Q. I'm curious with name, image likeness opportunities for the athletes now, you've never had to manage a locker room where somebody was getting more than somebody else, somebody was getting something different than somebody else. Do you think not particularly for your team but for college football that's going to be a challenge for coaches to manage that dynamic?
DABO: Maybe. I've always had to manage a team where some guys played more than others. Some guys played 50 snaps, some guys played 5. I've always had to kind of manage chemistry. (Audio interruption).
I think they've managed it well. My focus has been on trying to protect them and educate them and train them to be responsible young people and to -- not to get themselves in tough situations to make sure we help them navigate that part of the college experience just like we try to help them navigate everything in the experience, whether it be strength and conditioning or academics, nutrition, sleep, recovery, overall wellness. Whatever. That's just one other aspect.
It's been really good for us at Clemson.
Q. Just what can you say about going into this season and hiring from within at the offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator, your thoughts on Brandon Streeter as well as Wes Goodwin and why they were the right fit to lead the offensive and defensive sides of the ball?
DABO: First of all, it's not always feasible to promote from within. Sometimes I've had to go outside multiple times over my career, but I think it's best when you can, but it's got to be the right time, the right fit, and all those boxes checked.
This was an easy decision for me. Wes Goodwin has been with me since December of '08. I have never been with a guy more prepared. I'm well aware of what the headlines would be when I named Wes Goodwin to be the D coordinator at Clemson. Everybody is hitting Google like, who the heck is that?
He is so deserving and has already done an amazing job, and I'm glad we have an opportunities to go through a bowl, a bowl season, and game under our belt and all that and watch him just be himself.
Probably the best part for me was letting the defensive guys know, hey, here's what we're going to do, and their enthusiasm and their excitement because they know Wes. They know who he is. They know what he brings to the table, and now to be able to have the hands-on experience going through a bowl, going through the spring and the summer, man, we're ready to roll. He is going to be awesome. I mean, he just has to be himself. That's all I need him to be.
Easy decision. He deserved it. He earned it. I think when you don't promote people that deserve it and earn it and have earned it, there's a breakdown in culture.
Same thing offensively. Brandon Streeter has been with me since December of '14 when we played in the bowl game against Oklahoma there in Orlando. He coached Deshaun for two years. He recruited Trevor. He coached him all three years. He recruited DJ and recruited Klubnik. He deserves it.
He has turned down multiple coordinator jobs in and out of our league, the SEC, NFL. He has had multiple opportunities, but he has been our passing game coordinator for a few years now. With Tony getting the job at Virginia, again, he deserved it, and he has earned it. Also, being able to create new opportunities for some other support staff and some new people like Nick Eason and Kyle Richardson going in different roles as well.
It's a lot of fun. Mickey Conn moving into a different role.
Q. Can you speak on the loyalty within your program? You have players jumping in and out of the transfer portal versus going through the struggle and the grind and players jumping in the transfer portal. Can you speak to your overall opinion of the transfer portal?
DABO: I think the greatest asset you have and what's most important is your players. I've always told our coaches, and I hold our coaches accountable for -- that's why we don't offer many guys because we're not a catch and release type program. We're a 'til graduation do we part program. It's not me just saying that. 11 out of 12 years top 12 academically, Clemson, Duke, and Northwestern, 98% graduation rate. Been doing this a long time, and that's the main thing in our program.
We recruit young people that value education that align with the things that we offer. Then we talk about serving their heart, not their talent. It's a relationship-driven place. It's always been that way. From time to time it's the right thing for some guys to move on. Whether they're a graduate and maybe they just want more opportunity to play or whatever, but if we do a good job loving our players, serving our players, making sure they have a good experience, making sure that they understand the big picture of development and growth and the long-term value of what we offer, they're going to stay.
