Few programs have developed players on and off the field as well as Clemson
When looking at Clemson’s Football Program today, college football fans know about all Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, Travis Etienne, Justyn Ross, Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, Deandre Hopkins and the list of four- and five-star players that goes on and on.
And though all of those guys helped Clemson get to the top of the mountain, the program was built on something more than having just talented players.
If you notice who is left off that list. Guys like Dwayne Allen, Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Bashaud Breeland, Jordan Leggett, Wayne Gallman, Adam Humphries, Artavis Scott, Kevin Dodd, D.J. Reader, Dorian O’Daniel, Kendall Joseph, Ryan Carter, Cordrea Tankersley, Austin Bryant, Tanner Muse, Justin Falcinelli, Gage Cervenka, K’Von Wallace, Isaiah Simmons and of course Hunter Renfrow.
Why do I bring them up?
Because they are the guys no one was really asking about when they were freshmen. They are the guys a lot of college football fans had no idea who they were and where they came from when they watched Clemson beat Alabama, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.
They are examples of players who developed in the Clemson Football program and ultimately became star players and made some of the biggest plays on the biggest of stages when the Tigers needed them the most.
People will remember Watson and Trevor Lawrence and all they did in helping Clemson win two national championships in the last four seasons. College football fans will definitely remember Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and Ferrell and how dominant they were up front. Higgins and Ross will be remembered for the way they embarrassed the Alabama secondary in the 2018 national championship game.
But what most of the fans don’t see, is how they got there. How they developed in a program that arguably has become the best in college football.
“I think that’s when it starts is getting people to believe in who we are, who I am, you know, building the culture of our program, consistency, and then people,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “You know, you win with people, getting the right people in place, and then players. Same thing, you win with people first, players second, and I think just development, evaluation.
“Certainly, this is a game that’s played by players—and we’ve been able to get great players—but we’ve also had lots of greats, like a Hunter Renfrow, like a Grady Jarrett, like an Adam Humphries, like a Tig Willard.”
That’s why Clemson finished this past decade with a 117-23 record, which included 6 ACC Championships, 9 straight 10-win seasons, 5 straight College Football Playoff appearances, 5 straight 12-win seasons, 4 trips to the national title game, 3 undefeated regular seasons and 2 national championships.
Yes, the Tigers continue to pick up 5-star players like 2020 signees DJ Uiagalelei, Bryan Bresee, Demonte Capehart, Demarkcus Bowman, Trent Simpson and Myles Murphy. Yes, the program got four big-time commitments on Sunday as it appears the Clemson Dynasty continues to grow.
But what separates Clemson and why the best players want to come and play for Dabo Swinney is not all about the championships and wins, though that helps. It is the way the program develops a young man into, not only better players, but better young men.
“We’ve had a lot of players over the years that weren’t necessarily highly recruited guys, but we’ve developed. In 11 years, we’ve had one No. 1 recruiting class, and we just had it,” Swinney said. “We’ve, I think, been consistent with our philosophy and our approach, and then we’ve had continuity, and when we’ve had changes, we’ve been able to get the right people in the right place.
“But if I had to say one thing, just belief, from where we started the decade—with a vision—and then just staying the course throughout the time.”
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