I'll have interviews with Clemson coaches and players on Saturday at 10 am PST. The press conference with Dabo and Nick Saban is Sunday morning, and I'll have my preview and prediction, What We Are Hearing, posted by Monday afternoon. Stay tuned!
Just finished with interviews, guys. Dabo told me he's going to try to watch a little of Deshaun, Nuk, Reader and the Texans in their playoff game today. I also got some great stuff from Venables, Tony Elliott, Todd Bates and more. I'll have the videos posted in a bit. Stay tuned!
Having some issues with the WiFi, guys. I'll have videos up as soon as I can!
What would be your move in the WWE?
DABO: I don't know, maybe jump off the ropes and takedown or something.
Excited about the game?
DABO: Oh, yeah, this is – I just saw my first tumbleweed. I've never seen a tumbleweed in my entire life. We don't have tumbleweeds in Alabama or South Carolina. We're coming down the road on a bus, and this huge, like, ball of sticks, that's the only way I can – just comes right at the bus. I'm like, what the heck is that? He's like, that's a tumbleweed. I thought those were just in like Road Runner or the movies or something.
But unbelievable. I literally just saw my first tumbleweed. I have not spent any time of my life in this area, so this is pretty cool. It's neat for our guys, too, to land. Yesterday was beautiful, so to land and to see all the mountains, just the beauty that this area has to offer, especially flying in, we got to see the snowcapped mountains and then all of a sudden there was no snow, and then it was flat, and then it looked like Mars with moguls, and then it was farmland. It was just like all this unique terrain coming out here. Just a fascinating country and world that we live in.
(Inaudible.) Yeah, I actually talked to David last night. He couldn't come. His wife is going to come over to the game and hang out with Kath. But he's flying out – our coaches' convention is going on at the same time, so that's really the only time – and I really don't know where I am, but apparently I'm only like 20 minutes from Palo Alto, but we came in here and spent the night with them and went to dinner. He showed us around Stanford, and then he took us down to San Francisco, and he toured us and we had like a three-hour tour. It was awesome. It was awesome. It was just – it was fascinating, just the streets, and he took us down the I think it's either the crookedest street or steepest street, and he took us and showed us the pier area and Alcatraz and went over to the old military base right on the water. It was neat. It's a very unique part of the country for sure.
Is everybody healthy and here?
DABO: Yeah, everybody is here, and a good healthy week of practice and ready to go.
We talk to you about Alabama every single time we see you. Talk about your up bringing, your family, and then your relationship moving on to the University of Alabama and how it instilled in you where you are today? Were you covering when I was playing high school ball?
I've been there forever. That's what I thought. See, I recognize a couple of faces. Yeah, it's just amazing, it really is. It's just – I'm so proud of where I come from. I never say I'm from Birmingham. I was born in Birmingham. I was born at South Highlands Hospital and grew up in West End. I literally lived right behind West End High School until I was four, four and a half, and then my mom and dad, I guess this little bitty town in the middle of nowhere at the time, Pelham, no interstate or anything, long way to Pelham from Birmingham, I guess some houses were popping up and cheap and that kind of stuff, so it was kind of a – we moved out to Pelham. But my grandmother lived right off 20th street in Ensley her whole life, so I grew up going to Birmingham all the time, up in Ensley, cutting my grandmother's yard and hanging out up there. Technically I was born in Birmingham, but I was raised in Pelham. I will always consider that home. Even though Pelham has changed, there's I-65 going through it now, and we've got some – we even have an amphitheater now in Pelham, it's still home, and I've still got a lot of friends there.
That's what shaped me. That's all I can say. I mean, I think that we're all shaped from and by our experiences of life, and for me, growing up in Pelham and going to Valley and River Chase and Pelham High School and being around all my coaches and Billy Tohill and Jim Backus and Paul Kellogg and Coach Crook and Jim Phillips and all that crew and all the great teachers that I had, those people are the ones who really shaped me and helped fuel a belief in me. I was always the shortstop, always the point guard. I was the captain. But I had a belief in all those things because of the teachers and the coaches that put me in leadership roles early on, and I just had this drive, and I know that came from my experiences with my family and all the people who helped shape me, Mayor Hayes, who's coming out here. He's going to be here today. So it was a special journey, and for me, I ended up at Alabama, I had some opportunities. I remember my basketball coach called me in his office. He's still mad at me to this day because Coach Kellogg, he thought I was a really good basketball player, and I think I was pretty good, too, but he wanted me to play college basketball. He felt like – he had some people that were interested, and he was like, are you going to do this or am I just wasting my time, and I'm like – I said, coach, you're wasting your time. I'm going to Alabama. Once I realized that I could go to Alabama, I didn't know that I could go to school. I thought I was going to have to go a JuCo route and either play baseball or play basketball or go to a smaller school and play football. I thought that was going to be the route I was going to have to go until one of my counselors told me that I would qualify for what was called a Pell Grant. I didn't know what a Pell Grant was, and I didn't know how to do student loans. I had no clue. I had no collegiate background in my family of how to do that type of stuff.
So once I found that out, I'm like, man, I'm going to Alabama. That was my dream as a kid and so that's what I did. So I moved to Alabama in the summer of '88, moved into a little apartment, and got any student loans, got my Pell Grants, and ended up being there until spring of '01. I went there when I was 18, I left when I was 31. So Tuscaloosa was also a huge part of shaping me, the experiences I had as a student-athlete, the challenges, again, the drive, going into the walk-on program with Rich Wingo and Terry Jones and surviving that to get a chance to be a part of the team and chase my dream and the relationships that I developed.
And then just the success, you know, little goals, make the team, make a travel squad, make a road travel squad, get in a game, get in the rotation, make some plays, get started on special teams. It was just all – make all-conference academic, and all those type of things. All those goals that I had from the structure of my time as a student-athlete and the people who poured into me and the men that believed in me and gave me an opportunity from Tommy Bowden and Bill Curry when I first got there, Terry Jones, Rich Wingo, to Woody McCorvey and Gene Stallings, Homer Smith, all these folks, and then just talked to Coach Stallings yesterday before I flew out here. I was going to work, you know, I finished up, I'm getting ready to take a job, and he's like, you need to get a masters. You start in July. You're going to be a GA for me.
So the next thing I know, I'm coaching.
But to me, I think when you're seeking God's guidance for your life, when you're seeking God to order your steps, he will order those steps. He will put the right people in your path and open the right doors, and sometimes what our plan is – because we have the greatest plans of all time as people, but God's plans is always different, it's always perfect, and it's always sometimes very surprising. And so for me, I didn't go to college to be a coach. I went to be a doctor and I was going to run a hospital, and get my MBA and go do my thing, and in '93 Coach wanted me to be a GA, and just like that I had the clarity of my life on this is what I'm supposed to do, this is my calling, and this is why my journey has been the way it's been since I was a little kid because God was shaping me and preparing me for what I'm doing right now.
And so that's just how I look at it, and I'm so thankful for all the people and the experiences that I've had along the way, and that's what's brought me here. You know, it's just surreal to be in this situation. It's such a blessing. There's so many young people that never get an opportunity to kind of be a part of something like this, and there's certainly so many great coaches that never get a chance to be a part of this. And so for me to do it as a player and now my third time as a coach, to experience – I mean, it's just so cool to be able to compete at the highest level on this type of stage against the very best.
You know, as a kid growing up, that's what you want. You dream about stuff like this, so to actually be able to live it, man, I'm just so thankful. I prayed that this morning. I'm just thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of it, and I don't take it for granted. I just have such a great appreciation for how hard it is, and for how hard it is for so many people to come together with a common purpose. It's just – it's indescribable.
But it all starts with a belief, and for me, that belief started as a little kid in Pelham, Alabama, a belief in myself and a belief in a future and a hope in a future that was greater than my present circumstances. I always had that, and that's what's driven me my whole life.
It seems like you and Nick genuinely like each other and maybe even are closer now than you were when you played four years ago. For people that don't understand the dynamics of coaches, how does that work when you're competing against each other for high-stakes stuff?
DABO: Well, a couple things. I think first of all, coaches more than anybody really understand what it takes and how hard it is and how just small the margin for error is. So I think most – there's very few coaches that haven't lost. We've all been on both sides of it, and I think we can have a great appreciation for success but also failure, as well, and what comes with both.
But I think the biggest thing, also, is how hard it is to have consistency. We're two programs that have been the most consistent over the last probably nine years, I guess, eight or nine years, and I think that I have a great respect for what he's been able to do, and I think he has grown in that with us. I don't think he knew where Clemson was when he came to Alabama, to be quite honest with you, and he dang sure didn't know who I was and I didn't know who he was. We had never met. I don't think we got off to a very good start because he offered me a job when he first came to Alabama, but I didn't know him, and I didn't take the job. I don't know that we got off to a good start there, and never even met.
I don't know, maybe a year or so later, I'm the head coach at Clemson as an interim, and then I get the job, and so that spring, spring of '09 was the first time I was kind of around him at kind of a head coach function type deal, and so that's kind of when we started to get to know each other a little bit differently, and then some different events with the Rise program in Tuscaloosa and then obviously having to compete against each other, and then lo and behold he buys a place down – I'm the only guy on this island that knows anything about college football, I've got kind of my own little world down there, just quiet, nobody is there, go down there, and then all crap breaks loose, Nick Saban buys a place. So I'm on the south end, he's on the north end. So he buys this place down there, and so that really kind of took our relationship to a more personal level as opposed to professional because now every time we see each other that's what we talk about, when are you going down to the island. And then when we are there, overlap, we're eating burgers together, going out on his boat, we've played golf.
So we always have a bet on this game whenever we have played. Been on the losing end of that a couple times, a little dinner place down there that we both really like. But it's a very small little place, but it's just interesting because you've got one little grocery and one little pizza – we're like competing for wall space to claim Clemson dominance and you've got Alabama stuff down there. So it's kind of neat.
So that took our relationship to a little more of a personal level and gave us something else to talk about other than football.
I asked him, do you talk about the game you just played when you're down there. He said you don't –. Yeah, we talk about – not usually when we're there, but usually when I see him from time to time right after the game, usually it's at the Senior Bowl or something like that we might have a few comments, but typically we'll move on. It is what it is, you know. Again, we both know that this is a game that both teams worked so hard to get to and there's going to be a winner and there's going to be a loser, and when it's over, guess what, you start over for next year, and that's the way it is. You don't get to carry it over. You enjoy it in the moment and then you move on to the next one.
But it's been great getting to know him. It's literally like competing against John Wooden. The guy is unbelievable. It's unbelievable what they've been able to do year in and year out, and the dominance that they've had.
We're lucky that we've won one, you know. We had a chance in that first one and just – they made a few more plays than we did, but maybe we can find a way to win this one and have a little bit of a rubber match against them.
How is getting ready for this year's match compared to those previous two?
DABO: You know, I think I've just probably enjoyed this maybe more than any other season, any other time. I think in '15, it was so new, and I was kind of as a coach learning a lot about it and just the planning and all the logistics involved and how I need to practice my team. The timing of it was different, too. The actual schedule and amount of prep time has changed. My first year we were also in school, and that was a weird dynamic for me. They were not in school, we were in school, and it was just a lot of different things that we were juggling. And it was kind of a blur, to be honest with you.
'16, that team, it was almost like that whole season everybody just wanted to hit fast forward, like okay, can we just get there, we know where we're going, can we just get there, and it doesn't work that way. And I thought that team – that was a little more of a grind. But once we got there, they were ready, and we won the game, whereas this year it's almost like we've hit pause a lot, and like man, this is really cool. Let's enjoy this journey, and I think that's to me, personally, has been the biggest difference. I have just really enjoyed this team, the preparation, just the mundane, day-to-day stuff that comes with getting ready and just being around these guys.
I mean, this is an incredible group of young people. I mean, I told them the other day, I can't wait to see what these guys do – 20 years from now when I'm old and we can get together for one of these reunions or something, I can't wait to see what they do in life. I mean, this is an amazing group of young people. They won the AFCA academic award, first time, and 66 guys make a 3.0 or better. Just the focus, the leadership, the commitment, and just their appreciation for the journey has really made it a joyful season for me.
Can you just talk about Nolan Turner?
DABO: Yeah, it's amazing, I always tell people, as a person of faith, I just think God's hand is on everything, I really do. We weren't going to sign Nolan. So after that first National Championship Game in Arizona, we had four juniors leave, DB's, because we weren't recruiting DB's, I didn't have any spots for DB's. And all of a sudden I've got four guys go and I got two weeks to recruit, so we got Isaiah Simmons, we got Trayvon Mullen and we got K'Von Wallace and I didn't know any of them until about 10 days before signing day, and all three are starters for us. And then I called – I said, let me go back and let me look at Nolan Turner because we didn't have a scholarship. So now I'm looking for guys and we're looking at all these guys, and I watched this tape, and I'm like, man, this guy is – I called Buddy Anderson, who I've known forever, and his exact words to me, and he's coached a million player at Vestavia, and he said, Coach, this is as good a player as I've ever had. I don't understand what people are missing and why. And I said, well, that's all I needed to hear because I watched his tape. I mean, this guy is twitchy, he's fast, he's instinctive, he's got ball skills, he's tough, and obviously he's got the genetics. He's got the DNA. I know what he's made of. So I took his film down to show Brent, and I didn't even tell Brent who he was, hey, what do you think about this kid. He's like, hey, he's good, who is he? I'm like, that's all I need to hear. I told Buddy, hey, I'm coming down tomorrow, and he thought I was going to come and try to get him to walk on.
So I called Kevin, and Kevin was his dad, and so his dad put him on speaker phone, and that was a pretty cool moment, and he was just so proud. Of course Kevin still texts, and I could almost see the tears on the text, of joy, knowing that Nolan was going to have this opportunity and he was going to be around people that were going to love him and people that would be family to him.
So I was a teammate of KT's, Lemanski Hall was a teammate of KT's, Mickey Conn was a teammate of KT's, Thad Turnipseed was a teammate, Woody McCorvey was a coach, Danny Pearman was a coach, J. C. Chalk is Gene Stallings' grandson. So it's just amazing some of the – how it's all come together. But we've had our arms around Nolan and kind of through his walk, and man, he has just blossomed and he's growing into a great man, and he's going to be a great – he's already a great football player, but he's just a sophomore, and last year as a redshirt freshman at Louisville, he tackled Lamar Jackson in the red zone, solo tackled, by himself, 99 percent of the time you're not tackling Lamar Jackson one-on-one for a touchdown, and he tackles him in the only field.
And I remember right then, I went, all right, boys, ol' Nolan, he's coming.
So now another year, he's like 212 pounds, his body is just – every time I look at him, to be honest with you, I feel like I'm back in 1989 because he looks exactly like KT. I know KT is just having a big ol' time up there in heaven. I know he's just as proud as he can be, and to see Nolan have that big play in the Cotton Bowl, and now the opportunity to – the first time we played in the National Championship was his freshman year. He was redshirted. And then obviously last year we didn't get here, but to be able to play Alabama in the National Championship, for that kid, you just – it's just, what a moment. It's really cool to see how it's all worked out.
Deshaun will be making his first NFL playoff start in a few hours. A few more players of yours, Nuk Hopkins, D.J. Reader, will also be playing. Will you be able to watch any of that?
