For 23 years, Hugh Yaughn worked high school football camps at Clemson, including 21 straight from 1997-2017.
The guy everyone, including Dabo Swinney, called “Coach” also helped the football program on game days, driving all the way up from his home in Statesboro, Ga., to set up the fans and heaters to keep the Tigers cool or warm on the sideline. He did this for every game since 1993, until an illness caused him to miss the last six games of the 2017 season.
Unfortunately, there comes a time in every person’s life when they have to make a decision, though tough, when it is time to call it quits. Due to health reasons, Yaughn had to make one of the hardest decisions of his life this past week, deciding he can no longer help the Clemson football program.
In the nine years he worked under Swinney, Yaughn saw some of the best athletes come through Dabo Swinney’s Football Camps. And that’s because he has the best advantage point to do it.
Yaughn stood in the tall tower that sits between the two outdoor practice fields behind the Allen Reeves Football Complex. He is the voice campers and coaches heard after every five-minute period came to a close during the two practices each day.
Some of the great Clemson players Yaughn has seen come through Swinney’s camps, included Deandre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Deshaun Watson, Mackensie Alexander, Shaq Lawson and Ben Boulware to name a few.
“There are so many, I can’t remember them all,” said Yaughn, who is now 70 years old.
Overall, Yaughn helped with 23 football camps under Clemson coaches Tommy West, Tommy Bowden and Swinney. For 10 years, he was also a manger for Cliff Ellis’ basketball camps when he was at Clemson.
“I love the people and I love the atmosphere,” said the former high school football coach of 40 years. “I have worked with Coach West, Coach Bowden and Coach Swinney. All of them have been super and all of them are good people.”
Yaughn admits he has seen a bunch of stuff over the years, too much to recall. But, it’s all been good stuff – like one-handed catches and “stuff you might see on SportsCenter,” he said.
He first started working Clemson’s camps in 1983, when he came up with a former student of his named Alphonso Smith, who was his connection to Clemson. Smith eventually became the Tigers’ long-time equipment manager until he left for a new opportunity a few years back.
The first camp Yaughn worked was Ellis’ basketball camp. He said that’s when he fell in love with Clemson.
“My daughter, my grandson and granddaughters all wear Tiger stuff. My mailbox, my car, my truck, all of it has Clemson on it. The funny thing is we are right there in the middle of Georgia territory,” Yaughn said.
Yaughn says Georgia fans try to give him a hard time, but he just comes right back at them.
“They know not to mess with me about my Tigers,” he said.
As far as working the football camps, Yaughn says no one has done it better than Swinney.
“It’s day and night. It is run smoother,” he said. “Everything is on point and on time.”
Before Swinney took over as head coach in 2009, Yaughn worked as a manager, trainer and coach from time-to-time under West and Bowden. He and four other coaches were in charge of the second-seven graders in camp, which they would take over to the fields by Fike.
The first year he started with Clemson’s football camps, there were just 46 kids from the second grade through the third grade. Under Swinney, the camp has hosted more than 2,000 second-seventh graders in his youth camp.
“Every afternoon I would go to the BI-LO and get popsicles so we would have popsicles for all the crew every afternoon,” Yaughn said. “It has come a long ways from 46 campers to over 1,000.”
When Swinney took over the camps in 2009, he moved Yaughn to the tower where he has watched it grow into one of the best football camps in the country. In 2016, Clemson had more than 4,000 players—second through 12th grade—participate in camp, including 1,400 at Swinney’s High School Football Camp.
“When Coach Bowden was here, and I love him to death, but he would come and say ‘hey’ in the morning and then you would not see him again until that night,” Yaughn said. “Coach West was hands on with the line group a little bit, but Coach Bowden would see the parents when they checked in and then would come and see them again when they left.
“Dabo is out there working in the groups. He will jump in the defensive groups, he will jump in the offensive groups, and he will jump in the line groups. It does not matter. He will jump in there and coach the whole thing. He is here the whole time.”
The thing Yaughn likes the most about Swinney, “He treats the kid that maybe isn’t quite as good as the five-star kids just the same in camp. Everyone is treated the same,” he said.
Four ACC Championships, a national championship, a national runner-up spot, two Orange Bowl titles, Fiesta Bowl title, three straight berths in the College Football Playoff and 82 wins later Swinney has Clemson among the nation’s elite football programs. Yaughn has witnessed it all in person including a football camp that at one time was one of the smallest and has now turned into the largest.