I think this team exemplifies that more than anything. We had 109 guys go through spring. 109 guys are still here. Not one person left. There are only four of the Power 65 teams that didn't have somebody leave after spring. That says a lot about what our players think about our coaches but more importantly what they think of their experience and the love of Clemson and their culture and each other. When you have guys even -- you got a defensive end position, I mean, we got four D ends that can start for anybody in the country, and they're all seniors. Myles is a junior but might as well be a senior. You have to have a certain level of selflessness and self-awareness. That's not easy to have in today's world. It's all about me type of stuff.
That's a credit to the character of our team the leadership of our team, the culture of our locker room, the accountability and their love for each other.
We brought one guy in from the portal. I call him a boomerang portal in Hunter Johnson. He started with us, and he is coming back to be a third team quarterback for us and finish up his career at Clemson.
Q. Coach, either rightly or unjustifiably, Clemson fan boards have a lot of opinions on DJ and his on-field performance the last two years. Tell us about your level of confidence in him as is given by the fact you've brought him to media day as one of the faces of your program.
DABO: They had a lot of great opinions his freshman year, didn't they? They wanted me to sit Trevor for DJ. I had some of them, "I think we should sit Trevor. He is not playing great. Let's put this DJ."
DJ set records as a freshman. He did an amazing job for us. Last year it was a struggle. Like I told DJ, that comes with being the quarterback. Comes with being the head coach. You get a lot of praise and you get all the criticism. That just comes with it. That's part of -- comes with the territory so to speak.
Last year, as I've said many times, I've never had a young quarterback, first-year starter who didn't make mistakes, but the past young quarterbacks that I have had the last two young quarterbacks, Deshaun Watson and Trevor, they made mistakes, but we were much better around them. Whereas with DJ, we were not very good around him. So his mistakes were magnified.
Then I think this guy, all he has ever done is win, and now all of a sudden it's disappointment, there's adversity, challenges, and some criticism. How do you respond?
It's disappointing. Next thing you know, people question you, and maybe you lose a little confidence or you try to do too much. That's all part of maturing. He is going to play football for a long time.
I don't need anybody on a message board to tell me who DJ is on a message board. Just ask Terry Don Phillips, I won six games my sophomore year -- my sophomore year? My second year as the head coach. I won six games as the head coach. There was a lot of people on the message boards wanting me gone. Right? Then next year we won the ACC for the first time in 20 years. We won 10 games for the first time in 20 years. Now we win 10 games, and they want to fire me.
Terry Don Phillips had a lot of confidence me as a coach. I got a lot of confidence in DJ. Going to graduate in December. Unbelievable young man on and off the field. One of the best leaders that we've had come through. Incredibly committed. He has some scars on him and some shrapnel and some wounds. That's going to serve him well as he goes into this year.
So it's a game of performance, and you can't change that. I can talk about how great he is all day long, he has to go do it. I believe in him, and there ain't no doubt about that. I know who he is. We're going to be better around him, and that's the first thing we've got to do is we've got to be better around him. He has to learn from his mistakes. He has to play better in certain areas that he knows. I believe is he going to do it.
Q. After Tony Elliott was hired at Virginia, he said you both spoke about his decision to potentially take the job. What advice did you give him, and how prepared do you think he is for this opportunity?
DABO: I told him he needs to take the job. I told him this is the right one. I felt like he was a great fit for Virginia, and I felt like Virginia was a great fit for Tony and his family. He has turned down several head jobs over the last few years, but I felt like Virginia was the right fit for him. As far as how prepared he is, he is incredibly prepared.
I've been with Tony 19 years. I coached Tony. He was a captain for me. He has been around a long time now. He knows what it looks like. Incredibly smart. Is a very gifted coach.
There's no greater teacher than experience, doing something. A lot like DJ. Going through this past year and gaining all that experience, there's no greater teacher than that. As far as being prepared, he is as prepared as anybody could be to go do it for the first time.
THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you. We'll switch up with K.J. now.