DABO: What time is it? I'm so messed up on my clock, I – the ol' Timex, I have to switch it back three hours. What time do they play? 1:30? I might see bits and pieces of it in between meetings, and we go to practice. But I certainly will keep up – all those guys are coming out, so they're all going to be at the game and excited to see them for sure.
With the season Deshaun has had, do you think your comparisons, like the one you made to Michael Jordan, will be met with less incredulity than they were?
DABO: Oh, I don't know. I'm not looking for validation. That's what I believe. I believe what I believe. I don't need anybody to validate me. I just think he's an amazing human being and he's an incredible quarterback, and I mean, he's really not doing anything any different than he's done his whole life. He's just being Deshaun Watson, and I don't have any doubts you'll see the best version of him tonight or this afternoon, whatever it is his time. You'll see him, he'll be prepared, he'll play with his heart, he'll play with toughness and guts and courage, and he'll be a great leader, and he'll be inspirational with the guys around him and he'll battle until the last second no matter what happens. If he wins, he'll move on to the next one, and if he loses, he'll be the first guy getting ready for next year. That's just how he's wired.
You said that Trevor is beyond his years as far as maturity, but will you feel the need to say anything to him before this game?
DABO: Oh, yeah, yeah. I'll definitely sit down and have a little talk with him. But he's an easy guy to have a conversation with because his mindset and his maturity and his focus is very rare for anybody.
What's the message that you want him – Well, it'll be between he and I, but the main thing is, again, just be who he is, and the same thing that won those other 14 games win this game. It's just football, and he's really good at football, so he just needs to be who he is and don't make it bigger than it is. And again, there's pressure on everybody, but I think the important thing is don't allow the pressure to exceed the pleasure of the moment.
It's really –
(Inaudible question about Joe Ngata)?
DABO: Yeah, I can actually talk about him since he signed with us. It's huge. He's a great player. He's a very skilled receiver, big body that's going to develop tremendously when he gets into college, awesome family, great fit for our culture at Clemson, very dynamic young player. He's one of those guys that he'll be like a Christian Wilkins. He's got amazing mind and leadership abilities. I mean, he is an incredibly well-rounded young person that I think will impact our community and impact a lot of people's lives through the platform of college football. He's so much more than just a good receiver, but I can't wait to get him a part – he's actually moving to Clemson tomorrow, so all those guys move in – he and Frank Ladson are out in the Army game, and I think it's the Army game, San Antonio, so he's out there – they're out there playing ball and they're moving to Clemson tomorrow, they're excited about it. They'll have a big watch party. But for me personally, it's my first recruit from California, so that's pretty neat to get my first guy from out here. I got a chance to go to Folsom. I had never been to Folsom. That was a neat experience a few weeks ago, flying out and getting to see the town and meet the coaches and all that. We're excited about him.
Finished the season with back-to-back state championships. Does that help at all?
DABO: Absolutely, yeah. That's one of the things for me I love to do in recruiting is go visit everyone, because I like to see where they're coming from, the culture they're coming from because they're going to bring that with them. Sometimes it helps you when you go, and maybe it's not a great culture, he's a great kid, great player, but it helps me to kind of understand where I need to meet him to help get him where we need him to get. As opposed to you've got a kid that's coming from a lot of structure, a great culture, all those things. It helps me navigate, because I think that's our job as coaches is to not expect them to meet us where we are. We've got to go meet them right where they are and bring them along to help them achieve their potential.
You talked about what you believe a minute ago. Is Clemson at the level of Alabama regardless of what happens tomorrow night?
DABO: Well, I don't think there's any question that we're as good a program as there is in the country. I mean, it's hard to say we're at the level of Alabama because they've won, what, six National Championships in the last few years. I mean, we've got to win – this is a great match-up. It's a heavyweight fight, but for it to be a true rivalry, we've got to win a few. There's no doubt about that. They've been the best. But program-wise, consistency-wise, year in and year out, there's no doubt where they are. But we're kind of the new kid on the block. This is our third National Championship appearance now in four years, so I think that certainly validates our level of consistency. But we've still got a little ways to go. We're proud members of the roy bus. I think Stephen A said it best. He said, it's Alabama five, four, three, two, one, and then it's everybody else. So we're like sixth, so we're working our way there. But I think for sure we've been the two most consistent programs in all of the country. We've just got to finish the deal a few more times.
You know Alabama, you know the personnel, Coach Saban. What does it do to your preparation when you have two individuals that you have to prepare for?
DABO: Does it add more complexly or the fact that you know them so well, is it just standard operating procedure?Yeah, standard operating procedure. We're very familiar with Alabama, same bat channel, different bat day, I guess, bat time, or whatever. I mean, they're phenomenal on defense, no different. You just turn the page, whatever year. They're great on defense. You can pick little things here or there. They're great on defense. They're built in the trenches. The biggest difference for them this year is just the explosiveness on offense. This is by far the best version of them we've seen offensively. I mean, it's unbelievable. And we're a lot alike, dynamic quarterbacks, explosive skill, explosive run game, built through the run game in the play action and those type of things. So we're very similar in that way. But for us, we have a great understanding of who they are, but you've got to stop it. They're not going to come in here and do something that they don't do. It's just stopping it is – it's the challenge. It has been for other people with us. We've been two really difficult teams to handle offensively, but yeah, they've got two thoroughbreds at quarterback. Jalen Hurts is a great player, and what you saw in the SEC Championship game, I mean, he won the game. He made three throws that very few people make, and he made them under pressure with tight coverage, and he created to make a couple of those plays. It's a big challenge for sure, but we've just got to focus on what we need to do to stop what they do, regardless of who's playing quarterback.
We've seen these high-profile quarterback situations, Clemson, Alabama, Georgia. We'll probably see more of them moving on in the future. What are some of the keys to managing that success?
DABO: Same thing we've done for 10 years. We start over every year, and you've got to earn it every year. There's really no different. Just because you were the best player last year doesn't mean you're the best player this year. You don't get to carry over anything. That's just the culture of our program, the philosophy of our program. It doesn't matter if you're a walk-on or fifth-year senior, you've got to prove it every year. When I start my meetings every year, I tell Cleveland, Cleveland congratulations. You had a great year last year. You were an All-American, I'm so proud of you. Guess what: You don't carry that over. You've got to prove that you deserve to be the starter this year, and then I'll tell you your job is to try to beat him out. So that's just the culture we have, and our guys know that.
That's why Hunter Renfrow started as a redshirt freshman walk-on because he was the best player, he earned it, and we had five-star receivers on the sideline. Christian Wilkins came in and started as a true freshman. He beat some veterans out. He was the best player. Deshaun Watson came in and started as a true freshman. He beat a veteran player out.
Just because you're a veteran or maybe you had a good year last year, that doesn't mean that you automatically are – it's kind of a starting point, but you have to prove it and earn it every day.
For us, it's no different. Regardless whether it's the quarterback position, kicker position, line position, receivers, you prove it every year.
How do you manage to keep depth there, though, with now transfer rules and quarterbacks being a little different? You talked about it last summer, there can only be one on the field at a time. Do you worry about keeping that quarterback room stocked up now that we have the new transfer rules?
DABO: Well, I think you worry about that at every position, but that's just the nature of it, so you'd better go recruit, and it's relationships. I think that you have to be able to develop relationships with your players and be able to articulate a clear vision for each individual, not only what your goal for your team is but also for them individually for sure, and you have to as a coach create the buy-in into that.
But at the end of the day, guys are going to come and go and they're going to do – I'm happy. Listen, we had quarterbacks leave this year, and Hunter Johnson, who is going to – he's one of the best kids I've ever met, and we have a great relationship, we still text each other, he's one of the best families I've ever known, and he's at Northwestern, and he's going to do phenomenal. So that's what he needed to do for himself. I didn't want him to leave, but that's what he felt like he needed to do. He loved his time at Clemson. We have a tremendous relationship. Zaire Cooper, I just talked to him the other day, called to tell him happy birthday. He just set records at Jacksonville State this year. Man, I'm so happy for him. I love my guys.
So it's relationship, it's being on the same page, it's – I want to help them if that's what they want to do. And so we've had some guys come and go, but at the end of the day, my job is to recruit the very best player. I'm not trying to go recruit the backup. I mean, let me go recruit five backups. I want to recruit the very best player each year, year in and year out, and then competition drives everything in your program when you're fair.
So that's no different for anybody else. You've just got to do a good job in your evaluation, and we've got a great quarterback coming in in January, Chase Brice is phenomenal. Chase Brice is a quarterback that will play in the NFL one day. He's on a path, his developmental path is right on track. This is going to be – he's a really good player. I see him every day in practice, what this kid can do. He's already won a game for us this year, and he's going to have more opportunity along his journey to play. He played in a bunch of games, got some experience, but all those guys, you've just got to deal with it. Nothing you can do.
Talking about Alabama, you guys, the programs seem very similar, there's maybe an eyelash difference, but you understand the element of the significance. Clemson obviously won a title in '81; do you have a sense of how unique this group's rise is to become a power like that?
DABO: To have that staying power – I don't think there's any question that we are unique. We are very unique. Alabama is Alabama; I mean, the tradition that they have with Coach Bryant and – I mean, and what he was able to do, I mean, the 60s, the 70s, and there was a little lull in the 80s, but they were still Alabama and the tradition and the brand. Whereas Clemson, we kind of had that one little run there in the 80s, and that's kind of when I got the job, everybody talked about the 80s, the 80s, the 80s, and everybody was I think living back in the day. And I'm like, man, we've got to – we can build our own program, and that's really what I wanted to do when I got the job. I didn't want to build a program, I wanted to buReply
You've mentioned Christian Wilkins a couple times. Taking away what he does on the field, what's the impact he's had on your program?
DABO: Yeah, it's really hard to put into words. He just won the Campbell Trophy, so I've never had anybody win the Campbell Trophy, top student-athlete in all of college football. Every semester of his entire collegiate career – and he's got a Master's Degree, too – he's never made below a 3.0. His impact, not just what he does on the field but how he handles himself academically, socially, spiritually, how he serves his teammates, the example he sets, he's an outside the box kind of a guy in so many ways, how he's responded to things along the way, whether it's been criticisms or whatever it may be. He's impacted our team because everybody pays attention to your superstar, so to speak. He's not your typical guy. I mean, this is a guy – I always joke, he's going to either be the President of the United States or he'll be really good friends with him. He's just one of those people that is going to – I can't wait to watch him in life. And he has so much fun living his life. Like he enjoys practice. I've never been around a guy that enjoys practice more than Christian Wilkins, all of it. And so those are things that I think he's impacted so many other guys with, much more than the plays that he's made on the field.
He's talking about he was doing this substitute teaching work, and he kind of prefers the kindergarten – is that the kind of a guy you –
DABO: Absolutely. You'll hear him say he kind of thought he was going to go in there and impact these little kindergartners and he was more impacted by them, just their genuineness and sincerity, and they don't know who he is, and they don't care. But just the pureness of a child, I think he really took a lot from that and helped him just kind of keep his feet on the ground and give him a perspective that I think is unique for a guy in his situation.
You had Deshaun, a lot of people would consider him a once-in-a-lifetime quarterback. What was the moment in practice with Trevor where you realized, hey, I've got another one? The day he got there, literally. The first day, because we have a lot of stuff that we install – as a coach you have a plan for what we call installation, day one install, day two, day three, day four, day five, and you're trying to teach everyone your system, et cetera. His ability to absorb everything, first of all, so his mind, but then first day his skill on the field and watching how he just – he didn't look like a freshman, and that's exactly how Deshaun was. The biggest difference was Deshaun was about 180 when he got there in January and Trevor was probably 205, 6'6", so physically he was a little bit ahead. But just his demeanor, his poise, his ability to absorb the playbook, I knew pretty early, man, this kid is going to be special.
How much have you thought about the experience that you and Will and Drew might get to share Monday night? Yeah, I've thought about it a lot, and it's one of those things I constantly remind myself of. It's just little things. Like I just – I want to take a picture with them on the field, because I know that those are things 20 years from now that I'm going to cherish more than anything. It's just unique for me to be able to have this experience with my kids. They've grown up a part of it, and to see them now out there grinding every day and doing their part, it's special. I mean, as a father, it's just so special. And it's helped me, I think, really engage with my team even more because man, these are somebody's kid, and I know the love that I have for my own children. So it's been special for me to experience that with them, and to see Kath and – we're just trying to just love every second of it and not be distracted by things that don't matter but just enjoy the journey.
There are a couple more instances like that on this team, Coach Venables and Jake, the Davis brothers and Jeff. When you talk about family, you've got a lot of it. Yeah, Coach Stallings, him having a grandson on our team. He was at practice last week at the Cotton Bowl, and Brad has got, Jeff has got – it's special. It really is. We live family. We are family. So I've loved every second of it. And I was talking to Jeff yesterday, the whole narrative in the Davis household has a chance to change because Jeff Davis has kind of been the man for a long time, and he's got that – now he's got that one National Championship, now his twin boys have a chance to get two. They're twins, and everything comes in pairs with twins, so hopefully they can bring it home.
When you look back at that Syracuse game, what do you remember from that game the most, and how proud are you how this team –Yeah, there's no team that's going to get here and not have some adversity or challenge along the way, and that was a lot of the challenge and adversity for us. Sometimes it can be injuries or things like that, but that was a tough moment for our team. But it was a galvanizing moment. Not just that game but that whole week, because obviously we had dealt with some challenge and some distractions and things like that, and to see our team just really kind of flex their muscles and show their heart, and to see how we had to play in the run game and how our defense had to step up in the second half to kind of allow Chase to kind of settle in, and then for Chase Brice, that 4th-and-6 throw that he made, and then coming back and the run that he made to put us down there to set up the score was awesome, and that's kind of been a huge part of this team's story for this year.
Regardless of what happens Monday night, hopefully we can win the game and that's a great part of it. But regardless, man, that's going to be always remembered as one of the biggest moments in this great season we've had.
What's your favorite meal?
Smoking pig. Are you going to ask me how I like my hot dog? Chili dog, mustard only. This is Joey Chestnut, wow.
What would be your favorite meal?
What kind of tone does faith set in your football program?
Well, I don't know, other than I think you've just got to be who you are, and I think being transparent and authentic with the people that you're around every day is always the best way to be. Hopefully I can be a good example to all those around me, through how I try to live my life.
Does it ever clash with a recruit or a player?
No, I think, again, at the end of the day, nobody comes not knowing who you are. I think that everyone accepts each other and what their beliefs are, and to each his own in that regard.
Todd Bates is a great football coach and he's a guy that I kind of had my eye on for a while. He worked my camp. So when I had Dan Brooks retire, me and Hobby went to the Jags, I was able to hire him from Jacksonville State, and he's just done a phenomenal job. He's a great man, family man. I hire people first. That's what I always say, I recruit people first. I hire people first. Coaches second. So he's a great man, great father, great young coach, and got a bright future for sure, but he's done an unbelievable job in impacting us in his own way his first couple seasons.
Yeah, actually talked to the team about that last night. It's really kind of unique, I guess he passed in June, and he actually called me not long before that, and I had sent him a jersey, and I kept his voicemail. I couldn't delete it because he was – it took him a while to get the message out, but he was so appreciative of that jersey. I mean, here's a guy who's got Super Bowl rings and you name it, and he was talking about how he couldn't wait to frame that jersey and put it up in his office and how he still roots for his Tigers. So it's just kind of neat that we're getting ready to play in a stadium that I think probably has a statue out there of him. So we've got a couple things involved that I think will be special for our team.
