SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Being away from home on Christmas is something that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s sons are accustomed to.
Will Swinney, the eldest of Dabo’s three sons, was in Nashville, Tennessee for his first ever Christmas in 1998, when Dabo was the wide receivers coach at Alabama and the Crimson Tide played Virginia Tech in the Music City Bowl.
“My parents had a little tree and gave me little presents or whatever,” Will told The Clemson Insider on Thursday during the Fiesta Bowl media day at the JW Marriott Camelback Inn. “But it’s something we’ve really gotten used to over the years. It’s not like this every year. There have been a lot of New Year’s games, which is good because that means we don’t leave until the 26th. It’s just been weird how these last two years, it’s been a closer date and we’ve had to be gone for Christmas. But it’s something that I’d say we’re kind of used to.”
This year, the Swinney family spent Christmas in Arizona as Dabo’s third-ranked Clemson team gets ready to face No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl.
Will, a junior holder and wide receiver for the Tigers, and Drew Swinney, a redshirt freshman wide receiver, know they were lucky to have their family with them on Christmas whereas many other members of the team were not able to be with theirs.
“Christmas Eve, we still had a bunch of us go to our parents’ house – it kind of is like a house, the hotel we’re staying at — it’s like a villa. It’s pretty cool. But we went there and we played Dirty Santa the night before Christmas Eve. So, we still make it fun wherever we’re at.”
Though away from home, Drew appreciates the quality time he had with his teammates on Christmas.
“It’s definitely different, but it’s also cool at the same time, getting to make memories with our teammates because we’ll have a lot of Christmases in the future where we’ll be with our family,” he said. “But it’s different. We did Secret Santa (on Christmas Day). We all drew a person and gave them our little gift yesterday, so that was really cool. It’s different, but like Will said, it’s not every year we’ve done this. It’s just kind of worked out this way, but it’s still fun.”
This marks Clemson’s fifth straight year in the College Football Playoff, meaning Will has been a part of three playoff teams in as many years with the Tigers, while Drew is two for two in terms of making the playoff.
While competing for national championships has become the norm for the Tigers, Will remembers the times at the beginning of his father’s tenure when it wasn’t like this, and so he doesn’t take Clemson’s success for granted.
“If you would have told me back then what was going to happen now, I would be freaking out,” Will said. “It’s so cool that we’re getting to live this. But yeah, it’s human nature to – ‘Oh, that’s what we do, we go to the playoff every year. Just mark your calendar.’ And it’s easy for fans to just not quite enjoy it as much and you kind of take it for granted a little bit.
“So, that’s something that my dad does a great job of instilling that in the players, and I think that’s why we continue to win is that we keep that appreciation for winning, and no matter what other people may say or anything, we’re always going to appreciate the opportunity and the chance to win because we know how hard it is and you’ve got to earn it.”
As for Drew, he says he is not surprised by Clemson’s incredible run, which has seen it become the first program ever to win five straight conference championship games and join Alabama as the only team to appear in five consecutive College Football Playoffs.
“I always say there’s never been a year where I didn’t think we wouldn’t win the national championship,” Drew said. “There’s never been a game where I didn’t think we would win. Maybe part of it was because I was so young and didn’t know any better. But then as I got older, I still believed that and it just kept happening. But it’s been really cool to see and really special.”
Will is happy he gets to enjoy the ride at Clemson with not only his dad, but his brother as well.
“We’re a little separated because he redshirted and he’s been doing some scout team right now and stuff,” Will said of Drew. “But I think it’s good for him to see me go through a lot of what he’s already had to go through, just being here, first year of college and all that, and academics. We’re majoring in the same thing (marketing), too, so I’ve been able to tell him classes to take and all that. But it’s fun getting to play football with him. I appreciate having him here, and it’s awesome to be able to share special moments like this.”
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