore said. “My freshman year was the first year we went to the national championship and we lost. But I remember, when I committed, people were like, ‘Why are you going there?’ Why don’t you and the other guys—that were on my team—go to Virginia Tech? Start something great there with Bud Foster, that defense they have, they’re going to have a great offense with Bucky Hodges and all of them.”
But Ferrell soon discovered he made the right choice. The Tigers rolled through the 2015 regular season undefeated as guys like Deshaun Watson, Jordan Leggett, Shaq Lawson and Ben Boulware became household names. As he mentioned, they went on to play for the national championship where they fell to Alabama in the title game.
Then, with Ferrell starting at defensive end, Clemson went back to the College Football Playoff last year and this time won it all, and in the middle of that was a win over the home state Hokies in the ACC Championship Game, further cementing he made the right decision to come to Clemson.
On Saturday, Ferrell and four other Tigers, will get the opportunity to play in their home state for the first time since their high school days when No. 2 Clemson travels to Blacksburg to take on No. 12 Virginia Tech.
It will be especially meaningful to Ferrell, who grew up a Hokies fan, watching the Vick brothers—Michael and Marcus—do their thing as well as Tyrod Taylor, who led Virginia Tech to ACC Championships in 2008 and 2010.
But as special as all of that is, Ferrell says it will not get in the way of his and the Tigers’ mindset … it’s a big game because it is the next game.
“I have played in big games, and just because I’m coming back to my home state and I am playing in Lane Stadium, it will not make a difference to me on how I take on this game,” the defensive end said. “It’s just another game. It’s only the biggest game of the year because it is the next one.”
However, there will be one thing that is different.
“It will be cool to look up and see all of my family there,” Ferrell said. “I will have about twenty or thirty people there so that will probably be the only thing if I do look up and say, ‘Dang! All of ya’ll are here?’ So that is about it.”