Well, I'd say that they are the exact same defensively, just all three levels, amazing, physical, well-coached. You've just got to fight for every inch of grass. Every play is contested. Just no different. They've always got some freak inside like that No. 92 that you just go, oh, my Lord. That's no different. The biggest difference is this is by far the best version of the Alabama offense that we've seen in our matches with them. I mean, these guys are – they scored 47 a game, we scored 44 a game, we've had 33 plays of 40 plus, they've had 30. So they're just explosive. Skill, dynamic quarterback, incredible backs, built in the trenches. So this is the biggest challenge we've had from an Alabama offense.
I think we're about mirror images. I think this is probably the – this is the most veteran team that I've had in this game, and I think it's the deepest team that I've had, from a depth standpoint. We've got a true freshman quarterback. Haven't had that. But he's dynamic. He's a playmaker. He's got great skill around him. This is the best rushing team that we've brought into this game. I think we're top 10 in the country in rushing. So I think this is probably our most balanced group. And then defensively as good as we've had in this game for sure.
Can you talk about Trevor's poise on and off the field and how it impresses you? Yeah, I think it makes him unique. There's a lot of things that make quarterbacks great. Certainly size, the measurables, athletic ability, arm talent, accuracy, ability to process things. But I think one of the more underrated things is poise and demeanor. He's just special, you know, when it comes to that. He just is always the same, how he responds to great plays, how he responds to a bad play. He's really very special in that regard.
What did you think of Christian (indiscernible)?
Yeah, I thought it was pretty Christian Wilkins-like. That's just kind of how he's wired. He's always going to be the opposite of what you think. I mean, he just – you think, all right, here's a guy, he's got his degree, he's done, he's coming back for his last year, he's just going to take basket weaving for a semester and go pro. No, no, he's getting his Master's Degree, oh, and by the way, because he's got less time he wants to go substitute teach kindergartners. Who does that? But that's Christian. That's how he's wired. Very apropos for him.
I don't think it influenced my way of running our program. He didn't come in – when he came in, I said, hey, I don't need you to come in here and change this program. We are who we are. You need to kind of go on a year listening tour because we're very different. But I want you to make us better, and I want you to – so I kind of put him in charge of just helping us from a – I put him in all of our recruiting. I wanted to build a recruiting department. But then more importantly, just facilities. He has this incredible knowledge and gift when it comes to looking at a space and making something great of it. And so he's been an awesome addition for us, and he brings a great edge to our staff. But I mean, our new facility, what we did in the west zone when he got there immediately, what we've done with our new facility, his hands are on all of that, and his ability to drive those things because he has such a great knowledge base from all aspects of the construction and so forth, and then but as he has gotten infused in our program and adjusted to kind of how we run things, he has made us better in so many ways. I mean, he's just been one of the best hires that I've ever made for sure. I'm real proud of that and the impact that he's had on our program.
Yeah, I think he's just kind of caught his breath. I think for all freshmen, they all hit a wall somewhere, because it's a long season, and it's a day in and day outrun, especially for us. You take a guy like Justin Ross, every day he comes to practice he's got to go against Trayvon, Mo, and AJ Terrell, Marvin. I mean, he's not dealt with that. He's not had those days of practice every day. There's just no day off. Every single day you'd better show up or you get exposed. So there's a lot of adjusting that comes with that for these young players, so I think he hit a little wall early, but pushed through it, man, he is as good as we've ever signed, physically, mentally, just gifted ball skills. He's had a huge impact. He made freshman All-American and all that stuff, and he and T have been a great kind of dynamic duo at that 9-man position for us. But you'd best believe there's a lot more coming from that guy. He's going to have a phenomenal career.
It's been an amazing run. Our guys, we've won 54 games, they've won 55. The difference was last year, they got us. I think that this is the way it should be, the two best teams, the two best programs, the most consistent having a chance to kind of battle it out for all the marbles.
I was talking to Woody McCorvey a little bit, and he said that you choose – like in the morning when you meet with your staff, you choose a word, like a message, a word for your players, for your staff, and impart that to your staff and send them about their day. An example of one of those messages and how do you choose them? Well, I choose a word for the year every year, and I will kind of use that, and that's just kind of – that just comes from God. I pray on it, and it's usually a word that just comes into my head and eventually I'm like, this is my word, and I will use that all year, and my word this year was joy. I just wanted to have joy in the moment, you know, and for me, joy comes from when you focus on Jesus, others and yourself, and that's helped me stay focused and keep my priorities in order, and to just have joy in the moment and not let anything steal it. And so I think when you've had the amount of success that we've had, man, and the busyness that comes with it and this and that, you can get so distracted. For me, just keeping the main thing the main thing.
I know that one day I'm not going to be doing this, and I'm going to have opportunities, my kids are going to be grown, and I don't know where I'll be. I'll be out there hanging out with y'all interviewing somebody or whatever, but I just want to – I knew I had this great team, and I just wanted them to have great joy in the moment, just the day-to-day, because that's really what we're made from is the day-to-day, the struggles, the grind, the successes, the relationships that you have along the way with these guys. So I've been intentional with that all year. And then for our staff, we just kind of have a message that actually rotates around the room. So everybody has the opportunity to speak whatever they want to speak to the staff, and then I usually listen to them. And then I will take something from whatever it is on their heart and apply it and then we get on with our business. It's a great way for us to serve each other as men.
I know you've been asked this a ton, but I got to talk to your son, what's that like in practice, you call them dad, and one of them was like, daddy coach. What's that like? Yeah, they just call me dad if they ever need me. But yeah, it's really cool, man. It's been one of the greatest joys of my life to be able to watch my kids, because I know what our program is about, and to know that they're getting that, that my own kids are getting what we've been giving so many other kids for years is awesome to me.
I wanted to ask something a little off topic. Have you thought yet about the fact that Jake's got a chance to win a National Championship and you -- you know, he was there on the front lines watching you do it, and now he's got a chance to do it, and it's another thing you guys can share. Yeah, it is. It's definitely going to be a different experience for him, and certainly I've had an opportunity to really appreciate that. Not talk about it a whole lot with him, but just enjoying the moment together. It is different. It's different for me as much as it is for him as well.
You know, a couple of years ago, when Jamie and Judith did it after their dad Jeff did it, I mean, that must have been a pretty special moment for them too. Have they kind of shared anything about that bond? Absolutely. I know just hearing them talk about it -- dad doesn't have anything on them yet, or now rather, but now they get an opportunity to pull ahead, you know, playing for another one.
I've got to ask a football question. How are you guys going to slow down Tua? It's a great challenge. Ask everybody else that's played him. We've just got to play well collectively and try to limit the explosiveness of what they do and play with discipline and rush lanes and things of that nature. So it's a great, great challenge.
Were you pleased with Albert's performance last week and Nyles and the other guys who came in? Yeah, the people that got in there really did a nice job. Albert just had a completely different -- all of them had a completely different mindset when they knew Dexter wasn't going to be in there. So have a great appreciation for his stick-to-itiveness and his toughness and being ready for the moment and really, really played well.
Who played Tua on the offensive side? Ben Batson did. Ben did great. He can really sling it, and he's very athletic and can run around really well.
A lot has been made about this being your fourth meeting. How different is this compared to the previous games? For me, it's like every year is always different and every game is always different. I've always approached the game from a coaching standpoint and a preparation standpoint that way. Do you have some data to rely on when there's continuity with the opponent? Absolutely. But you look at each year just a little bit different and a life of its own, and certainly that's how we're approaching this.
What they're doing now is -- that's enough, as opposed to worrying about what they've done in the past. But, yeah, they've had a lot of turnover on their staff.
Do you have to tell your players what they saw two years ago might not be the same? Yeah, there's some things they may have had success with a year ago or even two years ago -- I do know that Coach Saban's still involved in every aspect of their program. So I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't have that little Mike Leach sized sheet and says, hey, these are the four things that you make sure you put in the game plan. That's just a courtesy check to see if you've got issues fixed.
What's the biggest challenge when trying to prepare to go against Tua and this Alabama team? It's him. His accuracy, his competitiveness, his athletic ability, his ability to improvise. He's got the best players on the planet around him at every position, and they're two and three deep. They get whoever they want, and they've got them all on their roster right now.
They probably have offered maybe 15 percent of the guys that are on our team and on our side of the ball on defense. I bet you that might be pushing it, maybe a corner, maybe two corners and a D-lineman. After that, they ain't offering any of our guys. Maybe Tre Lamar. I think Tre Lamar too.
So that being said, just they've got great, great skill. They've got great size and physicality up front. And they've got the best of the best across the board -- the tight end that's all world. So that helps too. But Tua in himself is a monster to handle. And just again, his accuracy is just like our guy. Everybody loves Trevor Lawrence, and that's who Tua is. And Trevor's a very good athlete, but I think Tua's a little bit different in some ways, from a mobility standpoint, just different.
With that in mind, how much pressure is on you? I don't -- same pressure that was on me a week ago against Notre Dame and against Georgia Southern or just go down the list of the teams. I don't ever look at this pressure -- to me, my responsibility is to do as good a job as I can to get my guys and my colleagues -- to do my job. I don't have to do anything more or anything less. I'm not going to make up any magical calls. That can certainly put them in a bad position.
But you've got to play with leverage. You've got to get off blocks. You've got to make competitive plays when the ball's in the air. You've got to beat a guy one-on-one in pressure situations. You've got to tackle well. You've got to put your eyes on the right things. Those are what make calls good calls. I've never looked at it that way in my entire career that all of a sudden this game, there's different pressure. Every game you've got a responsibility to do and don't make any more of it than exactly that.
Any part of this experience before that can help you this time around? Maybe for our players. There's a comfort level in who we're seeing and knowing they can compete with them, but that's probably it.
What kind of challenge does Alabama's offense present? All -- all of their receivers. They line them up everywhere -- slot, inside, outside. They're fast. They're explosive. They play so hard. I don't know how -- they don't rotate a ton of guys, but, man, they run their routes so hard and so explosive and catch the ball well. Run away from leverage, go and compete when the ball's in the air. They all play with a dog mentality, just they're going to get after you. Whether they're cracking you in the run game or running a cross country route, man, this is the best of the best that we're facing.
Does this team put more pressure on your defense than anything you've seen? Yeah, I mean, because it's the best group of players we've seen. As I was saying a few minutes ago, they hand pick the best of the best in the United States, and they get most of them. Like I said, they didn't offer many of our guys, so you've got a little bit of -- you know, nobody's feeling sorry for us. Trust me, I get it. But the reality is they offered probably Tre Lamar, maybe both of our corners, A.J. and Trayvon, and then Christian Wilkins. Didn't offer anybody else, none, zero. On the flip side, we recruited a bunch of their guys.
But it is what it is. They've got great skill and great quarterback play. I think that's a big thing too. Every level of football, the quarterback play, it's critical, and this guy can do it all. And then they've got the guys up front in the running backs, they're three deep. It's disgustingly deep. They're just really, really skilled and really confident and very well coached. So you can't just like pick your poison.
It seems to me that the guy that does the best job Monday night getting the quarterback off his spot wins. Yeah, I think -- you know, it's more than just that, but I think disrupting the quarterback and affecting him at the right times is important. Let's face it, we're going to have to play well. You don't show up here and then slop around and not do X, Y, Z and have a chance to win.
So obviously, being physical, getting off of blocks, making competitive plays in the air, playing with good technique, playing with discipline, discipline with your eyes, discipline in fitting the run game. And then when it comes to pressuring the quarterback, that could be first and ten on a play action or some block recognition is important with those guys up front. And then for us, again, you get to third down and having an opportunity to pin your ears back. A year ago, they did a good job of getting a lot of real third and medium, third and short situations, and it makes it hard to get off the field.
So you've got to play well early to get to situations where you get them in -- where they're a little bit more one-dimensional, and you've got to play well collectively on both sides of the ball. We didn't play well in the kicking game, and the field position wasn't great a year ago. Couldn't ever -- we were just backed up the whole game. So we've got to really complement one another. We certainly don't need to play perfect, but we need to play well and complement each other.
(No microphone)? I just think he's utilizing the weapons he has at his disposal the right way and putting a lot of strain and stress on the defense. They can run it. They can throw it. They can do it all. They're very, very well balanced, and they've got the best receivers in college football collectively, including their tight end, and then I don't think anybody in the country's got three backs like that. So with the offensive line that they got.
I think Mike's done a terrific job. I know he won the Broyles. He's got a head coaching job, and it's all well deserved. He's got an incredible group of players that play with a lot of confidence, having a lot of fun, and they're very aggressive in both their philosophy and how they play.
Speaking of their offensive line, going up against Ross Pierschbacher the past couple of years, how does he come up against your defensive game plan? Again, you can't go anywhere across the board and say, okay, we've got the favorable matchup here. They've got excellent players. We just hope to be a little bit better on Monday night. But run block and pass block, and there's great cohesion.
Brent Key has done a great job with those guys, and they play really, really well all year. When they need to move people, they know how to move them. Their backs play with a great deal of purpose and physicality as well. So they can do it all. They can spread you out and attack you four verts and protect, and they can get in all the heavy sets, wildcat, you just go down the list, and they've had great success doing it a lot of different ways.
What do you think about that two quarterback style they rolled out in the first half? It's good. Causes you different kinds of problems, different issues. They've done a nice job, and Jalen's really improved when he's gotten his opportunities to get in the game. He's really become a dynamic thrower as well as a runner and dual threat guy.
Do you think Christian, as one of the few players that also got offered by Alabama, how did you see him grow, not just as a person, but as a player throughout his career? He came in with a great deal of maturity. He transitioned so quickly out of high school. I think as much as anything, he's gotten a full beard now, but he's always been -- how he thinks, how he leads, how he works, Christian makes everyone feel like he's their best friend. He's got a unique quality in making everyone around him -- coaches, players -- better. He's just a real special guy.
But he's also worked hard at his craft, and to me the key ingredient there is just a willingness to work and really having a sense of humility, and he's been able to evaluate himself. A lot of guys come in, and they don't want to hear about their flaws. Day one, since day one, he's really bought in to little me, big team, and you're going to get what you earn. So he's the epitome of those things.
Are you talking about the personnel at all? You mentioned only a handful of players were offered by Alabama. They know.
Do they have a chip on their shoulder? I don't think that's what wins for you, but our guys know. They know.
Is it hard? They know how it went in the recruiting process, but we'll try to hang in there. Our guys, having been here and competed against them, again, they're the best of the best. They're the benchmark. They're the standard in college football. It's all well deserved, and, again, we're going to have to play really, really well to have a chance to win.
What's your biggest challenge in preparing for this style of quarterback? His ability to run, think quickly. His accuracy is uncanny. He's as accurate as there is in college football and maybe in a long time. How they run their RPOs, literally putting the ball in the belly over here and throwing the skinny post over here. I mean, who does that? Nobody is the answer, other than him.
He's got great skill around him, again, guys that can get it done up front, and terrific backs, as good as there is in college football wide receiver and the tight end. So we've got a dynamic group of players, but he's special in his own right. He'd be special on any team.