Q. I just want to talk about what were the factors that led to your decision to return to Clemson, and what do you think that decision that speaks on what the Clemson culture means to you and the team as a whole?
K.J.: For my decision coming back, a big factor was definitely Coach Swinney. Obviously, talks with my family and himself. The biggest one was really just accepting the challenge of not only raising the bar for defensive line, myself, and this defense, but really just getting to compete with so many talented guys.
I think it's going to give me a great learning lesson going to the next level and being in a room with guys that are just as talented as I am, and up to this point it's raising my level of accountability and everything else on the football field being with guys like Myles, X, Mascoll. It's definitely made me a better player. That was a challenge that was given to me in the offseason, and it was just my job to just accept it.
Q. You mentioned Coach Swinney. What is it about his leadership that you take with you going into those season? Maybe the biggest learning lessons from the coaching staff from Coach as well as maybe some other people that have left something with you in a special way that you can take into a game when you need to?
K.J.: I think the biggest lessons I have learned from Coach throughout my career is how he treats all of us. He tells us all the time he is not going to treat us equally, but he will treat us fairly. That's just a testament of learning and getting to know each player, each staff member he has and doing the best he can to bring out the best in them.
That's probably the biggest lesson I learned in trying to help lead the team in this defense is you can't really attack everybody the exact same way. People learn differently. People understand things differently, and I have to get to know my teammates and my coaches in order to get the best out of everybody, and that's probably been the best thing I've learned from Coach Swinney over my time.
Q. The Commissioner said this morning that bowls are important. You're one of just two ACC teams to win a bowl game. You won ten games, and yet, you've heard pundits and fans are calling 2021 a down year. How motivating is that?
K.J.: That's awesome. I love that, honestly. Like Coach Swinney said, we were about to help him pack. He was about to get fired for only winning ten games last year, but like I've been saying all day, it's been awesome that that's the standard we have for this program, that all the success we've had over the years has come to a point that now if we win ten games, that's unacceptable. I don't want that to change.
I love what we were able to do last season with so much adversity that hit, and every game is important. Especially the last game of the season playing for a bowl. No matter what it is, it's another one we get to hang up and say that we're victorious in, and we took that very seriously. We were glad to get the win in the Cheez-It Bowl.
THE MODERATOR: A bachelor's degree in three years and a master's degree in one year. Where does that academic drive come from some?
K.J.: Definitely from Keith Henry and Nicole Henry. No doubt about it. Love my parents. More Nicole Henry than Keith. There's no doubt about that either.
Honestly, I just saw my time at Clemson as filled with gratitude, and I think really any time someone is going to take the time and the energy to invest in me, it's only right that I give my best foot forward and that included me graduating in three years. Didn't really have any aspirations to get my master's, but knowing what I want to do in the future and the fact that that's the bar that my parents set for myself and my family, I knew I wanted to reach that as well.
As long as Coach Swinney is going to keep paying for it, I'm going to keep learning. We're going to do that. (Laughing).
THE MODERATOR: With that, is there a doctorate in your future at some point?
K.J.: No doctorate, though. Ain't no doctorate. I'm still learning, but there's no doctorate coming.
THE MODERATOR: "Dr. Henry" has a nice ring to it.
K.J., 88 career tackles, 10 sacks, 5 pass break-ups, 3 fumble recoveries. Is there something you've not accomplished statistically that you would like to this year?
K.J.: When it comes from a statistics standpoint, there's a lot of things that I haven't accomplished that I want to. What exactly those are, I'm not sure myself.
I think when it comes to goals and what I aspire to do, usually it aligns with just the player I want to be, and I want to be the best teammate I can, the best leader I can for my guys, and really just be as consistent as possible. Usually when I align myself in those traits and try to be the best in those areas, statistically that shows up as well. In order to be the best of that this year, I think great stats will come from that.
THE MODERATOR: Last question. Wake surfing? What's the secret to being a good wake surfer?
