By accident, Wilks started a tradition at Clemson that is now in its 10th season
Ten years ago, a tradition was accidentally created outside of Death Valley. Jill “Mrs. Jill” Wilks, the Administrative Assistant for Recruiting at Clemson University, is solely responsible for this unintended tradition.
In 2008, Wilks was in the wrong place at the right time — stuck between the football team buses and Clemson fans. Players bombarded her with hugs the second they stepped off the buses and saw her there.
Wilks’ boss voiced his dismay with the exchange to which she exclaimed, “I’m not doing this, it’s the boys!” Her boss frowned from across the parking lot.
“I decided that I was going to have to do it somewhere else so I didn’t hold the line up,” she said. “I go to the back now to where they go into the locker room, and do it there. I’ve been doing this since about 2008.”
From that day on, the tradition of Wilks giving hugs to players before they enter the locker room at every game began. The players view this as an extra bit of comfort before running down the hill into Death Valley on fall Saturdays.
“It gives you a feeling of no matter what happens on the field, she’s always going to love you, unconditionally. And that’s what you have to love about Mrs. Jill the most,” offensive tackle Tremayne Anchrum said.
In such a serious environment as the college football world, Wilks brings light and laughter to Clemson’s Reeves Football Complex. She is considered everyone’s second mom and is constantly sought out for advice and wisdom.
Senior tight end Cannon Smith explains why these hugs from Mrs. Jill and the coaches’ wives mean so much to him and his teammates.
“The thing that I most enjoy about getting a hug before every game is definitely just the sense of family and community you get,” Smith said. “Every time Mrs. Jill gives that final hug before you go into the locker room, it’s very comforting and just knowing that the Clemson Family has your back that they are there to support you.”
The hugs offer a sense of calm and peace that you can only get from loved ones. The same can be said for the Clemson football team every time they see Wilks’ smiling face in the West End Zone.
Linebacker Judah Davis has been a part of the Clemson family for quite some time. His father, Jeff, was Clemson’s All-American linebacker on the 1981 team and has been involved in the Clemson Football program since the days of the Tommy Bowden era. Being able to hug Jill and the coaches’ wives is like coming up for fresh air at the end of every Tiger Walk.
“It’s a special part to end Tiger Walk…pregame tradition. Just being able to hug people that care about you, it just makes things easier and gives you a little bit of extra motivation before you go into the game,” he said.
For over a decade now, Wilks has been the mother of Clemson Football and she doesn’t want this to end any time soon.
“The tradition will hopefully continue once I am gone. If I am able, I hope they let me do it. If not, the coaches’ wives will do it,” she said.
She has made so much of an impact on the players’ lives that former players still come visit her each time they return to Clemson. Tiger great C.J. Spiller was part of Wilks’ inaugural “hug” class in 2008. He still comes back for her hugs 10 years later.
“She’s still the same person that she was when I met her almost twelve years ago back in 2006 when I came on my official visit,” he said. “She’s a very humble individual that always has a smile on and always greets you with a hug. That’s the kinds of things that you really appreciate about a person and that’s why I call her Momma Jill because she pretty much became my mom when I was up here.”
For Spiller, receiving these hugs from is something he considers a major Clemson tradition of its own.
“It’s right up there with rubbing the rock right before you run down the hill,” he said with a smile. “For something that happened by accident and for it to continue to keep going and going to this day, you know that she takes great pride in it and gets so much joy out of it.
“That’s over seventy-seven hugs that she gives each Saturday for a home game. I think the guys really appreciate it too because she is doing it out of love.”
Jill and the coaches’ wives like Kathleen Swinney and Kristy Pearman, have found that this tradition has brought them just as much joy as it has brought the team. For something as simple as a hug, it has changed the way the players, coaches and wives view game day and their pregame traditions.
“I don’t think there’s one memory in particular, but it’s just memories through the years. Just seeing the players, because we have over 100 guys walking through Tiger Walk, and they are all so excited,” Swinney said. “Some of them have done it a million times and some it’s their first time. It could be early in the season and they come in and they’re sweating because they just hugged everybody through the line…high fived everybody and taken pictures with babies. They just seem so happy being able to see some of the coaches’ wives and Jill.
“When they see us, they know they are kind of near the end and close to the locker room. It’s just fun to see them. We are all so excited to see them too. They are all of our boys so we just like to love on them.”
The hugs tradition has taken place in the West End Zone now for 10 years and will hopefully continue for many years to come. Wilks, Swinney, and many other coaches’ wives continue to give players something to look forward to right before they enter the locker room at every home game.
Mrs. Jill has certainly left her mark on every person she has come across at Clemson University.