How difficult will this be for you without Dexter? I don't know. I haven't really thought about that. Dexter is a great player. Dexter wins a lot of one-on-one matchups, but we don't have Dexter. I'm not like, oh, my God, now there's no way we can win. I don't really look at it like that.
What's that feeling like being an assistant coach after you beat Nick Saban for a player? I don't know. I just think it's a fit. I never really looked at it as, oh, man, we beat Alabama on that guy. First of all, we haven't done it hardly at all. Secondly, I think it's all about the personal fit. So it's all about the kid -- if you happen to go head to head and then he comes your way, it's not because of you. There's so many other factors that go into it. So I don't ever look at it like that because we take in guys that not a lot of other people are recruiting, and they've done real well for us. And you get a ton of gratification out of that development and finding guys that are a little bit under the radar. So that's more of a big deal to me.
Would it be career defining for an assistant coach maybe beating Alabama? I don't know. I look for a little more fulfillment in different ways other than that. That's just me personally.
(No microphone)? I mean, very simple. You know, you're going to have to play more physical. You're going to have to get off of blocks. You're going to have to have a relentless sense of desperation, winning one-on-one when it comes to throwing situations. They don't have to do it by themselves. You need to play good coverage too, maybe the quarterback hold it a little longer. Really, you can't get blown off the line and smashed and expect to win.
But at the same time, there's 11 of us on defense, and we need to complement each other offense and defense. We're not going to go out and stop Alabama everything they do. They're going to make some plays. But just play with a great sense of toughness and passion and relentlessness as much as anything.
(No microphone) but at the same time, he held his own really well. So honestly, how important is he? Albert? Yeah, Albert's -- he's got as much talent as anybody. And a week ago was a great opportunity for him to show that. Albert's played a ton of meaningful snaps the last few years. Dexter, as a matter of fact, a year ago was about 50 percent of who he is now and missed three or four games a year ago, and Albert stepped in and played really good. So played well last week, and obviously, that helps going into this game.
But really excited about his opportunity and what he brings, the value he brings. He's looking forward to it. Spent a lot of time on it, to be honest. Okay, man, you've got to play out of your mind. Hey, man, you don't have to say it. Guy's got to show up. He's got to have that backer hitting that A-gap and the D-tackle next to him communicating with him. But he's just got to win his little matchup. So he'll be fine. Looking forward to watching it, he and Nyles and Jordan and those guys.
What's been a couple things that you're most proud of the defense this year? This year? Just our consistency. It's been a lot of fun to coach them. It's a group of guys that really enjoy each other. They've got great chemistry. Every year is different. Some years are easier than others, and this is a year that's really been easy. We've got great leadership at all three levels, and, again, a great group of guys that love and respect each other, that love Clemson. I think that's important.
Everybody -- all of them will tell you they have aspirations and goals and dreams to play beyond Clemson, but I don't think those goals have been put in front of the goals to play well for Clemson and for each other and for that football family. We don't take that lightly. We try to nourish that.
Coach Swinney does an amazing job of creating that buy-in and that loyalty. So these guys are the epitome of that, and they've stayed incredibly focused in the time of year and certainly for as many of the guys that are high profile guys, so to speak, there's a lot of temptations and potential distractions, and they've put all those aside.
That's not because we have the potential to win a National Championship. That's who they are. That's their DNA. That's the fiber, and it's not like that all the time. As a coach, you certainly don't take that for granted, and you certainly have a great deal of appreciation for that and for who they are, just as young people.
(No microphone)? Well, I don't really know or speak of Alabama because I'm not there, but I know that Coach Swinney creates an environment that's very -- it's good in this profession, very family oriented. It's a very close-knit staff. It's just kind of a philosophy of his in regards to team building, staff building, if you will. Just got great cohesion, chemistry, respect, appreciation for one another, appreciation for everyone in that building in the job that they do.
That all starts, again, with the philosophy of the head coach and what he's trying to build and the people that he surrounds himself with that are centered -- not everybody has to be the same, but people that have the same types of values for their job and off the field personally as well. But it creates a great environment to make a living in a profession that's very demanding. He makes it really enjoyable.
Everybody across the country at every level, you've got to grind. You've got to work. You've got to recruit. You've got to help guys academically, help these young guys grow up. You've got to strategize and coach and those types of things. But he creates an environment that really allows growth professionally and certainly personally too. And just a great model and example for all of us as a husband, father, coach, Christian, all of those things.
Just in a lot of ways, kind of we were talking about Christian Wilkins making everybody better, that's who Dabo Swinney is. Dabo brings out the very best in everybody. It's, as he says, an over believer. It's not just for the players, but for all of us. He creates that sense of belief, but he also creates the accountability and the structure that we all need in order to have consistent success. But he's very genuine and authentic in every way. He knows all the kids on staff. He knows the families very well. He's just a -- he's a real special guy.
You've been around the block. How much do you realize the grass is always greener elsewhere, and how much is it a discussion among the staff members, like, hey, you might want to proceed cautiously? We talk about it. We do. In this profession, there's a number of really good jobs, and Clemson's one of them, where, again, you have an alignment with the leadership. You're in a great location where you can recruit. You have the kind of facilities that's going to attract topnotch recruits. And then we have our very genuine, authentic family environment that's got cohesion and continuity with the staff, starting with Coach Swinney, that's good at development and, again, holistic development as well.
So to me, I've used my experience of being at other good places and being very aware of my surroundings, the competition and what else is out there in this profession, and I value that I have what I want. So I know what I want, and I have what I want. So I try to promote that with our young coaches and certainly my colleagues as well.
That doesn't mean -- it's a personal decision for everyone. First of all, you'd better be good enough so you can stay, and you've got to be good at your job to stay. That's what I focus on. And then everything else kind of takes care of itself, and I've always been that way. Just try to be great at what I'm doing right now.
Yeah, he certainly is -- he's going to make the decision himself. He's going to get input typically, but he's going to -- make no mistake, he's going to hand pick the people that work in our building, and I love that about him. He'll tell you there's a lot of unbelievable coaches, but to find the great coaches that are also great men that have, again, the right kind of standards and values and the character to go along with it, and all of a sudden it's a smaller pool, and that's the pool that I think he feels works best for him.
As you look at Tua, what are two or three of the attributes for him that just really stand out?
His accuracy, his decision-making, his instincts, his competitiveness all put him in that real special elite category. He plays with a lot of passion, and yet at the same time great poise for such a young player. But his accuracy is crazy. He's got a big arm, but he has that accuracy, like Josh Heupel at Oklahoma. He had the worst release and the funky looking ball, unbelievable accuracy, not very much arm strength and certainly didn't have that kind of mobility. Great quarterback in his own right.
But Tua's kind of got it all. He's the total package. Perception is that he's got this unbelievable character to go along with it and just a real likable, easy to pull for kind of guy and very grounded and just got a great foundation to him.
When you look at Tua and then you look at Trevor, who you see in practice every day, these are two guys you're going to see for a long time. What do they share? Same kind of accuracy and release and decision-making. Trevor is a tremendous athlete. I don't know if you'd call him a dual threat. I would call Trevor very mobile, and then you'd call Tua a legit two-way threat, dual threat quarterback that's not just a run or set up the throw.
What is their ceiling? I think they'll both play a very, very long time in the NFL, there's no question. Because what I know -- again, I'm assuming what I see through the picture screen on the TV is the right portrayal of Tua, but he's got it. He's got character. He's got humility. He's got a faith-based foundation to him. He's a great competitor, worker, leader, those types of things, and I know that's who Trevor Lawrence is. So I think those attributes kind of carry you through the storms that are inevitable. They're going to happen for them, and I think they've got what it takes to withstand a long career.
How has Tua changed that Alabama offense? Now they're able to use their weapons in every way, running and throwing. It just gives them a tremendous true balance in what they do, just not a deep ball threat. He can do it all and just run the entirety of their offense and run it at a very elite level. So just makes it a little -- there's not much margin for error, where maybe in the past you had a little bit more -- you didn't have to play near perfect, you didn't feel like.
How does Tua's ability to improvise compare to some of the guys that you faced? I know you've faced some good ones like Ian Book and Dungey.
COACH: This year?
This year or going back to Oklahoma. A bunch of really good ones, but Tua is up there with any of them we've played. That's not like earth shattering. Oh, Venables says he's the best of the best. I mean, the guy could have easily won the Heisman, and it was all well deserved. He's just getting his career started. That's the scary thing. And has an incredible ceiling. He's just a tremendous, tremendous player -- decision-maker, accuracy, poise, toughness, can run, can throw. Things break down, again, he still has the focus and the poise and the instincts to still look down the field. I mean, he's a tough out.=
Is there a difference between last year and this year? Last year was a big field position game, and it seems like you guys were up against it, and this defense played well and hung in there against Alabama by ten points. The defense felt good last year, right? I mean, the offense wasn't able to get first downs. Is that the biggest difference?
They're a different offense than they were a year ago. They've mowed through everybody. And Jalen Hurts has improved immensely as a real quarterback. He's impressive what he did against Georgia, I think maybe our for five -- maybe five third down conversions after he got in, and Georgia had played well up until that time.
Yeah, they're just different in how they utilize their receivers and throwing the ball. They can run it, throw it, do it all and do it all with great consistency, cohesion. They're making all the layups, where a year ago I think they weren't making all the layups consistently. Still tough to beat. They were good enough to beat us. But it's a much different animal this year.
How do you see (no microphone)?
He'll be fine. He's got a great future. He's a worker. He's got skill. He's long. He's athletic. He's got speed. He's got instincts. He's got some natural, some real natural talent, but he's got character and work ethic and the fortitude to out compete and fight and be a great leader. He's got great humility to him. All those things that transition -- those things will transition, and he'll be able to take to the NFL. So he'll be very, very prepared for what's in front of him.
He said his run stopping ability, he feels like that's underrated. Yeah, he's not afraid at all to put his face in there and strike people. He's a complete player.
Give me your best shot in spelling Tagovailoa. T-a -- is it G?
O-v. I'm out already. I did decent.
Having so many pressures on defensive linemen, (no microphone). Do you think that helps guys like Ferrell to come in and know there's already a path to success?
I think so. I think you have credibility. You've got examples for them to see and for you to reflect on with them. And I think it's attractive to the defensive linemen to have that kind of a tradition. So certainly helpful, no question about it.
With Austin mixed in with those other three guys, what has he meant? He and Isaiah were co-defensive players of the week last week. And Cotton Bowl named him defensive MVP. Very proud of him. He's the quietest of that crew, but he's had a great year and takes a backseat to nobody, been a great leader. He's been playing -- I remember his first real heavy action was in the playoffs against Oklahoma in 2015, and the boy's come a long way. In that game with that fourth down and one, stop past midfield. We had a little stunt on, and he goes in there and was a big part -- really that was the turning point in that game where we kind of finished them off.
He's had that kind of career, ultra-successful. He's worked incredibly hard along the way. Again, maybe not talked outwardly outside of our football building, but inside we have great appreciation for Austin and all he's done.
(No microphone)? Do you remember that game? What was it?
Again, he's 6'5", and he's probably 230 pounds and didn't have the strength yet and just kind of wobbly as a player and having an out of body experience as a young player. When you've got to throw into the fire, so to speak, before maybe they're quite ready, sometimes you go through that growth process, and we did with him then.
Coach, did you injure your finger playing scout team quarterback again?
Just got to protect it. One more Thursday here, but, yeah, that was -- I broke about it about six weeks ago.
How is preparing for Alabama this week different than last year? How does that change?
I think it's probably easier because you just don't have as many grueling hours of torture. I mean, it's -- I don't want to sit there and go, oh, this is great, you know. I actually say this is great when they can't make a forward pass, and I'm like all right, getting ready to get all the guys in this week. But against these guys, it's frightening. Their ability to execute, their explosiveness. They get the ball in their skills, whether it's 8 or 11 or 17, and they've got this guy 4 and this guy 82 or 22 or 34 or 13 or 2. It's sickening.
But our guys are excited about the challenge. We are too, to see where we match up. It's a great, great challenge for us. Easily the best challenge -- probably it's the best group we've seen as an offense since I've been at Clemson.
Can you talk about Dabo helping you enjoy the pain? Are you just a masochist?
Do you enjoy the pain of preparing?
It doesn't sound fun. I like the challenge. I've always enjoyed the strategy of it, trying to help your players. Give them a good plan so they can go out and execute. That's enjoyable for me, especially when there's buy-in, when they're buying in, they believe it. That's part of it. Sometimes you've got to trick them into believing it.
It is, and it's, quote, unquote, stressful because you want it so bad for them. But, yeah, Coach Swinney is awesome. I was in a much different place before I came to Clemson when it came to all the games and the big games because they're all big to coaches. He's really -- he's relentless about demanding and reminding and nourishing the concept of enjoying it and enjoying the time with your players. Make sure they enjoy it because, if it becomes all about the winning, then it's hard for anybody to enjoy. Even though you might have great success, and you have this dysfunctional success that's not enjoyable for anyone. You really lack fulfillment.
I'm just speaking personally. I have a great deal of fulfillment what I'm doing right now, but I've been in that tough place where you have all the success and you're in the middle of it, and you just want to get on to the next one, and you just don't enjoy it, what it takes to get to this point, and just what it takes to have consistent success. It's really, really hard.
Does any part of you step back this week and say, I get to experience my son. Not many kids get to do this with your dad. Does any part of you sit back and think it's pretty wild, I get to do this with my son? Yeah, and it's not about me and him, but I kind of look at it from afar, watching him with his teammates and listening to him today and, boy, isn't this cool, and getting the picture after the game. It's really -- it's about him and his journey. But to be able to -- so many dads are not -- if you're a football coach, you're not afforded the same opportunity, and I don't take that for granted. I'm very thankful for that. And to get that, again, bird's eye view every day is pretty special. Whether or not you're here or just be able to be with them during their journey, it's pretty special.
What's been the coolest thing?
He hid the news about Dexter Lawrence from you for a couple of days so you could celebrate. I just felt so bad. The sickening feeling I had was for Dexter and his family. Just what a terrible thing to go through. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. That's really felt like we've got guys -- and Dexter's special, but I knew that we were more than just one guy. We were about more than just one guy, but I hated that he missed that opportunity. I really feel this, that it would have been hard to have the same kind of consistent success the last three years had it not been for him. He's been such a huge part of it, and he's worked so hard for this opportunity.
The families go through the same, even more so when you're a parent of a student-athlete, you go through the same type of highs and lows too, and so it's -- to see that, for them to have to deal with that was tough.
How proud are you of Albert?
It's kind of a blessing for him to be able to make more of a name for himself nationally. Incredibly proud of him. I think it validates that stick-to-itiveness. Just hang in there, and you're going to get your opportunity. It validates that, coming from a coaching staff. And then what I really appreciate about what's going on behind the scenes is the -- sometimes players get tired of wanting it more than their teammate wants it for himself, and then it becomes the -- it can be like the scarlet letter, and you've got this cloud of dust around him all the time.
But our guys kept hanging in there with him and encouraging him and helping him along the way to get him to this point too. Ultimately, it still came down to him, you know, wanting the opportunity for himself, and just really happy for him. He's worked really hard for this opportunity, and he really stepped up last week and really played well.
