When Clemson won the 1981 National Championship, the relationship between the Tigers’ leaders on offense and defense was obvious.
Jeff Davis, Clemson’s All-American linebacker that season, had the up most respect and confidence in All-ACC quarterback Homer Jordan leading the Tigers to a championship and he expressed that whenever he got the opportunity. Jordan felt the same way as the two motivated each other to be their best as Clemson made college football history.
In 2016, during Clemson’s second national championship run, that relationship was obvious between All-Americans Ben Boulware and Deshaun Watson. Boulware was the clear leader on a defense that always found a way to get Watson and the offense the football.
The two trusted each other to carry the team and their respect and friendship was vital as the Tigers marched to a second national championship.
Being that Davis is a mentor of Christian Wilkins in the Clemson program, and he saw firsthand, from watching Boulware and Watson, how important it is for the team leaders on offense and defense to work together, the All-American defensive tackle knew he had to step up and reach out to Trevor Lawrence. He knew it was important to the team that everyone was on the same page.
When Lawrence was named the starting quarterback on Sept. 24, by head coach Dabo Swinney, it sent a ripple through the Clemson locker room. Senior Kelly Bryant, who was 16-2 as a starter, did not take the news too kindly and ultimately quit the team and announced he was transferring out of the program.
A lot was going on. It was a crazy and hectic week for the program. But Wilkins, one of the four leaders on the defensive line and arguably the leader of the defense, stepped up and reached out to his freshman quarterback, who he knew was going through a lot.
It was just a simple gesture of taking his new quarterback to breakfast, but to Lawrence it meant a lot more than that.
“It meant a lot, just to know he is supporting me and he is an older guy,” Lawrence said. “He was just showing that he has faith in me that it is going to be alright.”
When asked about the breakfast last week, Wilkins tried to play it off and said it was no big deal and it was just two friends hanging out. But, it was a big deal. If Clemson wants to get where it wants to be, which is contending for another national championship, it needs to have everyone on the same page.
An intense quarterback competition has proven on other teams throughout the years that it sometimes can derail a team and cause them to underachieve. Wilkins wanted to make sure that does not happen at Clemson in 2018. So, he reached out to his young quarterback and let him know he has his back and the defense has faith in him.
“We talked a little bit about the week and just kind of cleared the air,” Lawrence said of the conversation. “A lot of stuff happened that had not been talked about to that point because that was still early in the week. So, we just talked about that a little bit. Really, it was just me and him going to get breakfast and talking more than anything.
“It was not anything crazy.”
But it was important. And now, as the Tigers take a break this week, their 6-0 and their goals are right in front of them.
If a team wants to win a national championship, like Clemson desires to do, it’s important the offensive leaders and the defensive leaders are on the same page and understand and respect what the other guy means to the team.
Only time will tell how much that innocent breakfast meant to the 2018 Clemson Tigers.
“We just went to breakfast and kind of hung out a little,” Lawrence said. “It was not much more than that. He was just being a good guy. We went out and ate.”