Oct. 4, 1999
By Tim Bourret
A visit to the Clemson practice field this past spring revealed to all within earshot that this Tiger coaching staff is intense and demanding. That is especially the case with the offensive coaching staff, who has high demands of all the players, especially senior leaders like Brian Wofford.
But, for Wofford, the transition has been swift because he has been around disciplinarians all his life. Wofford’s mother, Janice Littlejohn, has been a strong influence since Brian was a youngster, and still is today, especially when it comes to academics.
“Last spring, I was having trouble with a couple of courses and Bill D’Andrea (director of student-athlete enrichment) called my mom,” said Wofford. “She came right over from Spartanburg and we had a talk in his office. That made a statement to me and I pulled up my grades after that.”
“Brian didn’t even know she was coming,” recalled D’Andrea with a smile. “But, she made it clear that she wasn’t going to let him sluff off on his grades. When you have parents that care that much about their children and what they are doing academically, my job is easy.”
Wofford’s disappointing start last spring academically is just a minor blip on the screen. In fact, he has been on the ACC Academic Honor Roll previously in his career and he is on track to graduate this May.
“My top goal this year is not in football, it is graduating in four years,” said Wofford. “That means a lot, especially to my mom and my family. To do it in four years without red-shirting and with all the demands football has on your time, is an accomplishment.
“My mom is very academic oriented. She asks me about my schoolwork all the time. Believe me there are no options with her, I will graduate this May.”
Ironically, Wofford’s football career began when he went against his mother’s wishes. As a youth, he was smaller than the other kids his age. He is not the biggest receiver in the world now at just 165 pounds. So, his mother really didn’t want him to play football. Finally, with all his friends taking up the game, he took a chance.
“I never played pee wee football, my mother thought I was too small so I didn’t play at all until the eighth grade. Then, one day I snuck over to a practice. She was upset when she found out I was playing. It wasn’t until coach Rivers (Chip of McCracken Jr. High) called her and convinced her to let me play. My uncle also helped in persuading her. She came to the first game, saw I didn’t get hurt and was having fun, so she let me stay on the team.”
Mrs. Littlejohn continued to follow Brian’s career at the high school level and comes to the Clemson games today. Wofford was a SuperPrep All-American at Spartanburg High School where he ranked among the top 15 receivers in the nation. He caught 46 passes for 923 yards and eight touchdowns in 1995 for Spartanburg’s State Championship team. He also had 60 tackles, three interceptions and 10 passes broken up on defense.
While Wofford was one of the best at his position in high school football, he was also a standout on the track. He was the state champion in the 400 meters in the spring of 1996 with a time of 47.9 and ranked third in the 200 meters.
Wofford was named to the 1996 American Track and Field Magazine All-American team and to the National Scholastic Sports Foundation All-America team. He was ranked as the number-one 400-meter man in the southeast in 1996 and was the Silver Medalist at the Golden South Championships that same year in the 400 meters.
With credentials like these, many schools came calling, some for football, some for track, some for both. When it came right down to it, Wofford wanted to remain in state. A recruiting battle between Clemson and South Carolina ensued. After visiting both schools, Clemson and football won out.
“I like the pageantry and attention of football, that is why I chose it over track. When I came to Clemson I thought I might do both, but football is so demanding and time consuming. If you are going to do a good job, you really have to give it full attention. I have thought about track, I think I could have made a statement here in track, but I would not have been as successful in football. “
Wofford lived up to his billing as a freshman, catching 15 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown. He had a solid season by all accounts, but looking back, he wished he had spent the year on the bench.
“The freshman year is hard,” recalled Wofford. “Very few players are ready for this level as freshmen. There are so many adjustments that you have to make in football and academically.”
The highlight of his freshman year came in the final game of the regular season against South Carolina. It was in that game that Wofford caught his first career touchdown pass. It was a reception that had a special meaning for Wofford.
“My grandfather (Tommy Lee Littlejohn) saw me play just one game at Clemson, against South Carolina my freshman year. That was the game I caught my first touchdown pass. He died the summer after my freshman year. He saw me grow up and went to my games when I was little. He still has an effect on me today. He always told me, ‘Brian can do only what Brian can do.’ In other words, do your best, but play within yourself. I still follow that today.”
While the 1996 season was exciting for Wofford, he still wishes he red-shirted the season. “Looking back, I wish I would have red-shirted. I had a good year and made a contribution to a bowl team, but I certainly would like another year in this offense. When you are a freshman, you want to play. But, by your senior year, you wish you had another year.”