You mentioned earlier how -- Bambi! We've got Bambi here, everybody! Austin Bryant's come a long way. Let me start this off. I'd just like to commend Austin Bryant, who was the Cotton Bowl MVP last week, and from the Orange Bowl, his first game action really was the Orange Bowl 2015 playoff against Baker Mayfield and an incredible stop on fourth and one, to the Cotton Bowl MVP his senior year. Pretty special career, man. Pretty special career. Really proud of Austin. What you got for me?
We're here with former Broyles Award trophy winner. Coach V, can you just talk a little bit about your scout team quarterback career here? It's been rough. It's had its highs and lows. What I can appreciate is the rest of my guys on the scout team offense. They're the best group in America. My success is really do for them. No, I stink. I'm really, really good with everything until you got to actually snap the ball, and then I'm pretty below average. Other than that, I'm pretty good.
One more question. Of course everyone sees the "get back" coach that has to pull you back throughout the game. What are your thoughts on what he brings to the game every Saturday? What I can appreciate about Coach Smo, he's always ready. He's got his mouthpiece in. He stays in shape all season long. It doesn't get any easier. He's relentless. I'll say that. He's relentless about doing his job. So we're a great team.
Thank you, Coach. All right. Happy new year.
Brent, is there an intimidation factor, not with you guys, but with Alabama? Yeah, they're like Darth Vader, man. The success they've had in the program, they're the benchmark. They're the standard in college football. A lot of times, it is not even close. They've had the kind of success that every program wants to emulate, but they've got the best of the best in regards to the players. They're very well coached, incredibly physical at the lines of scrimmage. They've got length. They've got speed. They've got it all.
So I don't know who would admit it or not, but I think they spook a lot of people out before they ever get to the field.
That's not the case here. You guys have played them three times. You're second in the country. When you look at them from afar, and you've been around them for all these games, were you wondering in that first game how you guys would stack up?
Sure, you always do, when you're playing people you're not as familiar with. You recognize talent when you see it. It didn't take very long. Our players got great respect for Alabama, a great respect for how they coach, how they're coached, certainly how they play, for their consistency, for the explosiveness, for the physicality, and I think our players have confidence in themselves for all the same reasons. Us and Alabama, the last eight years in college football, I don't know exactly what the numbers are, but we're within a couple of wins of each other, and winning's hard, and having success, sustaining success is hard.
Building a program is hard, and I think sustaining is even harder. It takes leadership. It takes the right kind of guys in the locker room. Not just talent, but it takes the right kind of people to do it. And every great dynasty tumbles from within. And for them to have that kind of consistent success is pretty special. They keep turning over players, and they keep having the same kind of result.
Our players, they recognize the challenge that they have. They've got great respect for them, but our guys are confident as well, and they should be.
Brent, they won't talk about it, but what would seven championships mean?
I don't know. I didn't know that's the number. Yeah, I didn't know that. I don't think he needs any more wins to validate Coach Saban. I really don't. I think he's as good as there's been, if not the best, in college football history. He's the guy. What he's done is special. He hasn't done it just at one place. So I don't need to toot his horn. He knows who he is, and everybody else knows who he is. But I don't keep track of those stats and how special that is. You might have to ask him, and he probably -- he'll probably be the wrong guy to ask too.
I do. It's real simple to me. The only assumption that I'm making is that we have the leadership, the alignment that we have now with the president, our athletic director and Coach Swinney, and then it's Coach Swinney's relentlessness of sticking to his core values and not allowing the success to change him or change how he recruits or the messaging, his holistic approach, his own humility, his ability to continue to surround him with like minded people that support that vision.
And I compliment him all the time on -- you know, he's just such a detailed and organized and passionate man for his players, detailed and organized how he runs his day-to-day program from a year round basis. So when you're structured that way and you have the kind of support in your leadership and consistency from that leadership in your university, then it's hard to screw it up. I think it's self-sustaining that way.
But when somebody starts -- when you can have success, here's what happens. Everybody starts to put their guard down, tries to start to relax on continuing to look forward and having, again, that windshield mentality about what's in front of us, what's next, how can we make it better? When you start to lose that vision and that hunger and that thirst to continue to grow and improve and enhance what you have, I think that's when you can start to -- you know, those will be the things that start to play into not having the kind of consistent success.
And making it enjoyable?
I think that's important. Yeah, because I think it keeps people hungry and motivated, where you feel valued and appreciated. You may not have this title or make this much money, but, man, what I do is important, and that's what all of us really want. You want that as a husband. You want that as a man. You want that as an employee. You want to feel valued and appreciated. Coach Swinney, he's awesome that way. He's just a very unique leader and very appreciative. I think, obviously, it's been well spoken his humble beginnings. He's never lost sight of that, and he's never lost the appreciation for the people that gave him the opportunities that he's had.
I think it's easy in life to kind of forget about that, and it becomes all about me, and that couldn't be further from the truth when it comes to Coach Swinney and, again, our president and our athletic director. They just have a tremendous, tremendous cohesion and respect for one another. And there's other -- there's a few other programs out there in college football that are like that or even in other sports. I use sports as an example, or you can use businesses. It's no different. But when you have that cohesion and the respect and love and appreciation for one another, you can do special things.
You mentioned Alabama's offense is different from last year, but what is it like playing the same program on this stage year after year?
Yeah, I'd rather -- I don't know. I mean, it's great. It's a great opportunity. You look at, first of all, at that, because the challenge is so unique, and it's the best -- probably the best offense I've seen since I've been at Clemson, top to bottom. I think it's a validation for you. Hey, we made it back. You know Alabama's going to be here. Geez, we made it back again. So that's kind of fun.
You'd like for the path to be a little easier sometimes, if I was telling you the truth, right? Oh, man, I want the best. Hope they fumble the ball all over the place. I hope they can't get out of their own way. I don't assume that's going to happen, but I'd gladly take a win right now if you said they're going to be sloppy and beat themselves. I'll take it.
How different is the preparation playing the same team in the playoffs every year versus playing someone you see in conference play every year? Is it any different? I mean, in some ways it's the same, in some ways it's different. There's always a little bit of carryover if you've played them before, but players change, coaches change. So, obviously, that has a part to do with the differences. I don't know how it is as much as you try to learn and grow from the last time you played them. I think that's important, that you use the last time you played them as experience, and then try to figure out who they are now because every year is a little bit different.
Are you re-watching those games, the National Championship Game that you guys played (no microphone)? Just makes you kind of sick about your missed opportunities, but, yeah, it's been incredible games. You go back and remember all the plays, most of the bad ones. But, yeah, it has been. It's been a lot of fun to be a part of it.
What factor does it play that the team dominates most first quarters? I think you can get overwhelmed and feel like you're playing from behind. We've had that kind of success too when we've been at our best, where things go well early, the start fast mentality. It's not like you say, well, look, this week we don't have to start fast. I know that's not your point, but it can overwhelm you. It can rattle your confidence.
Certainly for Oklahoma -- was it 28-0? -- it's a hole that -- it's not necessarily -- you can still overcome it, but it's going to be really, really hard when you play against somebody that's as good as Alabama is.
What has to do with it? Just a lot of things. They can have something to do with it. The other team can have something to do with it. Their execution, turnovers, the big plays in the different series on both sides of the ball, kicking game, field position -- everything can be a part of it. Sometimes it's clicking, and sometimes it's not.
(No microphone)? Yeah, their speed and their physicality. They're different than just about everybody, they are, and they can get on you quick in all three phases of the game. There's no question about it.
And then on the other side of the ball, what's happening (no microphone)?
I just think that getting settled in to the game and figuring out how teams are going to play us and make the necessary adjustments and emphasizing different parts of your game plan based on what you're seeing. I think that's a part of it, and just getting into a rhythm, you know, as much as anything.
Alabama's gotten all the (no microphone). Last time I could remember seeing that was -- Oh, you remember that too?
Yeah. How did that kind of affect that team? It seemed like, by the end of the year -- obviously, there were some injuries and things, but did that kind of wear on the team? I thought that from the last -- you know, going into the Big 12 Championship when -- and, again, first of all, Kansas State flat whupped us. They flat whupped us. They played really well. They hit us in the mouth and didn't cower down to us. They didn't give us the "W" before we ever started.
I felt like talent-wise we were a superior team, and unfortunately, we went into the game having this feeling of superiority where it was promoted quite frequently during the course of the week that, even if we lose this week, we're still going to go play for the National Championship. That's where the BCS numbers, computing rankings had it. It was like a guarantee.
So can you lose an edge, the edge that maybe got you there? Absolutely. But I think a lot of it had to do with Kansas State and the way they played and the fearlessness and the aggressiveness. Man, they came out like Mike Tyson and Buster Douglas and just -- they hit us in the face quick and kind of really shocked us.
Were you shocked too? A little bit. I didn't see that coming. That's one of the three most talented teams I've been on. So I was -- and I know the matchups favored us going into that game substantially. But that's why you play the game now. It wasn't like this miraculous way they beat us. It was 35-7.
And Sproles had that over 300 total yards in the game. We've got a fourth winner coming on a corner crash right into a toss sweep, and 60 yards later he's scoring. So we didn't coach good or play good, and Kansas State played really well that day.
What did you think of Christian teaching (no microphone)? It was so fitting. That's who he is. Nothing surprises me that he would do a tremendous job because he's a giver of his time. He's a super genuine and authentic guy. He'd make you, he'd make my wife, he'd make my kids, he'd make his teammates, he'll make the president of our university, everybody feel like they're his best friend. He's got such a commanding personality to him.
He's fun and games a lot -- like right here. See him? He's fun and games, but when he gets there, it's important to him. He's a person of excellence. It's not like he's going to show up and have romper room. He's going to show up and be a great teacher, where he's got discipline and a nurturing environment and things of that nature. So anything that Christian does, he signs his name with excellence. So that's what I thought, he'll be great at it, because he's great at anything.
Did he ask you for any teaching advice? He doesn't need me. He grew up in a family. He's got sisters and a number of them that are teachers, and then his godmother is a teacher and a mentor. So he's been around that his whole life.
How do you market yourself as a coach at Clemson? Just our success of our program. I sell our program, our holistic development. We've been good on defense, so systematically we're aggressive and multiple. That's about it. We've been consistent. Everybody wants to hang their hat on a winner, so I think us and Alabama the last eight years in college football have had the most wins and most consistency, and we also graduate our players. We've had the same kind of success in the classroom over the last eight years, where we have elite success that way.
So I know how we run our program, and philosophically Coach Swinney and what his vision for the program is, so our guys are going to come and have fun too. Whatever that means, they're going to enjoy their college experience. It's important to Coach Swinney. So it's not -- less is more for Coach Swinney. When it comes to the football things, where our guys can really enjoy life.
I'll use an example. In the springtime, other than the spring game, and we have one day where we have fan day, he gives them the weekends off in the spring, as opposed to the Saturday morning meetings and practice and next thing you know it's 5:00 on a Saturday all spring long you're practicing. He wants our guys to have time just to be college students and enjoy college. If you ask me if I want 15 more minutes or let them out early, I'm always going to take more time, but most of the time he doesn't ask me. He gives them the time. That's how he is. He's very conscious of allowing them to enjoy their college experience because it can be really easy to be dysfunctionally good and work, work, work, have all kinds of success and it's all about winning, and you become dysfunctionally good, and it's not a lot of fun for anybody.
That can happen, not just in sports, but just in success in life. Coach Swinney does an awesome job of keeping the main thing the main thing and perpetuating the positive, just bringing out the best qualities in our young people and always keeping the focus on, again, life and foundationally being centered the right way. So he's the real deal. That's -- I sell all those things, and I market myself that way.
Coach, it's been unheard of having a freshman quarterback starting at this level. What happened that led to this happening? That's a great point. I think just high school, but the development at a younger age, particularly in high school, the seven-on-sevens have played a part in that, but just coaches have -- you know, are more innovative, and the development is better than ever systematically. Offensively, the way people stress you on defense and use every patch of grass is more innovative now than ever, but just the development is expedited because of a lot of those things. But what they're doing at a younger age is the biggest part of it.
They're on a big stage, a lot of the elite players, even in middle school and going into high school, so they're not afraid of the moment either. They've been on those big stages, the elite ones in particular.
I know you're playing the No. 1 offense in the country. Have you found a way to sneak 12 guys on the field? We're working on that. We've got Thursday practice today. No, they're probably the most complete offense, the most explosive group of guys since I've been at Clemson. They're the real deal. We'll have to play really well.
I've seen you get very animated on the sideline. I love the energy you bring. Where does that come from? I just have a lot of passion for what I do, just intense passion to do well for my guys. I live every play, good and bad with them. I have a lot of fun. I enjoy my job, make no apologies, no matter what kind of facial expressions or how many times they've got to jerk me around. Just try and do a great job. Again, I love what I do.
What's your perfect salad getting ready for the game? My perfect salad?
Maybe like a Chinese chicken salad? I'm going like a Mexi bowl of some sort.
So you're spicy? Always.
Defensive MVP Austin Bryant interviewing Venables.
Biggest challenges you see on tape?
Blocking No. 92, Williams, the rest of that defensive line. They're unbelievably long and strong. They got speed off the edge. The first thing is just handling the line of scrimmage. If you can handle the line of scrimmage, maybe you have a chance to get the ball in the air, make some plays on their secondary guys.
They're very, very long at corner. Thompson in my opinion is the best safety in the country, his range, toughness in the run game. Xavier is an interchangeable guy. He plays strong safety, then on third down he comes in the box. He's a very good blitzer.
They're a complete defense. We have to make sure we do a good job of establishing the line of scrimmage and our play-makers have to make plays.
I think there's no added pressure. You're playing on the biggest stage, with everything on the line. We want to get off to a fast start. That's our motto every single game. I don't think there's any added pressure other than we're playing for all of it, against a very, very, good defense. We have to do our job, which our job is to score points.
I don't think the expectations change. For us 'best' is a standard at Clemson. Doesn't matter who we're playing. The motto is it's all about us. If we take care of ourselves, we don't care who we have to play, we feel like we're going to have a chance to compete in the end.
(No microphone.) Somebody is going to reach 15. That's probably going to be the best ever. Maybe I think there's one other recorded team that's gone 15-0, that was a long time ago. If this era, there's never been a 15-0 team. That team will have the stakes to say they're the best ever up till this point.
This opportunity is what these guys have been dreaming about. We know we got to go earn the right to a victory. We're going to have to play our best game.
I think the guys were bought into Trevor the day he showed up on campus. He came in with the right mentality, demeanor. He was very talented, highly regarded in the recruiting process. He came in as he is, a quiet young man that lets his actions speak louder than his words.
Obviously there are a lot of guys that might have been disappointed in the situation with Kelly. At the end of the day they felt confident in the coaching staff that we were practicing what we preach. That's not the only position that a young guys that beaten out an older guy. They knew he earned the right to start that game. Obviously everybody would have liked to see Kelly stick around. At the same time they knew he needed to do what was best for him. After we talked about it, and coach did an unbelievable job of addressing the team, we went out to practice and the guys moved on.
I felt that Deshaun could have been the No. 1 overall pick. He was that talented. He had the production. Obviously Trevor has to continue to develop, continue to produce. Obviously the people who make those decisions will make those decisions.
Just from the time I've been around him, the way he approaches the game, the physical talent I think everybody sees. What a lot of people don't get to witness is the mental ability of this young man. I'd categorize him a freak mentally. If he continues to stay humble, he'll continue to develop, have all the measurables.
