Clemson will be running down the hill for the last time this season on Saturday against The Citadel, but for some this will be their last time doing so in a Clemson uniform.
For Clemson’s six scholarship seniors, the past four years have been filled with bowl wins, division titles, conference titles, two national championship games and one national championship. Not to mention they are 26-1 at home and one win away from being the winningest senior class in Memorial Stadium history.
For one player, this game stands as a symbol of growing up.
Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel has spent five seasons growing up and molding into a starting linebacker.
After being a running back in high school and thinking that the linebacker position was easy, O’Daniel was hit hard with reality when he met defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
O’Daniel was forced to learn that sheer talent wasn’t going to get him a starting spot. He was redshirted as a true freshman in 2013, and spent the next two seasons leading the special teams units instead of the defense, only starting one game and taking 268 snaps.
In 2016 he saw a bit of a different story as O’Daniel saw 479 snaps, more than the previous two years combined. He still wasn’t in the position he wanted to be, however.
It took O’Daniel three years at Clemson to realize he had to compete and earn his coaches trust, and even though it took him three years to come to this realization, looking back he has no regrets.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say regret, but if I would give any advice to any young guys in a position coming up when all is said and done don’t wait to be great,” O’Daniel said. “I feel like I was kind of passive sometimes like ‘okay my time will come,’ but instead of waiting for that time to come, I would just encourage those guys to go out and get it.
“Take that step, take that initiative, let those coaches know they can trust you out there on the field, don’t wait for your time to come up or be the next guy up, challenge that guy who is ahead of you. Go out and compete for playing time.”
As a graduate, O’Daniel has taken the initiative and gained the trust of his coaches to put him in key roles for the Tiger defense. This season has been his most competitive and successful of his five seasons as a member of the team, recording huge pick-sixes against both Louisville and Virginia Tech. He also has 71 total tackles, 40 individual, 9.5 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and 5 passes broken up.
O’Daniel is also the first Clemson linebacker to return multiple interceptions for touchdowns in the same season. He is also a semifinalist for the Dick Butkus Award, which is presented to the top linebacker in college football each year.
“For me to be having the type of season I am having and to continue to grow as a player and get better and correct my wrongdoings on the field and just to be able to say I’m part of a team and program like Clemson from where we are at this day in age, I really take a lot of pride in that,” O’Daniel said.
O’Daniel has patiently waited for his opportunity to come, but Venables, has had to be just as patient for O’Daniel to mature and be ready to play on his defensive unit. The Maryland native came to this team unwilling to prepare aside from on the practice field and the weight room and needed the guidance of not only his coaches but of former players who guided him and showed him how to buy into the process and the culture surrounding Clemson.
“What an incredible example he has been where he doesn’t come in polished and ready to go but through some maturing and through a real investment that isn’t just going to happen in a week, the patience that comes along with that, a great thing will still happen for you if you just hang in there,” Venables said. “He’s just a great example of the hard work and dedication that eventually pays off.”
Now, in his final season O’Daniel has grown up and taken leadership of the team’s defensive unit, something he wouldn’t have been able to do without Venables.
“I would tell Coach Venables I appreciate him being patient with me,” O’Daniel said. I know I’m not the easiest guy to coach or to do what’s right, but he believed in me, he saw my potential, and he just kept encouraging me to do the little things right and just trusting me and having confidence in me whenever it was needed.”