K.J.: It's all about balance, number one, and number two, it's really just getting over the "I can't do it." I think I have a lot of teammates, a couple to my left, who can't get up on a wake surfboard. Half the problem is they just tell themselves they can't do it. That's kind of what I figured out is I'm going to get this thing done.
It's definitely -- being on the lake in Clemson is what I love to do. Especially during the summer because there's nothing else to do. It's something that I enjoy, no doubt about it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Let's switch it up with Jordan and see if Jordan can handle the podium as well as you did. Jordan McFadden, our graduate offensive tackle for the next couple of minutes.
Q. You were one of the four D linemen on either side of the ball to start all 13 games for the Tigers. What did it mean for you to find that personal consistency within the line-up?
McFADDEN: I know it was definitely a tough year with injuries and everything like that, but being a leader of the offense, being a leader of the offensive line, just trying to be out there for my teammates, I love to play. I love to compete. I love to win. It was really important to me that no matter how I feel, I was out there with the rest of my guys trying to do the best that I can, be as successful as I can be.
Q. You've got a new offensive line coach in Thomas Austin. What does he bring to the table that's a little bit different than Robbie Caldwell? How is he the same? How has he kind of taken to the job?
McFADDEN: I love Coach Austin. He is genuine and cares about us. He has played in the NFL and been where I want to go eventually. He has a ton of knowledge. He is not necessarily a big yeller or anything like that, but he gets his message across very well, and I'm super excited to play for him. It will be a lot of fun.
I think this offensive line will definitely be better because of him, so I'm super excited to play for Coach Austin. I think it will be a lot of fun.
Q. Jordan, just what can you say about the culture of Clemson and what is your favorite part of being a part of this program because it just seems like the air is different, you handle yourselves differently, and you also seem to have fun at the same time.
McFADDEN: You know, it's definitely a ton of fun. That's a huge reason why I came back to Clemson.
I would say the biggest thing is just my teammates, the love I have for them. They're awesome. They work extremely hard. They push themselves. They push me to make me better.
It's just always fun competing with a bunch of guys who love to play the game and who love each other. I would say my teammates are just a great example of our culture here and how they carry themselves off the field, on the field, and just being in the locker room with guys like that makes you want to continue to be at Clemson.
Q. For you going up against such a dominant defense in practice, how would you describe those battles and what that's like from your perspective?
McFADDEN: Those battles are -- they can be a lot of fun, and also they can not be a lot of fun at times, but that defensive line is special. They're so deep. There are guys at every position, multiple guys at every position.
Honestly, that makes the offensive line better. That makes me better competing against the best guys in the country day in and day out. I'm excited to watch that group. I'm excited to see how they go out this season and handle business.
I genuinely think they'll be the best defensive line in the country. I'm excited to watch it.
THE MODERATOR: Just 68 miles from Dorman High School to Memorial Stadium. What's it been like playing so close to home?
McFADDEN: It's been genuinely amazing. Growing up in South Carolina, always being a Clemson fan, I take a lot of pride in my performance and how I play. Being from South Carolina, so many people are rooting for me, cheering for me.
I think I owe it to them to go out there and put my best foot forward day in and day out each weekend. I take a lot of pride in being from South Carolina and wearing that helmet.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you. Jordan, you can switch places with DJ. We will spend our last five or six minutes with our quarterback.
Q. DJ, I'm originally from Los Angeles, so I saw you at St. John Bosco in your high school days. I saw you up close. Talk about your progression as a quarterback to where you are now and in a conference that is so heavy with talented quarterbacks where do you fit in amongst all of that?
DJ: First and foremost, I would definitely say that in the ACC we have a lot of great quarterbacks but a lot of great teams and to be able to play in a conference with such great quarterbacks all around, I feel like every single team has a well-known great quarterback.
It's exciting. A lot of those teams are going to play this year, and with the great quarterbacks. For me it's super exciting to be able to know that there's other quarterbacks in this league that are really great, and to be among one of those great quarterbacks in this league.
