Note: The following appears in the Furman gameday football program
The rivalry between Clemson and South Carolina is no secret. Known as the longest uninterrupted rivalry in the South, the Palmetto Bowl goes back over 100 years. The two football teams have met 115 times since 1896, and each year, the rivalry game creates tension between friends, family members and countless others. But for Clemson’s veteran tight end Cannon Smith, stepping on the field at Williams-Brice Stadium is a very different experience.
Smith grew up in Columbia about a 15-minute drive from the Gamecocks’ home stadium, but he always knew he wanted to be a Tiger. His father, Bill, was a starting defensive end on the Tigers’ 1981 national championship squad and is now a member of the Clemson Board of Trustees.
“I’ve been coming here all my life, so I was very familiar with the university,” said Cannon, who wears the same #84 jersey that his father wore. “Having my dad as a role model means I can always call on him for guidance, because he’s been through college football. He knows what it’s like, so any time I have any questions or I need to talk to him about something, he’s there.”
For the Columbia native, it was a special experience. He plays his final Palmetto Bowl this year at Memorial Stadium, but he said playing at Williams-Brice Stadium meant he was able to see some familiar faces in the crowd.
“It was actually fun because the majority of the friends I had in high school and people that we knew were USC fans. Around the time the season started, there was always talking back and forth, but it was healthy competition. It was fun to be on the side that didn’t have much support from the city.”
Undeterred by the opposition he grew up with in Columbia, his commitment to his Clemson roots never wavered. He committed to play football for head coach Dabo Swinney and his position coach, Danny Pearman, during the summer before his junior year of high school and never looked back.
“I believe that when you commit to someone like that, then it’s a handshake and you don’t go back on it. I was firm with my commitment and I didn’t want to go anywhere else.”
Despite already sharing the experience of winning a national championship like his father, Smith hopes to finish out his last year strong.
“We have goals set for the season. We have goals to win the opener, win the division, win the ACC and win the closer. Coach Swinney always says that if we hit all those goals, then we will do what we need to do.
“Everyone wants to play for a national championship, but the only way to get there is to take it one game at a time. It would be a great opportunity.
“I know this team, and if we do what we need to in the season, are prepared each week and stay the course, then we could do that.”
However, Smith is not only concerned with winning another national title. He articulated that the culture of Clemson football inspires him to be a better citizen, friend and teammate, and he hopes his fellow Tigers remember him in that light.
“We want to do everything right, even if everyone else is doing it wrong,” added Smith. “Coach Swinney really instills that mindset and culture in our program. We need to be the standard, which is something you’ll see all across our facilities.