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Terry Jolly Fills The Role of Team Jokester for Clemson

Oct. 31, 2000

By Jack FellingClemson Sports InformationThe Georgia Tech Game Program – October 28, 2000

On any given evening in the Martin Hall computer lab, an unlikely figure is liable to disrupt the unending drone of clicking keys. The scene is one that most Clemson students have become familiar with. Terry Jolly, all 6-foot-2, 280 pounds of him, emerges through the doors and proceeds to serenade all who are fortunate enough to be in attendance.

“Music keeps me going,” said Jolly. “I like to have a rhythm. If I find a situation that’s dead, I’m going to do something to pump it up.”

Breathing life into the Tiger defense is something that Jolly has been doing for the past four years. Clemson’s defense has found its rhythm, and Jolly anchors the entire operation. The senior was the top tackler on the defensive line last season. He plays a critical role in clogging up the middle and terrorizing opposing quarterbacks. It might seem consistent that the intensity Jolly displays during games would translate into a severe temperament off the field. Anyone who has ever met him knows otherwise. Jolly is the most notorious jokester on the Clemson team. His sense of humor maintains team morale during a season when the pressure can often become unbearable.

“I want to be a comedian someday,” said Jolly. “I think I’ve got a chance.” Jolly’s total of 58 tackles last season was an impressive stat in itself. His value to Clemson’s defense can be more accurately discussed in terms of how his performance benefits the players around him. The fact that it often takes two linemen to block Jolly means that Keith Adams has one less man to worry about when trying to penetrate the backfield. The job of the Clemson secondary also becomes easier if Jolly consistently pressures the quarterback.

Jolly’s football career began when his parents allowed him to play in the eighth grade. By that time it was becoming hard to ignore the fact that their son was not only the biggest kid in the neighborhood, but that he could also outrun everybody. To this day Jolly’s uncommon blend of size and strength make him difficult to handle. Jolly can bench press 477 pounds and he holds a team record of 411 pounds in the hang clean – a movement that involves picking the weight off the floor and bringing it up to the shoulders. His 4.88 time in the 40-yard dash is admirable for any defensive lineman. He simply runs over the quicker offensive linemen and around the larger ones.

“Before my parents let me join a team I would play street ball with the older guys,” said Jolly. “Everyone would always want me on their team because I was fast, I could hit and I wasn’t scared. They all told me I would be something.”

Jolly began his high school career as a fullback and defensive tackle at Peach County High School in Georgia, where he also became region champion in the discus and shot put. Jolly recorded 81 tackles and 14 sacks as a senior. The Atlanta Journal Constitution named him one of its top 100 players in the southeast. He also participated in the Georgia-Florida All-Star game. Clemson defensive coordinator Reggie Herring recruited him heavily, but Jolly initially showed more interest in offers from Big Ten and SEC teams. He committed to the University of Tennessee. But the future that Jolly had envisioned began to disappear when he failed to qualify on the SAT.

Teamless for the first time in years, Jolly stayed home the following year and took a job with the Blue Bird Bus Company. The idea that he might never play football again became an ever more tangible reality. The bleakness of the situation was compounded by the fact that Jolly was for the first time without the guidance of his father, who had passed away that year. Jolly’s parents had always been his role models. The work ethic that he brings to football was learned from parents who were relentless in their determination to provide their family. The loss of his father and the loss of football created a void in Jolly’s life that he did not know how to fill.

“Every time something went wrong I thought about the possibility that I might never play again,” said Jolly. “If God had granted me one wish it would have been that my father could have seen me play in just one college football game.”

As Jolly began to acclimate himself to life outside of football, Herring was in the process of recruiting Jolly’s former high school teammate, Kenzi Ross. It was by pure coincidental chance that Jolly discovered his opportunity at Clemson.

“Coach Herring saw me in the weight room when he was recruiting Kenzi,” Jolly said. “He said to me, ‘I’ll give you a scholarship right now.’ I went home and talked about it with my old high school coach. He told me that Tennessee might not take me again and Clemson was willing to give me a chance. To this day I thank coach Herring for never giving up on me.

Jolly still values his unique relationship with Herring. “I love coach Herring. Sometimes he gets on me hard. He gets on everybody hard. But he wants the best out of his players.” The process of recruiting Jolly was kept secret to all but a few people in the Clemson athletic department. The Tigers knew that they had gained the interest of a very hot commodity.

“I was told we’re going to keep this on the low down because we didn’t want other colleges to find out that I might qualify.”

If things had gone according to plan Jolly would still have another year of eligibility at Clemson. The coaches intended to redshirt Jolly in his first year. When injuries took a toll on the defense it became impossible to keep him on the sidelines any longer. Jolly entered the UTEP game and became the only first-year player to see playing time on the defensive line. He caused a fumble and recorded four tackles. The performance earned him a starting job the following week against Virginia.

Jolly’s numbers improved in his sophomore campaign. He averaged 31 plays per game and finished the season with 27 tackles. But Jolly did not emerge as a defensive standout until 1999. That year, he led the defensive line in tackles. Only Keith Adams surpassed Jolly’s total of 10 tackles for loss. Jolly’s 20-yard interception return for a touchdown against Duke provided one of the more memorable moments of the season. That play marked the first time since 1964 that a Clemson defensive lineman has returned an interception for a touchdown.

