It can be difficult to generate excitement within a team and its fan base when an opponent from the Football Championship Subdivision level is up next on the schedule.
For Clemson, that won’t be the case Saturday.
The enthusiasm won’t be geared toward the Tigers’ game against South Carolina State as much as it will be the environment surrounding it inside Memorial Stadium. Because, for the first time in a long time, things will be much closer to normal.
“This is something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
There will still be reminders of the coronavirus pandemic that’s still prevalent across the country. Clemson, in partnership with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, will be offering free vaccinations at facilities near the stadium on game days. Fans are also encouraged to wear masks inside the stadium when not eating and drinking as part of the school’s gameday operations (though they’re not required), and the fans’ traditional Gathering at the Paw following home wins still isn’t being permitted just yet.
But, unlike last season, there won’t be any restrictions on attendance. Capacity at Memorial Stadium was limited to 19,000 fans at each home game a season ago, or roughly 23% of the stadium’s 81,500 seats. Saturday will mark the Tigers’ first time playing in front of a home crowd at full capacity since a 52-3 win over Wake Forest game on Nov. 16, 2019.
Tailgating will return to a more traditional experience for fans with parking lots set to open at 8 a.m. for Saturday’s game, which starts at 5 p.m. Should any future home games kick off prior to 3:30 p.m., the lots will open at 6 a.m.
And the team will continue its entrance onto the field by running down the hill like always. Freshman offensive lineman Marcus Tate said that’s something he’s been looking forward to ever since he watched the pregame tradition in person when he visited as a recruit for the Tigers’ game against Texas A&M in 2019, even if he’s still debating how much flare he wants to add to his jog.
“My adrenaline was through the roof then, so I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like this Saturday,” Tate said. “I don’t know. I might make a little jump. I’m not really fearful of anything, so I’ll jump if it seems right.”
For all of Clemson’s first- and second-year players, it will be their first time taking part in it in front of a packed house.
“I think that’s one of the huge reasons why I’m so excited for this game,” freshman running back Will Shipley said. “Just running down that hill with all those fans, it’s going to be crazy. I get chills just talking about it.
“I really don’t have too many words other than I know that feeling is going to be something I can tell my kids about. It’s going to be awesome.”
Clemson’s coaches and players got a taste of normalcy last week when 74,187 fans packed into Bank of America Stadium to watch Clemson play Georgia to a 10-3 loss in Charlotte. Swinney said that environment was one of the best aspects about the Tigers’ season opener.
“It was awesome. It really was awesome,” Swinney said. “The roar of the crowd, the pageantry and the ebbs and flows that came with it were really just great to have back in the game,” Swinney said. “I’m excited for our guys to be able to experience Death Valley these next couple of weeks that we’re going to be here. It’s going to be a great experience and great opportunity for everyone.”
Once the game starts, Clemson will take a break in action to honor assistant coach and former running back C.J. Spiller for his pending induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. Saturday will also be First Responders Day on the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
It will all be part of a game day at Clemson that many inside and outside of the program have been eagerly anticipating for a while.
“I know it’s going to be a great day here,” Swinney said. “Our young men are super excited about going out, playing and hopefully playing our best game and building upon that.”
Football season has finally arrived. Time to represent your Tigers and show your stripes!