Clemson's defensive front shares a bond like no other
As one of the most dominant defensive lines in college football, it’s no secret the chemistry between Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins, Austin Bryant and Dexter Lawrence is a bond like no other.
For proof, look no further than this year’s NFL Draft pool. Many considered Bryant, Ferrell and Wilkins—all draft eligible—were headed to the NFL after the three were highly regarded as possible first-round talent.
However, in one of the biggest surprises in recent history, all three decided to return to school for one more season, rejoining Lawrence to give the Tigers’ the biggest and most experienced defensive front in all of college football.
Some could say that relationship blossomed over a year ago when the group began to call themselves the Power Rangers, based off the popular television series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers that aired on FOX from 1993-’96.
Not only do the four call themselves the Power Rangers, but they dress up like them as well. First in costume at head coach Dabo Swinney’s house on Halloween in 2016 and then this past Halloween as well.
“We do have fun,” Ferrell said laughing. “We all got in our morph suits and we were just running around Clemson not telling people who we were and stuff like that. We were just running around Clemson, running into different restaurants, ordering food, stuff like that, doing dumb stuff like that.”
It’s not very often that there is a sighting of four 260-plus pound Power Rangers strolling through the small South Carolina town so when that does occur people are a little surprised and curious.
“We were doing the whole thing like, ‘There’s too many of them guys! It’s Morphin Time!’ and morphin’ and everything,” Ferrell said. “It was crazy. People were just like, ‘Who are these guys? Are these Power Rangers on steroids?’ They were like, ‘The Power Rangers are not that big,’ especially Dexter because he’s the pink one. He has like a skirt on his. That was the funniest thing. That’s just one small thing that we do.”
As proud as Ferrell is to wear the title of a Power Rangers, Wilkins on the other hand prefers to keep his Power Ranger identity low-key.
“See, he can’t be giving that out,” Wilkins said. “I don’t know what he was talking about, but I did hear that the rangers were out running around. That’s what I did hear and enjoying Halloween. They were just running around having a good time. That’s what I heard that they were doing.”
Whether the four of them are putting on Power Rangers costumes for a night of “morphin” or strapping on pads and helmets for a night under the lights in Death Valley, their distinctive personalities are what create such a unique brotherhood between them.
“We just get along great,” said Wilkins. “We are four guys who have a lot of similarities but still yet a lot of differences. We enjoy having fun and being around each other, hanging out, just being goofballs.
“We are always getting on each other like little brothers/big brothers kind of thing. Always enjoying each other’s company but we’re all kind of different, too.”
Wilkins describes Bryant as the more laid back one of the group, while Lawrence, known as “Big Dex,” is described as the lovable teddy bear in the group.
“We always make fun of him for being a big softy,” Wilkins said. “On the field he’s obviously the furthest thing from a softy, but then there’s Cle who is hilarious, just a funny guy. Me and Cle have a lot of similarities too. It’s crazy how many similarities he and I have. But he’s really just like a funny goofball.”
And though they all four like to have fun and have goofy sides, they are all equally ambitious and care about each other both on and off the football field. Although football is a major aspect of their lives, it is not the only thing that keeps the four of them connected. Just like any other group of friends they find time to relax and enjoy other activities as well.
“Sometimes we do Sunday trips after games,” said Lawrence. “We go to Greenville or something and just hang out there downtown. Just eat, talk, have fun a little bit. Our relationship is not normal, you know. We pick on each other. We call each other names. We are like brothers almost.”
Just like typical brothers, along with the picking and teasing, comes the protective instincts as well. They are there for one another at all times and want nothing but success for each other.
“We got each other’s backs all the time no matter what,” Lawrence said. “We look out for each other. When one needs something we’ll do it for them. We cook for each other. It’s just like a brotherhood that we have. We just try to stay close and we just love each other basically.
“We try to pull all of the other guys along, like the other defensive ends and defensive tackles to get them along just to let them know that it’s fun out here. Just trying to build relationships is what college is for pretty much.”
Brother-like arguments and protective instincts allow Bryant, Ferrell, Lawrence and Wilkins to comprehend and understand one another so thoroughly that it shows on the football field.
“I think just knowing each other helps us on the field,” Bryant said. “Kind of knowing what each of us is going to do along the defensive line because we’re all kind of like puzzle pieces. We fit in with the defensive tackles and what they’re doing and they fit in with what we’re doing. It’s just easy to communicate with one another, especially in games.
“Then in practice we’re able to hold each other accountable. We get on to each other because we know it’s coming from a good place and we all respect each other. So I think that’s helped us a lot just being able to hold each other accountable in practice and practice hard. Kind of pick someone up if they’re not as motivated that day or something.”
Lawrence says one of the greatest experiences for any college student is taking the time to establish relationships, relationships that last beyond the football field, the classroom and the campus.
No matter where life takes Bryant, Ferrell, Lawrence and Wilkins after they leave school, the relationships Clemson’s Power Rangers have created is something that will last far beyond their time at Clemson.
–Illustration by Olivia Garrison