Again, the cards will fall where they fall. I think he's one of the young men that will have the opportunity if he continues to be true to himself, he's going to develop mentally, physically, continue to hone his skills, he may have that opportunity.
(No microphone.) I think it starts with just their approach. They prepare like pros. They pay attention to the details. They challenge themselves every single rep in practice, whereas some younger guys may come out there and just try to get through practice. These guys are trying to get better in practice. I think that helps them develop the skills they need to own the game plan.
By the time they get to the game, they're just playing ball, they're not thinking about it. They know where to go with the ball because that's how they prepare.
(Question about backup quarterbacks.)
I think it's a testament to where both programs are from a recruiting standpoint, to have depth at every position. Then also being able to create a mentality that next man up, that you have to prepare every single day as if you're the starter because you're one play away from, like you said, helping your team be successful to get an opportunity to play in the post-season.
Really proud of Chase, his development. Obviously from the outside looking in, proud of Jalen as well. Have a tremendous amount of respect for him, what he's been able to accomplish this year, do in the past, the way he's conducted himself.
It's a testament to both head coaches, the philosophies they have in their program, recruit to that, hold kids accountable to that standard.
(No microphone.) That would be a question you have to ask him. To be honest with you, that was the biggest game on the schedule. Guess what, we won the game, go to the next one, that's the biggest game on the schedule. We have that windshield mentality that we're always looking forward.
Coach gives them an opportunity to celebrate the game the night of the game. Flip the switch on Sunday morning, on to the next opponent. He would be able to answer that question better than I would.
I enjoy being around him. He always has a smile. Comes to work every single day ready to compete. He's just a pleasure to be around.
Just the ability to stay humble once they started to have success. Coach just made a comment, I really don't keep track of it, they've been able to win 12 games by 20 points or more, whereas if you look at '16, we were kind of trying to get through the season because they knew what they wanted to do in the post-season.
This team has been able to stay focused. The unselfishness, you talk about young guys coming into that receiver room, you have proven guys in that room, to be able to embrace his role, support him in his role.
The same thing with the running backs, being able to play four guys, nobody cares who is getting the most amount of touches as long as they're having success as an offense.
The growth and development of the offensive line, the continuity, the ability to mix and match, put different guys in there, not let the standard of play decrease. Really just the humility of this group, the togetherness, the willingness to go out and try to play their best four quarters every single week.
Biggest thing is the explosiveness. Last year we had to manufacture a lot of drives. We were young at spots, didn't quite have the explosiveness in the pass and run game consistently. This year we've been able to be explosive. You have a quarterback that puts the ball where it needs to go. Backs that break tackles, have big runs. When you can be balanced, also be aggressive, both running and throwing the ball...
Schematically, we actually have been able to probably run the ball more consistently with the backs.
He's able to stretch you both horizontally and vertically. It makes them make a decision. Travis is a year older. He's playing within the scheme. He's able to be patient, hit some big runs. Trevor has the ability, when we drop back and pass it, to know where to go with it.
Biggest thing is we're more consistent overall as an offense, running and passing. Then the guys are a year older, making more explosive plays.
(No microphone.) It's a big teaching moment. Obviously we saw it in high school. He played on the biggest stage in high school, played in All-Star games, state championship game, NFL stadiums. You know he can do it at that level.
To come on the road, one of the loudest environments, tight game, to go out there and be what we saw all along was a great teaching moment, probably more so from a confidence statement, to validate to him that I belong, I can do this. From that moment on, he just continues to come every day with the same work ethic. That's why he has the success he has.
It's the same. Same offense. Even when Kelly was running it, it was the same offense. Obviously play-makers were a little bit different. Now, if you look at the '15 team as opposed to the '16 team, the guys were a year older. Mike Williams, guys making explosive plays, Wayne was a year older. All the guys are a year older. The pieces around the quarterback are more mature and they're making more plays for the quarterback.
The maturity of the players has evolved more so than anything. The schemes are the same. The terminology is the same. We build the game plan the same way. We build the game plan, then all of our concepts for the most part, the quarterback has to manage it. Obviously Kelly did an unbelievable job with managing the system. At times he didn't have the play-makers making the plays for him like we got right now.
No, it's each year. We want to really increase the tempo. There's going to be times. Obviously defenses react differently to tempo. Sometimes it's not quite as advantageous to play super fast. But we still want to have a good tempo, drive our snap count.
The philosophy is the same. There's been times we've been playing fast, other times where we've had some situations where the game is under control that we want to get some more guys in there, get them some playing experience. It's not advantageous to be as fast when you got young guys in there.
I think that's the reason why we're having opportunity to play in the post-season, because of the development of depth. You have a lot of guys that are able to play. If you have an injury, you got guys ready to play throughout the course of the season.
As you get into the post-season, it allows you to be really fresh for the run.
No, because when you break them down, they're very, very similar. They're going to do what they do. Coach Saban has his hand print on the defense. Built the same way. Very stout in the defensive line. Very well coordinated at the linebacker spot, being able to get guys lined up. SEC is as aggressive and talented as they've always been. It is very similar.
I don't think expectation-wise has exceeded it. We knew the kind of young man he was, the talent he was. At the end of the day he's got to go out and do it. Just to see what he's been able to do consistently is a credit to who he is, how he prepares.
His teammates are have rallied around him, too. For a guy to play at that level, you have to have guys around you making plays. Because of his demeanor, the way he comes to practice every day, it's elevated the game of all his play-makers.
How does the Alabama defense compare to last year? On paper, they're not as dominant on paper (laughter). On film, they're very, very similar. I think Williams is a fantastic player. He's very disruptive, he's complete. He can do it all. He can two gap, penetrate, rush the passer, do it all from his position.
Bugs and Davis are a year older. Jennings is very experienced. Mack is running the show again, like he did last year. There's not a whole lot of difference. On paper, some people may see it. When you watch the film, they're very aggressive, very stout. If they get you in third down situations, they can single you up, put pressure on your quarterback, play man coverage, challenge you to make plays.
Do you feel a lot better about your offensive line this year? Feel better about the running back position in particular just because Travis is a year older. He understands more what we're trying to do from a protection standpoint. Obviously Adam is a senior. Feel good about that. Obviously (indiscernible) is a young guy. Pick my spots with him in pass protection. Feel good about that.
14 games our offensive line has been able to gain some consistency. We did give up three sacks last game. One was on the quarterback, should have threw it away. We have been consistent all year being able to limit sacks. That's a testament to Robby, the preparation there.
Feel good. We know we're going to be challenged, they're going to have a scheme, we're going to have to make an adjustment throughout the course of the game.
(Question about field position.)
Last year we had done the same thing. We had to do more of that. We had to put together consistent drives, be methodical, go score points. The difference was last year we weren't quite as explosive. We didn't get the chunk plays. This year we've been able to create those, be able to go put together drives.
Definitely our guys are going to be confident. For us, the objective is to end every drive in a kick. We feel like wherever you give us the ball, it's our job to go out and score points.
The guys are confident. One of the things we challenge them on is to figure out how they want to defend us, let's not get greedy, take what's there. We have our opportunities, let's make them count.
Correct. This is Playoff football. That's what everyone is going to come in planning to defend, is the run. If you can stop the run, you make somebody one-dimensional. Now you can put them in some long yardage situations, gain the advantage. We have to be able to establish the line of scrimmage.
Some places Trevor was impatient. Some was getting the jitters out. We wanted to establish the line of scrimmage. That's what Notre Dame planned on stopping. They were twisting a lot, doing things to make sure we didn't get the running game going. They were giving us some one-on-one matchups the first quarter, hooked up with T, Justin Ross, able to take advantage of those. We were able to come out the second half, really come out and commit to the run. The more we were able to commit to it, the more we were able to be consistent, bang, there goes the big play.
How special is it for you to have two of your running backs with single season rushing records at Clemson?
That's pretty cool. I can't take the credit. Those guys, they're both workhorses. They come to work every day. They run violent. A lot of times a lot of those yards are after contact. They're both great young men. They set the standard of how you come to work every single day. It's been fun to watch those guys mature. I'm really excited for Travis and his future because I think he's got another ceiling to reach.
(Question about Renfrow)
No question, man. His career is going to give hope to a lot of people, not just football players, but people in general that come from an underdog mentality, underdog role, so to speak.
The way he's carried himself is what makes him special. You appreciate the plays he makes, but more importantly you appreciate the leadership, toughness, demeanor that he brings every single day. He makes everybody else around him better. He pushes the credit to his teammates, which is something all of us can learn, especially in this day and age where everybody wants to talk about themselves.
He's played in this game. This has been his biggest game. I'm excited to see what he has in store Monday night.
What do you see from that Alabama defense that you can take advantage of? I don't know if there's any holes in this Alabama defense (laughter). As I said earlier, defensive line-wise, they're very, very stout. Got the best player in the country on the defensive line. Their linebackers are experienced. Dylan Moses is as good an athlete and tackler as you'll see in college football. Thompson is the best safety, in my opinion, in college football. Xavier roams around on the back end, gets in the box, rushes the passer. They have two 6'1" corners that can run, come up and challenge you, press coverage.
The best thing for our guys is they know what they go up against in practice, they're battle tested. They were able to take a month off, pick up where they left off. That can't just be swagger. Hopefully that's a humble confidence about themselves.
That may be a little bit of a shot of confidence for them. They understand that we go as that offensive line goes. Obviously we got Trevor, Travis, all these other guys. But without those big guys up front, Tremayne walking up here, but without those guys up front, their consistency, continuity, the way they play, nothing is possible.
To be able to be as balanced this season, throw the ball, run it when we need to run it, throw it when everybody knows we're going to throw it, protect the passer, to give the guys an opportunity to make plays, that's the key to our success.
In my opinion, this is just my opinion, that's what the transition has been from us being Clemson to being a championship caliber Clemson, is that offensive line.
The Syracuse game, could have lost that one. You had to dig deep. Has that increased the confidence with Chase? No question. For him to come in with the game on the line, to orchestrate the game that I think goes 94, 96 yards to win it, makes a huge fourth-and-six throw, it's a big shot of confidence for him.
I think the confidence overall for all of our players is the way we prepare. We prepare with purpose every single day. You got to bring effort with technique. There's got to be an all-in commitment level. That's the result you saw on the field with Syracuse, that they weren't going to be denied.
Their confidence is not just because we're Clemson, but the confidence is we prepare to a standard, we go out and play. We understand that adversity is going to hit. The championship teams, they respond to the adversity the right way. That's what all these guys have done all season.
Running backs took it upon themselves to step up another level. I'm big on the unit, so obviously Travis gets a lot of the recognition right now because of the statistical numbers he's put up this year. At the end of the day we're a unit. We do everything together. It doesn't matter who is out there. There's a certain standard of performance that we have.
We understand that, we believe we're the heartbeat of the team. If we don't go, the team doesn't go. Again, our roles are going to vary each game depending on the defensive game plan. We have to be the heartbeat of the team. For a hundred snaps we'll protect the quarterback so we can be successful. If we have to run the ball for a hundred snaps, we'll run the ball.
That's the overall attitude we have as an offense, as a team, as a program.
(Question about Travis's progression)
He's still got a lot of room before he hits his ceiling. First you'll start physically. He's made some progress, put on some good weight. He really hasn't started to fill out. If you look at him, he doesn't look like a typical running back from the top up. From the bottom down he does. He's going to continue to mature upper body-wise, put on some more good weight to help him be more physical, a stronger runner.
Better understanding of the schemes. The more reps he gets with the different schemes that we run, he's going to be able to develop more patience, to be able to use his blocking a little bit better in pass protection, just continue to increase his knowledge, to be able to anticipate a little bit better so that he can beat guys to the point of attack and give himself more of advantage, as opposed to being at a disadvantage being late.
He's very dynamic right now, a special talent. But he and I both know there's more in that tank that we got to continue to figure out what are the buttons I got to push to help him grow, make sure that I'm giving him good instruction to help him develop the way he needs to develop.
A little different than being at Clemson. Our Media Day at Clemson is a little different. It's just cool, really cool experience just to get to do all this stuff. This is pretty awesome.
The ability to play (indiscernible), tell me about the guys that make that happen. I think it's everyone, as far as – some of those plays are run plays, too, so we've got our O-line. They've had a great year, they've been awesome. They've helped with that. And then also protection in the passing game. And our receivers have just made crazy plays all year long, so those guys are just really reliable and great players.
A lot of people are amazed by your unflappability, a guy who just turned 19. Where does that come from? Yeah, I've said a few times, it's my faith and my family, just the way I was brought up, and then my faith. No moment is too big. I feel like if I just keep myself grounded, I feel like I was made for moments like this and opportunities like these.
What do you think is going to be more important against Alabama, throwing the ball down the field or (indiscernible)?
I mean, just the same thing as every week, just executing and everyone knowing what they're doing on the same page, and as long as we execute and take care of the ball, we'll be fine.
I think the biggest thing is just keeping the team first. I think that's one thing. I think all the quarterbacks here at Clemson since I've been here have done that, and as long as you keep that first and just – it's a team game. You come here to play with the team and win championships and do all those things. It's not an individual game, so I think that's the biggest thing, when you go into situations like this. That's all I really have to say about that is just don't put yourself above the team.
I mean, I haven't really had much time just to like watch his game because I'm watching the defense more when we're watching film and stuff like that. But he's a great player, obviously. They're similar to us in some ways as far as explosive plays. They've got some great playmakers, too. Those things are definitely similar, and he's an awesome player for sure.
When you were in high school last year, did you watch this championship game?
Yeah, yeah, I watched all of them.
What did you think about (indiscernible)?
Yeah, last year I was watching the Clemson-Alabama game, and I was just dreaming of playing in that game hopefully this year. I didn't really know how it was going to work out. I knew I would eventually, but I didn't really know kind of when, and I was just kind of dreaming of getting that opportunity, so it's cool to see how everything unfolded.
For those who weren't part of the process (indiscernible)?
Probably Georgia and Clemson were my last schools.
And what did it for you?
Just the culture, the atmosphere. Just felt like I had a better relationship with everyone involved in the program, and it was a place where I felt like I could grow the most, just personally and football-wise, too.
When you watch Alabama on film, what stands out to you? I mean, they're just a great defense. They're definitely the best defense we've seen up to this point for sure, and they fly around, they're well-coached, and they're physical. Those are the biggest things I would say.
What's been the biggest jump for you in terms of adjusting from high school to college? I would say just speed of the game, obviously, is a big deal going from high school to college. I'm kind of getting used to that by now, but that's probably the biggest thing.
Do you feel like a freshman still? I mean, yeah, kind of just because I'm new to all these experiences and getting to experience all these things for the first time, definitely feel like a freshman still, but when I'm out there, I feel like it's been a long year and I've grown a ton.
You came out of high school possibly rated the No. 1 quarterback; how do you put that aside now -- I honestly don't really care about all that stuff. I'm just trying to do what I can in the moment. I know I have at least a few more years of college left, so I'm not really worried about all that stuff, and I've got time just to be in college and just have fun and be with my teammates and just enjoy every moment. That's what I'm trying to do.
The success you've had this year, does it surprise you? Not really. I think you get what you work for in a lot of senses, and I feel like this team and me, we've worked pretty hard to get to this moment, so not surprised, but it is kind of surreal to be in this moment.
How many family members are coming to the game? I'll have – I think I'll have around eight or so out here.