Jolly contends that his finest performance as a Tiger came in last year’s contest versus today’s opponent, Georgia Tech. The Georgia native found some extra incentive to make the big plays against the Yellow Jackets.

“My mom, my girlfriend and her friends were all up in the stands. I knew everybody back at home was watching. I was so hyped up I got dizzy. The whole day I was hitting Joe (Hamilton).”

Although 1999 was a year of great improvement for Clemson football, the play of the defensive line was not always above criticism. The unit’s unexceptional sack totals led Tommy Bowden to say that they “needed to play more like Tarzan and less like Jane.”

“Last year this team was up and down,” said Jolly. “Part of the reason for that was because the front seven wasn’t getting the job done. The Virginia Tech game was close, but we could have probably beaten them if the defensive line had made more plays and wrapped more tackles up.”

Though Jolly received a second-team All-ACC selection for his efforts last season, he reflects upon these shortcomings when in search of motivation in the off-season. Jolly, who prides himself on training as hard as any teammate, entered the 2000 campaign in the best shape of his career.

“He has lost weight,” said Clemson defensive line coach Theilen Smith. “He is down from about 300 pounds to 280. His conditioning has gotten better.”

The vast improvements in Jolly’s game can be attributed more to mental than physical maturation. Jolly credits his understanding of the game and the ability to read defenses quickly as the basis for his recent success.

While Jolly posted All-ACC numbers in 1999, there is no stat that accurately reflects his great asset to Clemson defense.

“He gets the guys ready to play,” said Smith. “He’s a team leader and a tough guy. When he’s emotionally down, everyone is down. This team needs him to stay upbeat.”

There may not be another element of the Clemson defense more essential than the energy that Jolly brings to it. The coaching staff chose him as a captain for both The Citadel and Maryland games. Jolly is one of those people who creates a sense that something could happen at any moment. His teammates thrive on the emotion and passion that Jolly displays in everything he does.

“There is never a dull moment in my life,” said Jolly. “I could wake up in the morning and just start dancing. Ten years after I leave this school I want everyone to say about me, ‘That Terry Jolly, he was one of the hypest people you would ever meet.'”

While the team feeds off of Jolly’s enthusiasm, his propensity to run his mouth has sometimes landed him in hot water. Such was the case during last year’s Maryland game.

“I remember last year I was talking all week about how bad we were going to beat Maryland,” said Jolly. “I went out there and had the worst game of my career. Coach Bowden said he wanted the level of my talk to come down to the level of my play.”

Since then the praises have been more plentiful that the criticisms. Jolly entered the season rated as the 11th best defensive tackle in the nation by The Sporting News – one of the numerous publications that also predict that Jolly will become a first-team All-ACC selection this year.

Jolly has performed consistently so far this year. Because so many Tigers have elevated their level of play since last season, Jolly now playing under less pressure than he did a year ago. He recorded four tackles against The Citadel and Duke and had a season-high six tackles vs. Maryland. His play was one of the most significant reasons why Clemson’s defense held Maryland’s Heisman Trophy candidate LaMont Jordan to just 71 rushing yards. Jolly suffered an ankle injury in the Maryland game, however he returned later and sacked quarterback Calvin McCall for a loss of six yards.

“It would mean a lot to me to be selected All-ACC again this year, but right now I’ve got to step it up. I’ve already missed one game and some guys got a jump on me. I’ve got to make itŠI’ve got to show my mom that I did something while I was here besides run down that hill.”

A sure way to make such an impression would be to dethrone defending ACC Champion Florida State next week. While Jolly maintains that he isn’t overlooking Georgia Tech, he acknowledges that everyone on the team has had November 4th circled on their calendar for quite a while. “I can’t even lie. Everybody is thinking about Florida State. There is just something different about playing them. They bring a lot to the table. We’re going to bring a lot to the table. You just can’t say enough about it.”

Talk of beating Florida State remains inherently linked with ideas of a national championship. Jolly was perhaps Clemson’s most vocal player in the preseason who came out and said that a championship was an attainable reality for this team. Jolly believes that the Tigers’ vast improvement has resulted from the fact that they have at last grasped all the intricacies of the system that arrived with coach Bowden. It is not a system that can be fully implemented in just one year. Jolly recognized that things would start to hit full swing in 2000. For Jolly, this season has become the materialization of a distant vision from his first year at Clemson.

“In our freshman year we said we could win it, and now that we are seniors and the team is winning like this, we’re not going to let anything hold us down. When we came here, guys like (Robert) Carswell, Woodrow (Dantzler), Alex Ardley and (Darrel) Crutchfield – the older guys used to pick on us and we would always fight right back. I always knew there was going to be something special when we became seniors.”

Along with several other members of his class, Jolly hopes to bring his game to the next level in 2001.

“I see myself in the NFL,” Jolly said of his future. The coaches tell me I can do it. I’ve got to do it. It’s starting to dawn on me that life is short. It seems like I turned from 18 to 23 overnight.”

If actions speak louder than words, Terry Jolly must be a busy man. Expect Jolly to find a way to remain in the spotlight in coming years. It’s the only place where he is truly comfortable. For a man whose life often feels like a constant performance, the NFL might provide the best stage yet.

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