Nov. 22, 2006
By Tim Bourret
Saturday is the final regular-season game and the final home game of the 2006 season.
Whenever Clemson plays South Carolina, it is a special occasion, but it will be twice as special for 20 Tiger senior football players because it is their final home game. For 16 of the 20, it has been a five-year journey, as those players red-shirted the 2002 season. For that group, including defensive end Gaines Adams, quarterback Will Proctor, and offensive linemen Nathan Bennett and Dustin Fry, it will be their 33rd “run down the Hill.”
This will be a day of reflection for those seniors. They will not (and should not) leave the field abruptly. They will go to the Tiger Paw at midfield while the band plays the alma mater. It is a day they should take in all the color and pageantry of a Clemson football Saturday. As they leave the field, they will take one last look at the Hill, the stadium, the Ring of Honor, and that new WestZone that did not exist when their careers began.
This senior class has a lot to be proud of because they have done much to enhance Clemson’s football heritage. Entering the game with South Carolina, the group has a four-year record of 31-16. The 66.0-percent winning mark associated with that record is the best by any Tiger senior class since Brentson Buckner’s senior class had a 71.3 winning percentage (33-13-1) between 1990-93.
A victory Saturday would give the group 32 wins, tied for the most by a senior class since 1993. The 2003 Clemson seniors posted a 32-18 record for their four seasons combined. Obviously, a win Saturday and a bowl win would surpass that 2003 total.
This group has brought consistency to the program. Clemson has already won eight games this year, and combined with the eight wins in 2005, this is the first time since the 1986-91 era that the Tigers have won at least eight games in consecutive seasons. Believe it or not, Clemson and Georgia Tech are the only two ACC schools who have not had a losing season in ACC play over the last four years.
A bowl victory this year would give the group a 3-0 record in bowl games. No Clemson class has won three bowl games since the seniors of 1991, and it has a chance to be the first class since 1990 to go undefeated in bowl games.
This senior group has already been a part of two teams that have finished the season in the top 25 of both polls, and a third top-25 finish would also be a first for a Tiger class since the 1993 seniors.
When it comes to performance in rivalry games, this class is among the best in school history. With the 27-20 last-second victory at #9 Florida State in September, it became the first class in ACC history to defeat the Seminoles three times. It already has a 3-0 record against South Carolina, and it would love to equal the accomplishment of its immediate predecessors with a fourth straight win over Clemson’s in-state rival.
This class stands out when it comes to wins over ranked opponents. The class has nine wins over top-25 teams in its four seasons, just one shy of the Tiger record for top-25 wins in a four-year period. The seniors of 1989, 1990, and 1991 all had 10 top-25 wins.
However, this group has eight top-20 wins and four top-10 wins. This class is tied for the school record in each category. The seniors of 1983 and 1989 had eight top-20 wins, and the seniors of 1983 and 2004 had four top-10 wins.
How impressive is four wins over top-10 teams in a four-year period? Danny Ford’s last six senior classes in the 1980s, when Clemson had the fifth-best record in the nation, never had more than one.
Those top-10 wins stand out over the four years. It started late in the 2003 season when Clemson defeated #3 Florida State 26-10 on a Saturday night in Death Valley. That victory came on the heels of a 45-17 loss at Wake Forest.
There were many lessons learned by the 2006 seniors from the 2003 seniors the week leading up to that Florida State game. They understood the importance of never giving up even when the rest of the world was apparently crashing down on them.
Clemson finished the 2003 season with a 63-17 win at South Carolina and a 27-14 win in the Peach Bowl over #6 Tennessee, the highest-ranked team Clemson has defeated in a bowl game since the 1981 National Championship season.
This senior class also gave us a top-10 win at Miami (FL) in 2004, an overtime victory that rekindled memories of the national championship victory in the same Orange Bowl. There were also wins over top-20 teams from Florida State and South Carolina that year, two of the nine wins in the last four years over coaches who have won the national title in their respective careers.
This group has actually won each of its last four games against top-20 teams. It is the first time in 17 years that Clemson has won four straight over top-20 teams. The recent run of top-20 wins includes the aforementioned win at #9 Florida State this year, Clemson’s first win in Tallahassee since 1989.
The victory over #13 Georgia Tech on October 21 was a dominant performance against a team that has not lost another ACC game this year. The senior-led offensive line provided holes for youthful backs James Davis and C.J. Spiller, leading to the first game in school history in which the Tigers had a 200-yard rusher and a 100-yard rusher.
That day will be remembered for a long time, as it was the first-ever appearance on campus by ESPN College GameDay. When GameDay comes to your city, it signifies to the nation that you are a relevant program on a national scale. This senior class has brought Clemson to that level.
The underclassmen on this 2006 Tiger team hopefully have learned many lessons of a strong work ethic, be it on the field or in film study, leadership, and academic excellence. Three members of the current seniors already have their degrees and 10 will join them in December.
The underclassmen should have also learned what it is to be a good teammate. In August, the story of Ray Ray McElrathbey and his custody of his 11-year-old brother Fahmarr received national headlines. A big part of the story was the aid the brothers received from the rest of the team.
Prior to the NCAA’s ruling allowing staff members and their immediate families to provide transportation for Fahmarr to school, teammates, most of them seniors, provided the transportation. One morning it would be Adams, another day it would be Chansi Stuckey, and another day it would be Anthony Waters who would arrive at an early hour at his apartment to take Fahmarr to school. Other seniors provided help financially or in other everyday tasks, as the older McElrathbey juggled the responsibilities of being a parent and a student-athlete.
These were all seniors helping a freshman.
The on-the-field accomplishments of this senior class are considerable. But years from now when I reflect on this group, it will be the example they set through their aid for a freshman teammate that I will remember the most.
Tim Bourret is Clemson’s Sports Information Director and is in his 29th year at Clemson.
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