RALEIGH, N.C. – John Simpson has spent most of his career at Clemson blocking for Travis Etienne and other running backs. But on Saturday night, the senior offensive lineman got his chance to shine.
The Tigers brought out their “Fridge package” and gave the ball to Simpson, who barreled into the end zone for a 1-yard touchdown run in fifth-ranked Clemson’s 55-10 win over NC State at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“It’s something that Coach (Dabo) Swinney brought up – we’ve probably been practicing that the last four weeks,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said after the game. “But you’ve kind of got to have the right opportunity, right situation. We got down to the 1-yard line … I think that was probably the best blocking that we’ve had up front. Those guys up front definitely wanted to get John in the end zone. So, that was special, and something I know he’ll never forget.”
Simpson did not know coming into the game if he was going to get the opportunity to tote the rock and score a touchdown. However, he was ready when Swinney and the staff called his number on second and goal from the 1-yard line with less than five minutes to go in the second quarter and the Tigers up by a score of 28-0.
“I didn’t think he was going to run it this game,” Simpson said. “I didn’t know when he was going to run it, but we were practicing it quite a few times. I was like, ‘Whenever I get the opportunity, if they give me the ball, I’m going to take advantage of it,’ and I did tonight.”
That he did. Lining up as the tailback in the I-formation behind defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney as the fullback, Simpson took the handoff, fought through initial contact from a defender in the backfield and rumbled into the end zone for his first career touchdown – high school or college.
“Nothing like that ever happened to me before, so just getting me a touchdown tonight, that was huge and I’m excited,” he said with a big smile.
After seeing defensive end Xavier Thomas get stopped short of the goal line on a rushing attempt out of the Fridge package in Clemson’s win against Florida State at Death Valley four weeks earlier, Simpson was not going to be denied when he got his chance to score Saturday night.
“I’m All In, man,” Simpson said. “If they give me the ball, I’m going to try to take advantage of any opportunity I get. So, yeah, that was a big deal when I got the ball.”
Simpson wasn’t sure at first if he crossed the goal line, but once a referee signaled the touchdown, the native of North Charleston, South Carolina, was ecstatic.
“If you look at the film, the video of it, I’m looking at the ref and I’m like, ‘Did I get in?’” Simpson said. “Because he was taking forever to signal. And he signaled it, and I was going crazy. I was going crazy because I’ve never scored a touchdown in my life. So, that was a big deal for me.”
After Simpson earned the six points, he was swarmed by teammates who were excited to see him score.
“My teammates, they were all over me, like, ‘Yeah! Good job!’” Simpson said. “That’s just them being selfless. Even all the other offensive lineman, they’re very selfless and they don’t even care who gets the credit – they just love it, have passion for the game, and that’s all you can really ask for.”
Simpson does a good job of helping to protect Trevor Lawrence, so the Clemson quarterback was happy to see him get his moment in the spotlight.
“It’s awesome,” Lawrence said. “Someone said that’s his first touchdown ever, and that’s awesome to see. Just a guy that works super hard, and it’s really cool that we have Coach Swinney and all of our coaches that want to reward guys like John for that. It’s just a really cool thing to be a part of.”
After the game, Simpson made sure to recognize his own position group for paving the way for his memorable moment.
“He did get an opportunity to give a speech in the locker room,” Scott said, “and he did thank his linemen up front for his blocking, as you would expect.”
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