Regan Upshaw saw all of the hard work he has put in over the last five years at Clemson finally start to pay off in the top-ranked Tigers’ win at Wake Forest last Saturday.
Playing mostly special teams the last three seasons, Upshaw entered the contest against the Demon Deacons with 12 career tackles in 26 career games.
But on Saturday night, after logging only 41 defensive snaps all of last season, the fifth-year senior was on the field for 36 snaps against Wake Forest and took advantage of the playing time, recording four tackles including 1.5 for loss and one sack to go with a pass breakup and quarterback pressure.
“I think it’s a good start,” Upshaw said of his breakout performance. “I’ve been grinding for a long time, and it was a good start for our first game. Nowhere (near) where I want to be just yet. I’ll continue to put in the work, and we’ll see what we do next week.”
An original walk-on, Upshaw redshirted his first season at Clemson in 2016 and has been biding his time over the last several years, working hard while waiting for the opportunity to contribute – an opportunity he envisioned would come in due time.
Upshaw, now playing at defensive end, believed he would eventually have the chance to earn a bigger role on the defense, though it wasn’t always easy for him to maintain that positive mindset.
“My journey’s been a wild one,” Upshaw said. “I’ve been here grinding for a long time. This is my fifth year, and I think more than anything, it’s hard to keep that same mind state that you have when you first get here because you have all the excitement. But to continue to put in work year in and year out, and not necessarily getting the results right away, I think it builds a toughness and it builds a will.
“I know what my mind state is like, and more importantly, in this whole journey I’ve found out who I am. And I’ll continue to keep coming even if I’m not getting what I necessarily want and hold on to my vision that I had in the beginning.”
A year after playing on the scout team as a senior in 2019, Upshaw is now listed as the third-team defensive end on Clemson’s depth chart behind starter K.J. Henry and backup Myles Murphy.
Because he expected to emerge as a contributor for the Tigers, Upshaw isn’t surprised to be in the position he is in today, especially after working so hard to get there.
“This journey, it doesn’t feel like a surprise – it feels like a part of the journey,” he said. “Everything I’m doing now, I definitely have envisioned, and I’m just going to keep working, man. I’ve got a lot of big goals I want to accomplish this year, and it’s a good start. It’s a good start.”
Upshaw comes from an athletic family. His father, Regan Upshaw Sr., was the No. 12 overall selection in the 1996 NFL Draft by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and played nine seasons in the league for five teams. His brother, Taylor, is a junior defensive lineman at Michigan.
Despite the football bloodlines, Upshaw’s parents didn’t let him play football when he was younger, so he played rugby and hockey growing up. In fact, it wasn’t until Upshaw was in high school that he happened to draw the attention of Clemson’s football staff.
The Bradenton, Fla., native traveled with his family to take his sister to a camp in Brevard, N.C., and they decided to stop by Clemson’s campus. That’s when his father witnessed one of Dabo Swinney’s football camps, was impressed by it, and his parents asked him if he wanted to participate.
“My dad saw a camp and was like man, ‘I’ve never seen any football coached like this and the love and the passion in it,’” Upshaw recalled. “It was a high school or kids’ camp. And they were like ‘Regan, do you want to go?’ So, that’s how they stumbled upon it. I’m just very happy that they did.”
Upshaw enjoyed playing other sports as a youngster, but in the back of his mind he always wanted to play football, and he is certainly grateful to have gotten the chance to play for the Tigers – an opportunity he continues to make the most of in his fifth year with the program.
“It’s crazy that my parents just happened to drive by the camp and that opportunity came up,” Upshaw said. “I don’t even know how I got noticed at that camp, I’ll be honest with you. It’s so funny, I just think it was destined, and I’m thankful that I got the opportunity, for sure.”
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