Note: The following appears in the Syracuse gameday football program
During his time leading the Clemson program, head coach Dabo Swinney has had several memorable quotations. “Bring your own guts” and “bloom where are you are planted” are two that would be considered bumper-sticker worthy.
There is another quotation that Swinney has used often that perfectly describes graduate defensive end Richard Yeargin.
“God does not say oops.”
The reason this quote used by Swinney when speaking of overcoming adversity applies to Yeargin can be broken down into two key dates.
The first is Jan. 9, 2017. Mention that date to any Tiger fan and a smile is almost guaranteed to come across his or her face. That is the night the Tigers ascended to the top of the college football world with a thrilling last-second victory over Alabama.
The second is June 3, 2017. It was only 145 days from one of the greatest days in Clemson athletic history. That date may not mean as much to the average fan, but for Yeargin, that day on the calendar will always signify a change in his life from football to life away from the gridiron.
Yeargin, a Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., native, played 22 games in his first two seasons as a Tiger and played six snaps in the national championship clincher again the Crimson Tide. He had shown the form that earned him first-team all-state honors at University School of Nova Southeastern University.
“It was about 5 p.m.,” recalled Yeargin. “I was coming back to Clemson from Greenville and was changing lanes to get off I-385 to I-85 in Greenville. There were a lot of thunderstorms that afternoon, and the wet weather was causing a lot of wrecks. When I started to switch lanes, I hydroplaned. The next thing I knew, my car flipped over. Then I am just trying to breathe and understand what was going on.”
While in the hospital in Greenville, it was determined that he broke his neck.
“The entire experience was a blur,” admitted Yeargin. “One minute I am fine, and the next thing you know I am going through something you would never expect to happen. As an athlete, you are always taught to work hard and push through the pain. But for the next three months after this happened, the only thing I could do was eat, sleep and rest.”
It was during that time after the accident that Yeargin knew the choice of Clemson as a college destination was a wise life decision. A phone call in the hospital from Swinney along with visits from Brent Venables, Todd Bates and the entire defensive line showed him just how much he meant to the Clemson Family.
“I can’t begin to tell you how much support I had after the accident. The first thing coach Swinney told me was that he would love me the same if I never played football again and would treat me exactly the same. It did not surprise me. Clemson is a special place, and not only for football. When I was being recruited, Clemson felt different. It is place you like to call home.”
Following three months of rest, he began the process of returning to football. Months and months of rehabilitation followed with countless hours of work in the training room and weight room. He took part in portions of spring practice and was on the practice field in August. It was at this point he knew there were things more important than football.
“This past year and a half has been really difficult in many ways. I worked so hard with (director of sports medicine) Danny Poole and (director of strength & conditioning) Joey Batson to get myself back ready for football. But I realized there were long-term implications if I continued to try and play.”
The decision to move from a role as a player to that as a student assistant actively involved in the program was made easier by a long-term view of life that is remarkable at such a young age.
“I know God has always had a bigger plan for me than just football. My life is fulfilled by servicing others. I valued the opportunity that I had to be a student-athlete. I have taken advantage of all that it has given me.
“Clemson has provided me the tools to be successful in life long after playing football. The attitude I have is there is beauty in the struggle. No one should feel sorry for me. Feel sorry for the people that do not make the best of their situation. I am going to be a success story.”
The next chapter in steps to success is underway. As a student assistant, Yeargin in involved in practice every day and is a presence of the sidelines. It is not unusual to see him mentoring some of the younger defensive ends.
“I want to be a resource for these younger guys in any way I can. I hope there are some things I can show them that will help them get better. Whether it is going over the gameplan during the week or trying to tell them how to take advantage of the opportunities they have been given, I want to make a difference.”
When Yeargin looks back at his time at Clemson, graduating this past December and currently working on his master’s in athletic leadership are two off-the-field accomplishment he can always be proud of. But the January night in Tampa when he played his last game will always be a memory to cherish.
“Winning the national championship in the last game I ever played will be a memory that will last a lifetime. I will always cherish the time being with my teammates and holding up that trophy. I will carry that with me the rest of my life.”
The memories that Yeargin has had, and the opportunities that are still to come, prove Swinney’s statement is indeed true.