Sept. 1, 2006
Note: This story along with many others will appear in Saturday’s game program. Be sure to pick up your copy.
By Kyle Tucker
Will Proctor remembers it like it was yesterday. A sixth grader in Winter Park, FL, Proctor had played sports his whole life, but for the first time was going to give football a shot. The senior quarterback got his first taste of the game while playing for who else?…The Tigers.
“I got started playing football in the sixth grade for the Winter Park Tigers,” said Proctor. “It was my first experience being a Tiger, and it would not be my last.”
Between his time as a Winter Park Tiger and a Clemson Tiger, Proctor had quite a high school career at Trinity Preparatory School. As a freshman quarterback in 1998, Proctor was given the reigns to the Saints’ offense. His favorite target that season?…his older brother Ricky, a senior wide receiver.
“Having my brother as my leading receiver as a freshman was a great experience,” recalled Proctor. “Ricky was a senior that season and made life as a quarterback for me much easier. He had everything you wanted in a receiver…great hands and a nose for the endzone.” Proctor went on to set many records at Trinity Prep, and as his junior year was drawing to a close, he realized for the first time he may end up at Clemson.
“During a spring break trip, I had gone to visit North Carolina, N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Duke,” explained Proctor. “I was in the airport on the way back to Orlando when my high school coach called and asked if we could stop by Clemson on the way home, because Clemson had just offered me a scholarship.”
Proctor could not change his plans on such short notice, but he did come to Clemson that summer. He had also visited Notre Dame and had attended camp in South Bend. But, former Tiger Assistant Coach Rick Stockstill, now the head coach at Middle Tennessee, recruited Proctor and presented numerous reasons why he should come to Tigertown.
“Clemson has so much to offer,” said Proctor. “The traditions, the pageantry, the great academic reputation, and a great coaching staff. It felt like a great fit for my family and I, and I’m certainly glad I chose Clemson.”
In the end, it was the only school where Proctor took on an official visit.
He arrived at Clemson in the fall of 2002 and spent that season as a red-shirt. It was during this time when Proctor began to put his stamp on the Clemson program. He established that his work ethic was second to none, and that he would be a player his teammates could count on throughout his career.
In the spring of 2003, Proctor won the team’s strength and conditioning competition called the “Ironman” by a wide margin. In an event that many players struggle to even finish, he crossed the finish line in a dead sprint with a huge smile on his face. His time in the event was the fastest recorded time at Clemson according to Director of Strength & Conditioning Joey Batson.
After five games in the 2003 season, the Tigers prepared for a Homecoming battle with #25 Virginia. Proctor was third-team on the depth chart at quarterback behind Charlie Whitehurst and Chansi Stuckey, but wanted on the field badly. When approached about possibly playing wideout that week to help a receiving corps that had been decimated by injury, Proctor jumped at the chance. He lined up for the first time as a Tiger that day as a wide receiver instead of a quarterback. In fact, Proctor went on to play in four more games in Clemson’s 9-4 season, all at wide receiver.
Before the 2004 season, Stuckey moved to wide receiver and Proctor became that backup quarterback. High preseason expectations for the Tigers had many believing Proctor would see action if Clemson could get ahead big. However, Clemson played six games that were decided by seven points or less that year, and he only saw action in the Florida State and Utah State games. He threw just three passes all season.
In the 2005 Spring Game, Proctor served notice that even though he had not yet had the chance to show it in game situations, he was a talented quarterback. He broke the Tiger Spring Game record with a 275-yard passing day, and also threw three scores in what was then a new offense under first-year Offensive Coordinator Rob Spence.
Fast forward to the 2005 opener with the Tigers clinging to a 19-17 lead over #17 Texas A&M. Whitehurst was dazed after a hit to the head early in a Tiger third-quarter drive, forcing Proctor into the game. What transpired is what Proctor calls one of his most memorable experiences as a Tiger.
“I’ll never forget the Texas A&M game and helping the team to a fourth-quarter comeback (Clemson fell behind 24-22 before coming back to win),” said Proctor. “It was an amazing experience, but one that would not have been complete without a total team effort. The defense had to make a stop, and it did. The offense had to put the ball in position to score, and it did. Finally, the special teams had to deliver with the winning kick, and they did.”
Proctor led three drives that night, two of which were scoring drives ending in field goals. Not only did he help lead the Tigers to an important early-season win, he also showed that Clemson had depth at quarterback behind Whitehurst.
Later in the 2005 season, Whitehurst was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Proctor filled in quite nicely for the senior quarterback in his first career start against Duke. Proctor threw for 201 yards and two touchdown passes in leading the Tigers to a 49-20 win over the Blue Devils. His passing efficiency for that game was 161.4, third-best by a Tiger all season.