What does it mean to have the chance to play in this game? It means a lot, obviously. I don't think it's a big deal to be a freshman, just to have an opportunity to win a National Championship, that's the biggest thing, and just to be a part in these seniors' journey, like I've talked about the guys on the team, they've worked so hard, and just kind of how they've laid the path and set an example, it's cool to get to play with guys like that, and obviously to have this opportunity as such a young guy really just kind of lays the foundation for the rest of my career here.
What did you do to grow your hair? Not much really. I had really short hair my freshman year, and then I just decided to grow it out, and it kind of stuck, so I just left it.
Yeah, obviously we were teammates and he saw kind of – went through that awkward stage of trying to grow it out, so he saw some rough times for the hair.
Every time I meet with the media, I probably get at least two or three questions about it, so it's a lot. And then obviously out in public, get a lot of that, too.
Is there anybody (indiscernible)?
Probably Cade, Cade Stewart. He's got a nice mullet. You guys should go talk to him.
I think he's just been such a great example, just his whole career, just the way he plays, how mentally sharp he is just with everything going on, how he leads those guys when he was playing. Just the way he carried himself is something I look up to, and obviously as a great player that's something to kind of strive for.
Did you talk to him on the phone?
Yeah, we did a few weeks ago, yeah.
What did he say?
We just talked. Just asked him – got to pick his brain a little bit, so it was good.
Playing against Alabama on the national stage, there's a lot of pressure that comes with that (indiscernible).
Yeah, obviously it's the biggest game of the year because it's the next one and it's the National Championship, so I think just staying focused and not letting all the noise from the outside get in. We've got a goal and we know what we want to do, and I feel like if we just do what we've done all year, we're going to be fine. We've just got to keep working, and obviously they're a great team, like you said, but we're just excited for the opportunity.
Yeah, it is crazy, walking in here. It's pretty awesome, but no, we're just trying to, like I said, just stay focused and finish the right way.
You talked about your friendship (indiscernible) it's a competition but you're friends, too. Yeah, I mean, it was kind of similar in some ways to the competition when I came to Clemson, too. But no, just freshman year he was a junior, and I came in and didn't really know much, how everything was going to happen. Just wanted to come in and work, kind of the same way I did here. Me and him grew pretty close throughout all that, and then whenever they gave me the starting position, he moved to tight end and obviously it worked out pretty well for him going to Alabama. I think through that, he grew a ton. I did, too, but just kind of him realizing – I think it made him so much more of a team player, and like I said before, he's one of the hardest working guys I know, and just a great friend.
(Indiscernible). Was that kind of your plan? Yeah, I just don't – that's just never been who I was, just to act like that. That was never really a thought just because that's not who I am. But yeah, I think it is important to be really intentional, especially coming to a new place as a young guy, and just really earn the respect and stuff – I just want to earn everything I have. I don't ever want to be given anything, and I think that's the cool thing about my whole experience here is just I feel like I've earned the opportunity to be in this situation, and obviously everyone else on the team has worked extremely hard to get here, so just proud of everyone.
Yeah, we would work, I think, almost after every practice, just throwing balls and trying to get better. Obviously it was tough for him at first making that transition, but after that, he really just – he was really just all into that decision, and he was on board, and just put everything he had into being the best player he could be, and I think that's why you see him now playing for Alabama.
(Indiscernible) starting the fourth or fifth game. Yeah, obviously I was excited for the opportunity and feel like I had worked hard for it, but I mean, it wasn't anything – it wasn't going to change anything. It didn't change much. Just getting the opportunity was awesome, and obviously it was kind of a different situation kind of with Kelly there and that situation was tough, but was just excited to get the opportunity.
When you got hurt in the Syracuse game, (indiscernible) the opportunity to play -- Like how did I get hurt? I just rolled out and kind of tripped and fell and someone hit me and hurt my head and neck a little bit.
You were in high school last year when you watched Tua (indiscernible).
What was it like for you now watching that? Yeah, it was crazy, just seeing how he handled that mid-game going in and having to kind of play well and giving them a chance to win was just – it was awesome to see. It was definitely one of the best games I've seen in a long time. Just kind of seeing how he did that and how he handled himself was really something cool to see, and obviously faith is a huge thing to him, as well, and I admire that, and seeing how he's handled everything and just kept being himself has been cool.
What would it mean to you guys to go out (indiscernible)? It would mean a lot. Obviously that's my dream. I want to win a National Championship, and we're so close right now. We've got – this opportunity is just – you don't know if you're going to get this opportunity again. We're just trying to make the most of it and really enjoy it.
I would say Jeremiah 29:11 is a big one. I know the plans I have for you, plans for you to prosper, and there's more to that verse, obviously, but that's a huge verse to me, and also Romans 8:28 is a good verse. If y'all want to look those up, you should go for it.
Were there any NFL quarterbacks you looked up to?
I really – as far as like admire, that can kind of be on a few different levels, but I really like the way Aaron Rodgers plays, just his style. I think he's a great player. I think that's the biggest one I kind of like watching the most right now.
Yeah, I mean, at the end of the day, it's just football. I don't think there's anything – I'm not going to fear anything. We've been preparing for this all year, and obviously not me personally, but this team has played them the past three years, so we kind of know what to expect at this point. I feel like you're right, a lot of teams come into the game with fear, and I think that's a big thing that hurts them is they already think they're going to lose before the game starts. I think that's a thing that we have is some experience playing in there that will help us, but obviously they're a great team, and it's going to be a tough game, but I feel like we've prepared well. We're going to keep preparing well, so yeah.
Did you watch them much (indiscernible)? Not a ton just because we're always playing kind of similar times. We get to see replays and stuff like that, but we don't get to see them play a full game really. Obviously we've had some time to watch them on film and break them down and do all that stuff, but yeah, during the season it's tough to watch other teams play.
If the conditions are sloppy Monday, how do you think that's going to affect your offense? It's not going to change anything. We're still going to play how we play. I think we checked it a little earlier, I think it should be good Monday. It doesn't look like there's going to be much chance of rain, but if it is, it's not going to change anything for us. We're going to prepare for whatever circumstances.
Did you play other sports growing up? Yeah, I played baseball and basketball growing up, as well. I was pretty good. I was all right. I quit playing around eighth grade, I think.
You know, I wouldn't say – not really just explaining the whole – what it's like to win one, but just kind of the work it takes to get here, we've talked about that, and just how not to take it for granted because it is really hard to get here. This team has been able to do it, this is the third time, so it's pretty unbelievable, but it is such a challenge just to get to this point, so we've talked about that.
I'm not worried. I'm going to respond just like I've carried myself every other game. It's still just a game, so I'm not really worried about that.
To get back to Syracuse, how have you grown since then? Yeah, just the way I think. Mentally I became a lot sharper since then and just grown a lot as far as decision making and a lot of little detail stuff, too. So I think all that stuff, just leadership, everything, all the way around I've grown a lot since then.
Yeah, I mean, throughout the year, obviously the playbook gets bigger and bigger, and you're just adding stuff and changing stuff, just all that kind of stuff happens anyways, but also as I've kind of grasped everything better, it's definitely helped.
Some people – some of my strength coaches call me Stick because I'm so skinny. And then some people obviously call me Sunshine, but I'm used to that. A lot of people call me that.
Because of your personality? No, from the movie 'Remember the Titans.'
I honestly think I felt like that all season. Being here early enrolling and being on campus since January helped a lot, helped me get ready, and I felt like since the beginning of the season I was ready if I had to run the offense, I was ready.
(Indiscernible). Not really, honestly. I grew it out probably four years ago, and it just stuck, and I've just kept it. Yeah, nothing special really.
What's the biggest thing that you've seen about Alabama's defense? I mean, they're really fast at every position. They're well-coached, like I said, and just really physical. They fly around, and they're a great defense, definitely the best defense we've seen up to this point for sure. It's going to be a challenge, but just excited to get the opportunity.
You know, they're a team, they don't really have a lot of weaknesses. They're a great team, like I said. But I think it's going to be a good match-up. We've got a lot of good players, too. But yeah, there's really not one specific weakness that really sticks out. They're a great defense.
What made you choose Clemson?
Just the atmosphere, the culture, the people really was the biggest thing, just the people, and I felt like this was the best place for me to grow personally, my faith, and then also football-wise. I felt like it was just the right spot for me.
(Indiscernible). What do you mean?
(Indiscernible). Yeah, I didn't really – the conference honestly wasn't a big deal to me, what conference it was in, as long as it was a school I was going to that I felt like was good for me personally and where I was going to have a chance to win a championship. That was a big thing, as well.
(Indiscernible). I mean, yeah, that was something I cared about doing, but it really wasn't something that influenced my decision. I think just wanting to pick somewhere that was the right fit for me was the biggest thing, and then I felt like wherever I went, I could compete and have that chance. That wasn't really one of my big things wasn't picking the school.
(Indiscernible). How are the emotions coming into this game?
I mean, obviously there's still a lot more to come after today. We've got a few more days before the game, but staying focused is a big thing and not getting distracted by all the stuff around. Even though there is all this stuff and it's a huge stage and all that, it's still just a game, just a normal game. Just staying focused, and I think that's the biggest thing.
What's on your wristband? The blue one? It says NEGU, never ever give up. I got it from the opening back when I was a senior, and that was a thing they did with kids that have cancer that came and visited and we got to interact with them, and it was a really cool thing.
(Indiscernible). You know, I think the biggest thing -- not the biggest thing, but an important thing in every game is just trying to start fast and trying to put points on the board as early as you can. That will be big. Just not putting our defense in a tough spot. Keeping good field position will be important. Just all those things we can do.
They're really good. Christian Miller, obviously he's kind of more of a pass rush type guy, but Mack Wilson, Dylan Moses, those guys, they're really physical, great players. They're really fast sideline to sideline, getting across the field. Just good players. That's what you expect in a National Championship game, and then also just on an Alabama defense, that's kind of what you expect at this point.
Just feeling more comfortable, more confident, and obviously just having a better grasp of not just our playbook but also what defenses are doing, being able to recognize stuff quicker and just seeing stuff more holistically. I've grown a lot in that area.
Maybe not one thing necessarily, but maybe just – I saw – I feel like I saw the safety rotation pretty well and just knowing my match-ups was something that I've done a decent job of this year, but I feel like I'm getting better at knowing when to take those chances and seeing the match-ups and stuff like that.
Yeah, I mean, they're definitely the best defense we've faced, and I think all three levels, they're really good, D-line, linebacker, secondary. That's what you expect in a team that made their way to the National Championship, earned their way here. They're a great defense. Obviously they're undefeated and they've had a great year, but we're excited to get this opportunity to play them.
(Indiscernible). I think just kind of what we fought through. I feel like a lot of teams would have slipped up and maybe lost a game along the way. Just kind of everything we've gone through, and it's cool just to see that we're still standing and everything we've been through we've fought through, and we've been really resilient, and this team has done a great job of just staying focused.
What teacher made the biggest impact on your life?
What teacher made the biggest impact on me? Well, I have two probably. I had a teacher – two teachers in high school, Ms. Hahn was one of them, and then Mr. Matheran was another one, just two great people, and I still talk to Ms. Hahn a lot, not as much to Mr. Matheran. But we had a good relationship, and just the things they taught me and the things they instilled in me definitely still hold weight, and I remember them. So yep.
Do you believe it only takes one teacher to make an impact in a student's life? Yeah, definitely. I feel like teaching is such a big thing, and I think some people don't recognize how important it is and how much impact teachers can have in someone's life. I think if you have one teacher that really relates to you and can help you, it can really make a difference in someone's life for sure.
You're a student-athlete, and a lot of times college football is not as much about the student. How important is it to you to be a student-athlete? It's really important. A lot of people that watch football games and all that stuff, they don't really see the other side of all week us grinding to get our schoolwork done first and then the football stuff. So it's tough, but it means a lot to me, and obviously at Clemson it's a great place to be a student-athlete, and we get a lot of support, and it's been awesome, but it's also challenging. But it's definitely worth the challenge if you excel academically as well as on the field.
What's your favorite sandwich? What's your game day sandwich?
I don't know about sandwich. We usually eat steak and mac and cheese and all that stuff on game day. Usually not sandwiches.
I don't really see any personally, but that started kind of as a joke, but now that the season has gone on, we've gone places and people actually think he's me, so it's funny. We got off the plane, and there was a youth football team waiting, and Luke got off and they were all yelling my name when he got off, so it's funny. But yeah.
You're okay with him signing your autograph? Yeah, man, he can take half of the people that come up, and we can split it up, make it a little easier.
Have you ever heard of a TV show called 'The Bachelor' or 'The Bachelorette'? Yeah.
If you were ever on the show, when they meet the girl on the first time, they come out of a limousine, what would be your style? How would you come out of the limousine?
Christian said he would do the splits. Yeah, Christian probably would. I would probably be more laid back I would think, but definitely could see Christian doing a split for sure.
If you could take the girl anywhere and do anything, what would be your ideal date? That's a tough question. I don't know. You say you can go anywhere?
Anywhere. Probably go to an island. That would be pretty cool, go to like a resort type thing. But that's a tough question. I'd have to think about that.
There are about 25 to 30 guys on the show; how far do you think you'd go on the show? I think I'd make it pretty far.
Your teammates have been to this National Championship before. How much have you asked them about that experience?
There's a lot of distractions if you let it be a distraction. There's a lot of stuff going on, and the biggest thing is just staying focused. All this stuff is cool, but we know what we're here for. We're here to play the game on Monday, so I think that's the biggest thing, keeping that in mind with everything you do.
What's the biggest challenge as far as Alabama's defense? I would say just they're a great defense all the way around, best defense we've played, so that's a challenge in itself, but I think every defense has certain things, but they just do a lot of things well. I think just them as a whole, they're a really good defense, so I think that's the biggest thing.
Any tips on hair growth, on fostering a great head of hair like that? What's your secret? Mine just – I just grew mine out, and it just kind of happened, but shampoo, conditioner sometimes for sure.
How often do you condition?
Probably every few days, two days maybe. Every two days probably.
Yesterday the sun hit the hair just right, and I had a sneaking suspicion you've had highlights. No, everyone asks me that. I guess it's just the sun, the sun makes it more blond.
(Indiscernible). Yeah, his junior year?
Yeah, we were in high school for two years ago. I feel like he was just a big part of my development and just – he was just a great leader, great friend, and just kind of growing with him, we went through that change where I was the quarterback and he moved to tight end, and us just working together through that, really just trying to make each other better, and I feel like we did that. We still stay in contact for sure, and after he watched our game, then after they won, he sent me a text, he was like, see you in California. It's cool to keep that relationship, and we're still good friends.
(Indiscernible). I would just say watching him work. He's one of the hardest workers I've played with, and just watching him work just showed me that that's such a good quality to have. Really if you do that, you just earn your teammates' respect, and I think that's been something I've learned and used now, even now coming to Clemson as a freshman, used that to help me earn respect and just get these guys behind me.
(Indiscernible). Yeah, I think just having some experience and kind of going through it once definitely helped me for this situation.
(Indiscernible). Yeah, that was an important thing to me for sure. He's bold about it, he's not ashamed of what he believes, and I think he's that way in everything, not just his faith but every value he holds. He's not ashamed of anything he believes. So I think that was a big thing, and just how he carries himself. I wanted to be in a program that was led by a guy like that.