Q. I had a chat with you earlier, and I called you Slim Cinco. How big has health and fitness been for you this offseason?
DJ: It's been huge, man. I'm dropping a lot of weight. It was one of my big goals this offseason. For me I felt like after the Cheez-It Bowl, I weighed myself, and I said, I'm a little too heavy coming off of it, so I wanted to get some weight down and be able to come into this year in the best shape of my life, so I could put my best foot forward.
Q. DJ, the Commissioner mentioned earlier the NIL has had a big-time effect on collegiate sports in general. Also mentioned in suggesting that maybe Washington should get involved. I know you have multiple NIL deals as well. Do you think that there should be a type of cap on how much a player can generate based off the play on the field? What's your opinion on that?
DJ: I would probably say my opinion is I feel I don't know about too much about what the Commissioner said about the cap and all that, but for me I know that for us as a Clemson program that everyone that does make money on our team, everyone is happy for each other, and I feel like in our locker room that everyone supports people if you do make some money from NIL. As long as you keep football the main thing in your life and that you don't let NIL become the main focus, I feel like NIL can be perfectly fine in a college football setting.
Once you make NIL the main topic and it's more important than football, then I feel like someone has to come and step in and make an issue for that.
Q. DJ, just what can you say about how Kyle Richardson has improved your game and what you have taken from him in that leadership going into this season with him being your passing game coordinator?
DJ: Coach Rich, shoutout to my boy, Coach Rich. He has done a good job being a pass game coordinator, him and Coach Streeter, working together. I think the biggest thing for me knowing with Coach Rich is the comfortability level with him. I have a great relationship with him and Coach Streeter. Just having open conversations with him and being able to speak my mind, being able to have him speak his mind to me and just be able to have those open conversations to where we have that comfortability level with each other.
Q. Last year you opted for the gray suit. You had the minimal chain. This year you have the brown suit with the big Jesus piece on. Is that a testament to your confidence going into this year?
DJ: Yeah, I guess so. I like wearing -- I like different suits, so this year I wanted to go with a brown suit, double-breasted with a double-breasted jacket, a little bit of blue underneath. I got a new piece, new Jesus piece. I guess you could say that.
Q. DJ, when you came to Clemson, you had Trevor Lawrence already sitting there, and he welcomed you into the program, took you under his wing, and I guess you guys kind of competed together. You practiced together. He took you under his wing and helped you. When Cade came into the program, what did you tell him when he stepped on to campus?
DJ: I tried to tell him the same stuff that Trevor told me. First of all, Cade is a great player, great teammate, and a great leader. He brings a lot of affection and brings a youth to the quarterback room and also to the team. I'm super excited to see him play. Kind of just trying to give him wise words that Trevor did and just help him along this process. Just trying to give him just different steps to where it can help him out just to be able to be a great player.
Q. DJ, for you Coach Dabo talked about how experience is a great teacher. What did your experience last year teach you and what do you take away?
DJ: I think for the most part what I learned from last season is the experience of just getting a comfortability level and going through a whole season and being able to be a starter the whole season. Being a starter for a whole season instead of just playing starter for two games as my freshman year taught me a lot about how to manage it, how to manage everything, how to manage media, manage going into preparation of a game, going through just the whole season I feel like for the most part. That was the biggest thing I learned.
THE MODERATOR: Last question from the podium: Your teammates and friends call you "Big Sweet Tooth." Why is that?
DJ: Oh, man, I do love sweets. That was one thing I have to cut out to lose a lot of weight. I stopped eating desserts, sweets. Probably haven't ate one -- I started eating one -- I had to stop for, like, six months from January to June I didn't have any sweets. That was a big part.
THE MODERATOR: Is there a favorite one that you miss?
DJ: Yeah, I love ice cream. Yeah. I think that's a big one. I'm a big ice cream fan.