Note: The following appears in the Florida State football gameday program
Editor’s Note – This is the 40th anniversary of Clemson’s first national championship season in 1981. For each program in 2021, Tim Bourret takes us back to that season with features on players or games from the landmark year.
Only one recruiting class in ACC history has had two student-athletes who went on to make the College Football Hall of Fame…the 1978 Clemson freshman class that included Terry Kinard and Jeff Davis. In 2001, Kinard was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, then Davis followed him six years later.
A look to what Clemson teams have accomplished in the last 10 years and what some Florida State classes did in the 1990s indicates there might be a Dabo Swinney signing group or a Bobby Bowden recruiting class that will join the Tigers’ 1978 class. But for now, the 1978 Clemson class stands alone in ACC history.
Both Davis and Kinard were named All-Americans during Clemson’s 1981 national championship season. A look to their bios in the 1978 Tiger media guide indicates that Kinard and Davis would be excellent players…but hall of famers? There were no top-100 lists or stars ratings in those days.
Davis’ bio in the media guide was four lines long and stated he was a three-time all-conference selection from Greensboro, N.C. who played on the offensive and defensive lines. Kinard’s bio was five lines in that same media guide. He played quarterback and defensive back at Sumter High School and was named to the South Carolina Shrine Bowl team. The most interesting fact in Kinard’s bio stated that he was born in Bitburg, Germany.
Both played in a limited capacity in 1978, when Clemson finished ranked No. 6 in the nation with an 11-1 record. Kinard played in the first two games of the year and had two tackles, but he broke an arm in the second game against Georgia and was out for the season. Davis was healthy for the entire season, but he entered into only five games and totaled 11 tackles.
In today’s environment, they might have both entered the transfer portal. Thank goodness that did not happen.
In 1979, Davis and Kinard moved into the starting lineup, helping Danny Ford’s first team to an 8-4 record. Davis was second on the team in tackles (123), while Kinard had 35 stops from his free safety position and led the team in interceptions. He had two interceptions in the fourth quarter of Clemson’s 16-10 win at Notre Dame.
Davis and Kinard both were in the starting lineup again in 1980. Davis led the team in tackles (160), while Kinard was third (73). The Tigers finished 6-5, but a season-ending win over No. 14 South Carolina and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers gave the team momentum entering 1981.
Davis and Kinard finished first and second, respectively, in tackles on the 1981 national championship team. Davis had 175 tackles in the 12 games, still the third-most tackles in a season in school history. He had 11+ tackles in every game, including a season-high 20 tackles against Tulane. Kinard finished with 95 tackles and had six interceptions to tie for the ACC lead.
Game after game, Davis plugged holes to stop the run and Kinard patrolled the secondary. They were major reasons Clemson allowed just 8.8 points per game, second in the nation, and had the best scoring defense by a Tiger team in the last 62 years.
At season’s end, the honors poured in for both. Davis was a first-team All-American by UPI, Football Coaches, Football Writers and Walter Camp Foundation. Kinard was a first-team All-American by AP and Football Writers. The Butkus Award and Thorpe Award did not exist in 1981. Had there been those position awards, they certainly would have been strong candidates.
Davis graduated and moved on to the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he played six years. Kinard still had another year of eligibility after getting an injury redshirt for 1978. He was the top tackler on Clemson’s 9-1-1 team in 1982 that finished No. 8 in the poll. He was national defensive player-of-the-year by CBS, the first individual national award won by a Tiger.
The first-round draft selection went on to play eight years in the NFL. He played for the Giants for seven years, was a starter on their 1986 Super Bowl championship team and made the Pro Bowl at the end of the 1988 season.
Davis (1995) and Kinard (2001) were both inducted into the Clemson Ring of Honor and will always be regarded among the most significant players in Tiger history.