Another player who wished he had red-shirted in 1996 is Mal Lawyer, Wofford’s teammate at wide receiver of four years and his roommate for the last three. They have developed into leaders of the Clemson offense and one of the top receiving duos in Clemson history. In fact, heading into this week’s game with North Carolina, they stand fifth in Clemson history in total catches by classmates. They have far more in common than just statistics.
“I had heard about Mal in the newspapers during high school, then we met at the Shrine Bowl,” said Wofford. “We hung out together during our freshman year because we played the same position and we were always together.
“He is my best friend. We never fight, we never argue, we have always gotten along. If I have something that he didn’t have, and he needed it, I’d give it to him.
“We have always been close off the field, but we really seemed to be tied together in football after the NC State game last year. That was the first time we both had big games together and the first time the media looked at us as a pair that could have an effect on a game.” In that contest, Wofford caught a career high nine passes for 128 yards, while Lawyer caught eight for 100 yards. It was the first time in Clemson history that two different receivers had 100-yards in the same game.
Wofford ended the 1998 season with 35 receptions for 535 yards and five touchdowns, leading the team in all three areas. Heading into this season he had 78 catches for over 1000 yards and 10 scores, totals that rank among the top 15 in Clemson history.
He has continued to move up the charts this year. After two games, Wofford ranked in the top 30 in the nation in receptions and reception yardage. No Clemson receiver has ever done that over the course of the season. He had a break out game against Virginia when he caught eight passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. The 143 yards were a career high and 10th highest single game total in Clemson history.
Wofford has been a model of consistency in his career at Clemson. He has caught at least one pass in 31 of the last 32 games and the only game in the stretch he did not catch a pass was against Furman last year when he played just 15 snaps due to injury. He has never missed a game.
Wofford has made consistent improvement throughout his career, as stated by Rick Stockstill, his wide receivers coach for his entire career.
“Brian has been a consistent hard worker since he came to Clemson,” said Stockstill. “The area he has made the biggest improvement this year has been with his hands. His overall game has improved, but he really has improved his ability to catch the ball.
“When you look at Brian, he is obviously not that big, but he is tough. He can catch a pass over the middle, he proved that two years ago at NC State when he made a big catch over the middle on our winning drive.”
Catching the ball over the middle has been a key for Wofford, especially in this offense. It is not easy, nor something any receiver enjoys, but necessary to be successful. “You can’t be shy or you won’t get the job done,” said Wofford. “I have to use my speed when I go over the middle so I will avoid getting hit full force. I go over the middle, but I don’t stay there very long. I try to get outside where there is some running room.”
Wofford has been successful getting outside and into the endzone over his career. He currently has 11 touchdowns, seventh best in Clemson history. He is just seven touchdown receptions away from Glenn Smith’s all-time record, a mark that has stood since 1951, one of the oldest standards in the Clemson record book.
“I would like to set the career touchdown reception record. What better way to leave, but to break a record that has stood for a long time. Now it won’t last long. With this offense, someone is going to catch 20 or 30 touchdown passes, but I would like to have it at least for one year. I would like to leave my mark on Clemson football.”
Wofford has left his mark on Clemson football in many other ways. Last year he was named as one of the top Clemson student-athletes in terms of community service, an honor chosen by the ACC in conjunction with D’Andrea’s office in Vickery Hall.
Wofford also is one of the top recruiters for the Clemson program, something recruiting coordinator and wide receivers coach Rick Stockstill has known for sometime.
“Brian has given everything he has to Clemson University and is a great representative of the university,” said Stockstill. “Last year when we were recruiting Willie Simmons he was the player we picked to be his host for that weekend.
“It is tough to get rising seniors to be hosts because they are many years removed from the recruiting process and don’t like to give up a free weekend in the offseason. But, Brian went out of his way to plan out the entire weekend and make Willie’s visit enjoyable.”
Brian Wofford has left his mark on Clemson University and vice versa. “This has been a great experience. I kid around a lot, but my experience here has been everything I could have hoped for.”
Janice Littlejohn will echo those thoughts in May when Brian Wofford accepts his Clemson diploma.
Clemson Career Touchdown Reception Leaders
No Name, Pos Years TD1. Glenn Smith, TE 1949-51 182. Perry Tuttle, WR 1978-81 173. Terrance Roulhac, WR 1983-86 164. Terry Smith, WR 1990-93 155. Tony Horne, WR 1994-97 136. John McMakin, TE 1969-71 127. Jerry Butler, WR 1975-78 11 Joe Blalock, TE 1939-41 11 Gary Cooper, WR 1985-89 11 Brian Wofford, WR 1996-99 11
December 6, 2018
December 5, 2018