Note: The following appears in the Furman gameday football program
It was just a normal Wednesday. The Wednesday after a week-three 47-21 trouncing at No. 14 Louisville to be exact. On a normal Wednesday, the football team runs two-minute drills to conclude practice. Touchdown to win, field goal to win. After a run of the former, then-junior placekicker Greg Huegel lines up on the left hash to attempt a 46-yard field goal for the latter.
Then collision. Pain. Pain that quickly subsided, but Huegel felt anything but normal.
He came to learn that a teammate rolling up on him after the kick had resulted in him tearing everything but the LCL in his kicking leg, and the initial reaction of some surgeons he visited was that he would never be able to kick again.
“You really had to take it one day at a time. There were some days in rehab when I didn’t want to do it, but I told myself to push through it because it would be worth it in the end.”
In the fall of 2014, Huegel watched “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football” from the stands.
A soccer player by trade, he did not get into the other kind of football until his freshman year, when a spot as a safety on the Blythewood High School freshman team turned into a kicking spot on the varsity squad. His brother had been a placekicker at South Carolina, so the position was a natural fit.
But he followed in the footsteps of his sister when it came time to choose his college destination, electing to enroll at Clemson after countless visits to Tigertown during his high school years caused him to fall in love with the campus.
Once he arrived at Clemson, just being a fan was not enough, so he decided to try out for the team.
And they told him “no.”
So he tried out again. And they told him “no,” again.
Finally, in the summer of 2015, he was given a chance to walk on, and he has not looked back. In his first season (2015), he converted a national-high 27 field goals in 32 attempts en route to scoring 138 points on the year, a Clemson single-season record for overall scoring and kick scoring.
Huegel was a second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated that year, making him the first walk-on in Tiger history to earn All-America honors while still a walk-on. He extended a streak into the 2016 season of making at least one field goal in 18 straight games, another Clemson record.
“People always ask me how I don’t get nervous going out for field goals. What’s cool about having the opportunity to kick at Clemson is that I don’t have to worry about not beating a team. When you’re worried about how good the other team is, you’re focused on how important each kick is. But at Clemson, I never have any doubt that we’re going to win, so each kick just feels like another kick. It might be a big kick, but in the back of my mind, I know we’re going to pull it out. That takes a lot of pressure off me and helps me do my job better.”
After a 2016 campaign that netted him a spot on the Lou Groza Award semifinalist list, Huegel appeared poised to have an equally successful 2017. He made all seven extra-point attempts and had four touchbacks on five kickoffs in the opener against Kent State, earning the team’s special teams player-of-the-game award. He drilled two of three field goals at Louisville and was preparing for the Tigers’ week-four matchup against Boston College when that normal Wednesday turned anything but.
Huegel leaned on his mother as well as former teammates who had also endured knee injuries, like Stanton Seckinger and Adam Choice, during the recovery process. He also credited the Tiger fanbase for serving as motivation as he worked his way back to the field.
“The ‘Clemson Family’ might be a slogan, but I absolutely believe in that now. Coming in as a freshman, it feels like that’s just another thing that people say, but I genuinely believe in it. The amount of people who reached out when I got injured really helped me. I hated talking about my knee at first, but I appreciated when people asked.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ for all the support when I needed it the most. When fans wrote positive social media posts or articles about me, I could see it. Those who supported me gave me motivation, because I knew I couldn’t let those people down. They went out of their way to show that they cared that I got injured and supported me even though I wasn’t playing anymore. They looked at me as much of a person as they did a football player. That’s really cool. I just want to say thank you…it did not go unnoticed.”
It was a normal practice this past spring, and the Tigers lined up to attempt a 46-yard field goal from the left hash. Head coach Dabo Swinney turned to Huegel and asked if he wanted to give it a go. It would be the first time Huegel kicked for real since the injury, and of course, it was the exact same kick.
So he went out there and drilled it.
In in his mind, Huegel was back. In reality, he was a long way from being completely recovered, but he knew that Clemson had taught him all that he needed to get there.
“If someone were to ask, ‘Who is Greg Huegel?’ I would want them to say that ‘He’s an extremely hard worker. His perseverance is unmatched, but at the same time, he’s a happy-go-lucky guy.’
“I don’t just want to be remembered as a player. Sure, you can look back on whatever my stats are, good or bad, but I don’t just want to be considered a good player and leave my legacy like that. I want to leave a legacy that emphasizes the work I do in the community, the integrity that I have as a person and the attitude that I have as a leader. If there’s someone on the team who needs someone to talk to or just needs someone to listen, I want people to look back and say ‘Greg Huegel was that guy.’ I want to leave that impact on Clemson.