Nov. 7, 2000
by Annabelle Vaughan Contributing Writer
Deliah Arrington doesn’t remember a single thing about the first classes she attended at Clemson University. It wasn’t that she was a terrible student or sleeping in class. And no, the professors weren’t that boring. It’s just that she can’t remember back that far. Even though Arrington is only a sophomore, she sat through her first class at Clemson 17 years ago.
Arrington was born the year that her father, Vandel, was a redshirt sophomore on the Tiger football team that ended a Cinderella season with a trip to the Orange Bowl and a national championship. She spent her early years living practically in the shadow of Death Valley, as her family lived in the married housing duplexes on campus.
Now, Deliah is back on the Clemson campus, working to become the second member of her family who is a member of an athletic dynasty at Clemson. As a key player on the women’s soccer squad that has been ranked as high as second in the nation this year, she hopes that one day she too can play on a national championship team.
But don’t expect Deliah Arrington to talk much about her athletic accomplishments, even though they are many. She ranks second on the team in goals and in game winning goals and was named the NCAA Player-of-the-Week after netting the winning goal in the Tigers’ win over top-ranked North Carolina. But you’d have to read all of that in the newspaper. It’s a trait she inherited from her father.
Although most Clemson fans have at least one memento of the Tigers’ national championship season, you could spend a long time with Arringtons without ever knowing Vandel played on such a nationally-known team. “Football was my everything back then,” remembers Vandel. “I really had things out of line as to which came first in my life and which came second. It was a game, but sometimes I put the game higher than my standards or my family, so God really had to straighten me out. I’m really proud of playing for Clemson, but it’s not life.
“Deliah has always loved soccer and when she was growing up, she would get so caught up in it that I would have to remind her that it’s just a game. Athletics are supposed to teach us about life, but not run our lives. I had to get a balance on that and I’m so proud that she already has that balance. A number of people ask her what her goals and plans are. ACC Player of the Year? Playing pro? And she just says, ‘I want to play. I want to enjoy it.’ She’s got a great attitude about it.”
Deliah was just a toddler when Vandel was finishing up his playing career and working on his degree. And although times were not always easy, his committment to God helped him make a stronger committment to his family and to his classwork. So while his wife, Jackie, would go to work on campus, Deliah would often accompany her father to his classes. “She would sit with me and never make a noise,” he remembers. “I’d give her a piece of candy or a toy and she’s sit quietly through the whole class. She was always very mature.”
A couple of years later, after Vandel had graduated from Clemson, the family moved down the road to Central, where they served as house parents at a home for troubled youths. When Deliah was five or six, Vandel felt called to a ministry in Florence, S.C., where he would once again be working with young people.
It was in Florence that Deliah began her love affair with the game soccer. Her father was coaching her younger brother Lamar on a rec. league team (“I didn’t know what I was doing, but I was coaching,” he laughs. “The kids used to tell me what the positions were. I didn’t have a clue!”). After a couple of seasons, Deliah started playing and soon discovered that she had a knack for the game.
“I was always competitive – very competitive,” she says. “I would have tried hard at anything. It was fun.”
Vandel agrees that his daughter has a competitive streak. “She was always ‘Look, Daddy, look,’ or ‘Look, Mama, look!’ She was always trying to run the fastest or jump the highest. When she started soccer, she would run herself to death and then go to sleep!
“I knew she was good back when she was nine or 10. There was just a difference between her and the other kids. She could run with the little boys. She WAS the team.”
The Arringtons left Florence when Deliah was about to start high school, as Vandel accepted a call to a church in Pawley’s Island. When they moved to that coastal area, they soon discovered that there was not an established soccer program for her to join. But not long after they had moved, a coach from Charleston called and asked her to come down and try out for his team. She made the team and her family made a committment.
“To this day, I have no idea how they know about me,” says Deliah. “It was an hour drive down there and an hour drive back and I had to go once a week for practice and every weekend for games. We did that for four years. My Mom drove me for the first two years and then when I started driving, I went by myself.
“There was one time when my Dad didn’t want me to do it because he thought it was too much on me. But I talked him into it because I wanted to play on a good team. I didn’t really beg, but I put on sad face for him. It worked!”
“She loved it,” says her proud father. “My wife Jackie was a big part of it. She reminded me that I spent a lot of time helping kids and that I needed to make sure I put that same effort into my own. That really stuck with me.”
While Deliah was playing with the Olympic Development Program in Charleston, the coach at Waccamaw High School made an interesting proposition. He asked her to play for his team. The only problem was, it was a boy’s squad.
“At first I didn’t want to play with guys and they didn’t want me to play with them,” she says. “But I knew some of them, so I went out there and just played around. Some of the guys were pretty excited about me coming out. It was OK.”
Deliah led the team in goals her freshman year and played half of her sophomore season before quitting to focus mainly on track at the high school level. But while she played on the boys’ team, her father always stood vigilant. “I would stand at the fence, making sure they knew that if they hit her, they would have to deal with me,” says the former hard-hiting cornerback.
In addition to excelling in soccer, Deliah lettered for four years in track, winning three state championships as a senior (100-meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump). She scored 38 of her team’s 39 points at the state championships. But she saw her future in soccer.
“I went to soccer camp at Clemson when I was a sophomore and I fell in love with it,” she remembers. “I didn’t want to come here because my Dad went here, I wanted to come to play soccer. Tracy was an unbelievable coach and it was such a nice place. It was just the whole package. There was never a question in my mind.”
So now Deliah is back to where she started, perhaps attending classes in the same rooms where she sat quietly while her father earned his degree. She had an outstanding freshman season, leading the Lady Tigers in goals, game-winning goals and points scored and her sophomore campaign has been just as successful thus far.
“It was very intimidating at first, because there weren’t many good soccer players in Pawley’s Island. It took me a while to get used to it and find my place. At first I wasn’t playing so well, but then I gained some confidence. I love the soccer. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to play on this team. To travel and play with and against all of these great players is a great experience.”
And even though she is slow to talk about her own accomplishments, Deliah is quick to credit her parents with helping her get where she is today. “My dad and I were always hitting heads because we’re both so stubborn,” she laughs. “But I really appreciate everything my parents did for me. They never pressured me about soccer, they just left it up to me. Now that I look back, the driving we had to do was unbelievable after a while and I know it was expensive to play and travel all the time. They put a lot of time and effort into it and I really appreciate it.”
“I’m so happy for her and proud of her,” says Vandel. “When I look at her, I feel like we did all right. For the past 15 years, I’ve been working with kids and I’ve seen a lot of them don’t make it. It makes you scared for your own kids. That’s why it’s so good they she has found something something she loves to do and has a good time doing it. I would love her whether they win or not. I dont’ give a flip as long as she’s happy. I’m happy because she is.”
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