Why? I feel like that's just important to me. You see a lot of places people kind of change what they believe to try to get someone or try to get a recruit or do all this stuff, and I feel like it doesn't really matter who it is, he's not going to change no matter the circumstance, and he's not going to change what he believes for a certain situation, and that's important to me.
What aspects of your game (indiscernible) hit on this year? I would say just mentally all the way around and leadership would be the two biggest things. Just mentally better decision making, knowing when to do certain things that might not look like a big deal to people just watching the game, but that really can end up being a big deal throughout the course of the game. I think that's a big thing, other than just being able to lead the guys and like I said, just earn their respect and getting the guys behind me and just growing closer together with all the guys has been a big deal.
Is there a little more pressure (indiscernible)?
Not really. I feel like it doesn't really matter, but no matter how old you are, you're going gain respect. I feel like that's a big thing. Coming in as a highly recruited guy and all that stuff, you might have this kind of look that people might assume about you, they think you're cocky or whatever, so I think just coming in and getting to know the guys and showing them who you are and earning their respect, and your play will speak for itself, I think, and I think that's something these guys have done a good job of just taking me in and really letting me lead them.
I hope, you know. We'll see on Monday, but no, I think just grateful for this opportunity, and yeah, I hope that's true. I feel like just kind of watching the tape and all that stuff, obviously I wasn't on the team last year, but there's some stuff that we want to improve in and that we've gotten better at, and I feel like just collectively we're playing really well right now, and that will help us.
It would be awesome. Obviously we're here now, and might as well win it. We came all this way. But no, this has been one of our goals since the beginning of the season, but it wasn't our most important goal. Just kind of along the way, it's kind of hitting these other goals to get to this point, and it's cool just to see how everything has unfolded. It's been a long season, but to see that we're finally here, and everything we've been through, it would mean a lot to get that opportunity.
You know, I don't feel like it's any different really than anyone else in this situation. The only difference is I haven't experienced some of these things as far as like being to a playoff and all these things are kind of first-time experiences for me, but other than that, I don't feel like it's any different than a senior. It's still just football, got to play the game and see what happens.
Why are you so able to handle the pressure? I think just knowing who you are outside of football, outside of the game you're in, whatever it is. Like I said, faith is a huge thing that keeps me grounded and knowing that no matter what happens in the game, it's not going to change anything about my future or what my future holds for me.
Yeah, he's a great player. I mean, obviously you've seen the past four years what he's been able to do and how successful he is. But no, he's been awesome, just being able to play a year with him, I'm really grateful for that, and to get to experience just kind of the person he is has been awesome.
He's just one of those guys that's been through it all. He's had the game winning catch for the National Championship. He's lost the National Championship, done all these things, and he's been through it all, and he's still the same guy through everything, and just a humble guy and a guy you want to be around.
Is it important for you to – early enrollment, how comfortable did that make you being around the guys?
Yeah, I think that's big, just having an extra semester to get to know everyone and to get to work with the guys in the off-season. That's the biggest thing I'm grateful for is just to have the off-season to work with everyone and feel like I was really there from the end of last season until now has been big.
You were at In-n-Out last night? Yeah, we had like 20 guys in there, but yeah, we had to go, obviously. We're not from out here, so we don't get In-n-Out a lot, so we had to go check it out. I got a double double and fries.
Have you been anywhere else? I know you just got in last night. It's really cool. I think it's just a different feel, and everything just looks a little different out here, so it's cool to be out here, and obviously the weather is nice. Better than being in South Carolina in the winter. It's nice, and it's going to be a cool experience. We haven't got to do too much yet, but it's been cool.
The championship trophy was in the locker room this week. What was it like seeing that? Yeah, I mean, just some inspiration, a little bit of extra motivation to go win it. We've done it once and just to have this opportunity again is really awesome.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you've grown as a quarterback as the season has progressed?
How much more comfortable do you feel now than you did at the beginning of the season?
Yeah, I feel a lot more comfortable, just getting a better grasp of the offense and feel like I'm recognizing defenses better and seeing opportunities and just being able to lead the guys, too. All those different areas I feel like I've grown a lot in.
When you run the football, do you have to be a little bit more cautious with your body when you're playing a team like Alabama? Do you have to get out of bounds any differently? Not really. I mean, if anything, it's just – it's the last game of the season. I want to do everything I can to give us the best shot at winning, put us in the best situation. Obviously you've still got to be careful and be smart, but last game, so just want to leave everything out there.
How do you keep your composure because you always have this even-keeled approach? How have you been able to maintain that?Like I've said before, my faith has been the foundation of that, and just knowing that no matter what I do in any situation, it's not going to change anything about my future. Just knowing that, it gives me a lot of confidence, and just never letting the moment get too big.
To grow elite hair, what's it take? You've got to be persistent. You've got to go through some awkward phases. A few years ago I had to go through some of those. Obviously that's the biggest thing.
Pantene or L'oreal, is there a difference? I use Pantene.
I know you talked earlier this week about (indiscernible) but are there parts of Deshaun's game that you wanted to take into your own? Yeah, just his poise is one thing that was awesome about him, and obviously still he's doing that today in the NFL. But just kind of how he carried himself, how he handled himself on the biggest stage, National Championships and all that, just how he carried himself was something to look up to for sure.
You're trying to write your own story (indiscernible). Like I said, I'm not looking for anything to necessarily set me apart. When I say write my own story, I'm going to have my own experiences, and I want to do it my own way, and I'm not trying to do anything necessarily that he did or do anything better than he did really. I just want to go through my career and just have an awesome time here and obviously win a few championships along the way.
(Indiscernible). It's really cool just being the same age. Obviously we knew each other in high school, and I knew he was going to be a great player. I didn't know necessarily how much impact he would have this early, but he's awesome, and he's done a great job, and he came in the summer and just worked and grinded, and to get these opportunities to see him do that has been really cool.
(Indiscernible). I mean, there's great players obviously all around the state of Georgia. I feel like it's one of the best places to play high school football. Just being there and playing some great teams throughout my four years of high school, I think it helped me a lot. But either way, I think it kind of starts over when you get to college and you've got a new team and you've got different guys you've got to get used to playing with. It helps, but it only goes to a certain extent for sure.
Obviously you guys are very high-profile guys (indiscernible). Yeah, I can't remember when we met, but I think I knew him since my junior year probably, and he was 45 minutes away from me, so right there in Kennesaw. We worked out a few times together, and we had a good relationship.
Do you follow each other's – obviously you keep an eye on each other, and the quarterback situation is dynamic all around the country. Yeah, obviously I saw and heard about the kind of stuff that happened with him going to Ohio State and all that, but being in the season still, trying to win a National Championship, it's kind of – I'm not really worried about all the other stuff going on. But definitely wish him the best of luck whatever he decides to do. I feel that way about a lot of guys. But yeah, obviously I saw that.
(Indiscernible). Yeah, I mean, you see that with a lot of guys on our team. Our receiving corps is amazing, and you give them a chance, I feel pretty confident that they're going to catch it. Sometimes you throw one and it's like, they don't make the one-handed catch, you're like, aww. But you also sort of expect it because they're so good. They're just amazing players, and I think it's cool just to see how unselfish they've been all year because obviously we have a ton of great receivers and only one guy can catch the ball at a time, and they've done a great job of encouraging each other, motivating each other, and they're just a good group of guys.
Do you see that as kind of a connection for years to come? Yeah, definitely, definitely.
What did you like about Clemson, and now that you're a part of it, talk about the unique identity that Clemson has. Yeah, I think that's the cool thing, to be a part of a program like this, I don't think anyone can deny that when you look at Clemson, there's just something different. You might not be able to explain it, but there's just something different. I think it's cool how he's built this program, and he's done it his own way. He doesn't try to copy what anyone else has done. He's willing to do it the right way, and it took some time, but I feel like now that we're here, you see how it lasts when you build a program the right way, and just the way he's done it and the leadership he's had over everyone involved has been awesome.
Talk about your relationship (indiscernible). Yeah, we've got a good relationship, and we've been talking a little bit more now recently. We talked before the season even started, hey, it would be awesome to get to play each other at the end of the year, and now as it's kind of happening and getting closer and it's becoming more of a reality, we started texting and talking, so it's been cool.
What does it say about (indiscernible)?
Yeah, it just says really how selfless he is. He's just a team player, and you won't really meet a guy that loves playing more than he does. Just loves football. Just his work ethic and everything, just how he worked in high school, and I'm sure how he's been working in college, too, really sets him apart, and he's just a great teammate.
A year ago (indiscernible)? Yeah, you know, I kind of dreamed to myself, getting this opportunity. It's been a blessing to be able to have this opportunity.
How did that relationship develop? Yeah, we've been roommates for all the home games, and then me and Kelly were roommates for the away games, and then after Kelly decided to leave, we've been roommates for every game now since then. Just being roommates every week and really just helping each other, encouraging each other, and he's been – like I've said, selfless about a lot of the guys on the team. He's really a great example of that, just kind of how he's encouraged and always been there for me, even though it's a tough situation for him, but he's been ready -- like you saw in the Syracuse game, comes in and ready to perform and playing well whenever his number is called.
(Indiscernible). Oh, for sure, yeah. I was in the locker room just hoping he could pull it out, and he did a great job. I had confidence in him, and I've seen the way he prepares every week, and I was confident in him.
(Indiscernible). Just his confidence, and I think you see he's not a look at me type guy. Just always wants to give credit to his teammates, and that's a big thing. I feel like it's cool to see how he's carried himself and never really changed, even though he obviously won a National Championship last year and he's been through a lot of cool things and he's kind of just stayed himself.
What kind of shampoo do you use?
What's the top three songs that you're listening to before the game to get yourself mentally ready for the game? Well, I've got a playlist, but 'So Will I' is a good one.
By who? Hillsong. That's really my main one. All the other ones I have on shuffle.
Who was your hair inspiration?
I don't really have a hair inspiration. I just grew it out, not really knowing what I was doing, just wanted to grow my hair out, and it turned into this, and now it's like if I cut my hair, everyone will freak out, so I'm just keeping it right now.
How would you describe (indiscernible)?
I'd say just calm, relaxed. Two things I try to be. And I feel like that's just kind of who I am.
Recently you've shown more personality. Yeah, I do – obviously not as much in front of cameras and being asked all these questions and stuff, but she said that answering questions I guess I sound kind of monotone and all that, so maybe I should work on that. But yeah.
Do you know your hair has a Twitter account? I've heard, yeah. I think someone made that even when I was in high school, so it's been around for a little bit. But it's starting to get noticed.
I think Cade is definitely in the running, and then people confuse me and Luke, which is kind of crazy. I don't see the similarities, but yeah, they think he's me all the time. But yeah, I think Cade has got a shot at best hair for sure.
Big stage for you, big opportunity. What type of feelings do you have, and going to bed at night (indiscernible)? Just excited. I think it's just crazy to have this opportunity, especially as a freshman. It's just awesome, and then like I said before, you just never know when you're going to get another shot like this. You might not. Just trying to soak everything up and enjoy it with these guys.
I know you haven't spent a lot of time thinking about records and things like that, but you have the opportunity to be just the second true freshman in history to win a National Championship. Are you aware of that, or when did you become aware of that? Yeah, someone just kind of mentioned it a second ago, they asked me a question. But I think just the biggest thing is just getting the opportunity to win a National Championship. Doesn't really matter how old you are. It's really a once in a lifetime opportunity. Obviously this team has gotten a few opportunities to do it, but that's just not the norm. So I feel like just trying to soak it all up and enjoy it is really what I'm focused on.
Justin had such a big first half in the Cotton Bowl last week. Do you feel like he's getting better by the week?
I mean, you see obviously his athletic ability has always been there. He's been like that since he came in, but just understanding the offense more, knowing – just knowing what to do a little bit more and getting that understanding throughout the year, he's gotten a lot better.
Do you feel like you guys have more chemistry now than you did early in the season as far as your anticipation and knowing where he's going to be? Yeah, I feel like with every player, every receiver, O-line, all that stuff, that grows throughout the year.
(Indiscernible) what about his game has impressed you?
I feel like one thing is how he leads. I feel like he's a great leader and just how he carries himself is a big thing. And obviously he's so mentally sharp and knows what everyone is doing, and watching him in the NFL, he's making checks and getting in the right play in the right situation. Just seeing him do all that stuff was really cool as a kid, being able to watch that.
What has allowed you to have so much confidence? I've said it a few times, just my faith. That's what keeps me grounded. Knowing no matter what the moment is, it's not going to change anything. No matter what I do in the moment, it's not going to change anything about my future, and I think that's the biggest thing that gives me confidence.
Have you reached out to each other (indiscernible) before his first NFL playoff start?
Yeah, I'm not sure. I think we've got some stuff that we have to do, some team stuff. But hopefully we'll get a chance to watch a little bit of it. But no, we haven't got a chance to talk. Obviously he's been busy and we've been busy preparing for this, but yeah, maybe we'll get to talk a little bit before the game, who knows.
What stands out on that journey for you? I think just the growth all the way around, just me personally and then obviously just the team, as well. We've just grown so much, gone through a lot of things, and it's just really made us better in the end. Being able to go through that stuff and still be standing is pretty remarkable.
Monday night obviously you want to win a National Championship, but what do you want from your game to stand out the most? You know, I'm not really – to be honest, I'm not really worried about stands out about my game, as long as I play well enough to give us a chance to win it, win the game. That's all I really care about. I feel like we have that opportunity, and just excited to be able to have the opportunity to play in this game.
(Indiscernible). Yeah, it's just kind of surreal how I feel like life just goes so fast. A few years ago I was just a kid watching him, and then now just to be given this opportunity and being able to talk to him on the phone and stuff like that is really cool.
What's the biggest thing you took away from that conversation? Just hearing the stuff he did and how hard he worked and how he just tried to perfect his craft is definitely something I want to try to do.
(Indiscernible). I don't even remember, to be honest.
(Indiscernible). It was just a regular conversation, to be honest with you. We talked about the situation a little bit, and he just gave me a little bit of confidence and just saying that he had my back, regardless of what happens, so that helped, and obviously he's just been a great teammate.
What's that mean for you as a freshman, the guy who's maybe the most respected guy on the team to say, let's talk? It means a lot. It just shows how invested he is in the team and how much he's willing to help whoever needs it. Just how much support he's given me and really the whole team has been awesome.
10 minutes before the game, what do you have on your playlist to make sure your mind is right? I have a little Christian playlist I play, and usually just play that just to calm me down a little bit and just get ready to play, relax.
10 minutes before the game, what is Dabo going to have on his playlist to make sure his mind is right? I don't know, there's no telling. Either some Christian or some heavy metal, one of those two. I don't know.
There's been a lot of talk over the past few days about Alabama versus Clemson (indiscernible) two best teams in college football over the past four years. What are your general thoughts on that? Just like you said, it doesn't really matter who it is. The two best teams I feel like should play in the championship, and both of these two teams have earned that opportunity to say they're the two best teams and get the opportunity to play the National Championship.
I feel like this is the best Alabama offense I've seen. They switched to you at quarterback for a reason. What do you feel you have to do offensively that gives your team the best opportunity on Monday night? I think just be who we've been all year, stick to what we've been doing, and just execute and take care of the ball, and I feel like we'll be fine.