“My first start against Duke was one of the most fun days of my life,” smiled Proctor. “It is something you dream about and think about all the time, and to finally be able to be the starter was an exciting time for me.”
That experience certainly gives Head Coach Tommy Bowden confidence that Proctor can get the job done this year. “Will is a student of the game,” said Bowden. “He has been looking at all that film and has sat in all those quarterback meetings taking notes the last four years. He just needs some game experience. He passed his two tests last year.”
Clemson has had success with seniors in their first year as the starting quarterback before. The Tigers have not been in this situation at the signal-calling position since 1989. That year, Chris Morocco was a fifth-year senior who had waited his turn behind Rodney Williams. He led the Tigers to a 10-2 record and a #12 final national ranking.
Prior to that, Billy Lott was a senior in his first year as the starter in 1979. He led Clemson to an 8-4 record, including victories over Georgia and Notre Dame. Fifty years ago, Charlie Bussey was in virtually the same situation and took the Tigers to the Orange Bowl.
Proctor looks to 2006 with optimism and says the team has prepared as well as he has seen in his days as a Tiger. Even though today’s game officially kicks off the 2006 season, he says it actually began eight months ago in his hometown of Orlando.
“On December 27, we beat Colorado in the Champs Sports Bowl,” said Proctor. “We enjoyed our win that night and the season we had just finished, but on the morning of December 28, we began to prepare for the 2006 season.”
Proctor is one of 14 fifth-year seniors who will be counted on as leaders on the 2006 version of the Clemson Tigers. There is a fifth-year senior represented at nearly every position, and the group has one goal in mind as the season starts.
“We have had a theme the whole offseason when we workout, run, and do drills,” stated Proctor. “The goal for this year’s team is to play in the BCS, and to do that we have to win the ACC title. We want the Clemson Tigers to be the team representing the Atlantic Division in Jacksonville on December 2, and we have been focused on that goal since the conclusion of the bowl game last season.”
Proctor received a welcome surprise shortly before preseason camp started when he learned that former Tiger quarterback Willie Simmons would be joining the Clemson coaching staff as a graduate assistant. Proctor was a freshman during Simmons’ last year (2002) at Clemson.
“I learned a lot from Willie (it will take some time to call him Coach Simmons) in the time we had together as players,” said Proctor. “I really looked up to him my freshman year and still do today, and I am very happy he is back for my senior year.”
As Proctor readies for his final season, he approaches it with both excitement and caution, as he knows it his last season with his Tiger teammates. When asked what is the best part about being a Clemson football player, there was no hesitancy in his answer.
“My teammates have been the best part about playing football at Clemson,” said Proctor. “I am privileged to be a part of a wonderful team. The men on this team will be friends forever. Just to be a part of this team has been one of the greatest honors I could ever hope for.” As far as Clemson’s traditions are concerned, there is one that is unique and stands out to the whole country. Many Tigers, both past and present, have said that running down the Hill is one of the most thrilling experiences in sports. Proctor says it is not only thrilling, but also the best part of gameday.
“There is no question in my mind that running down the Hill is the best part of gameday,” said Proctor. “It never gets old, and I can’t wait to do it again.”
Watching Proctor run down the Hill again today will be his parents Rick and Karen Proctor. The Proctors have made it to Clemson from Orlando for every home game since 2002, and often make it to see practice at certain points throughout the season. They also travel to every road game as well.
“My family has had the biggest influence on my athletic career,” said #14. “I am fortunate to come from a wonderful family. I have two tremendous role-models in my parents, and I have a great older brother Ricky.”
Proctor is on track to graduate in December, and already has goals in mind for after his days at Clemson. “Hopefully our team can have a great season first and foremost,” said Proctor. “When the season is over, I hope to have performed well enough to give professional football a shot and see what happens from there.”
The plans do not end with a football career. In fact, it is quite the opposite for the business management major with an emphasis on finance.
“I have future plans for something in financial services, whether it be asset management or financial planning,” said Proctor. “There are a lot of things I would like to do. I would enjoy doing anything with finance, but at the same time I want to be involved with sports somehow. If I could write the script, I would have a successful career in financial management and have a group of friends purchase the Orlando Magic (the NBA team in which he has an unquestioned allegiance to).”
As for now, Proctor will have one season to live out what he and his teammates hope is a dream season. Energetic, enthusiastic, and hard-working are but three of many adjectives that can be used to describe the patient Tiger. His energy resonates throughout the team, and he has become one of the team’s main leaders. How many players would welcome the idea of waking up the morning after a win in a bowl game to run and work out? While the exact number of names on that list is uncertain, it is certain that it would contain the name Will Proctor.
Kyle Tucker worked in the Clemson Sports Information Office from 2004-06, and is now a teacher and coach at Cartersville (GA) High School.
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