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Nov 20, 2021

2021 Senior Class

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest football gameday program.

Today is the final home game for a senior class that spans four, five and six years. In these unusual times, it is difficult to evaluate senior classes because of the range of signee classes that end up celebrating “Senior Day” together.

Today, five “Super Seniors” will run down the Hill for the final time. They have taken advantage of the new four-game redshirt rule and the additional year granted by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Darien Rencher, James Skalski, Will Spiers, Nolan Turner and Regan Upshaw all joined the program in 2016 and have been on teams that have won two national championships, made five College Football Playoffs and captured five ACC titles. They do not have enough fingers to accommodate all the rings. It will be difficult for any group of players to duplicate that list of accomplishments, regardless of the length of their tenure.

Eight more players who entered Clemson in 2017 will run down the Hill for the final time today. The players who entered in 2016 and 2017 are special to me personally, because they were on the team during my last year as the director of football communications.

Two of my lasting memories involve Skalski and Turner. I vividly remember the Friday before a home game in 2016 when we learned that Skalski’s father had died suddenly. As a freshman, that had to be a very difficult time, but he showed maturity beyond his years.

I also saw Dabo Swinney’s and Brent Venables’ role as “father figures” when it came to helping Skalski. The Friday schedule was delayed so they could spend time with Skalski and get someone to drive him home. I saw the true Clemson Family from the inside that day.

I also remember an interview I set up for Turner in December 2016. He had not played in a game yet, but we all knew the story of his father, Kevin, an NFL player for eight years who had died the previous March 24 of ALS. Kevin was Swinney’s teammate at Alabama.

Jack Ford, a longtime friend from “60 Minutes Sports,” was doing an in-depth story on his father and wanted to a do a long interview with Turner. It was a cold, dark evening, but we did the interview outside in the WestZone. Turner answered all the difficult questions. I could see that day that he would be an outstanding leader in the future.

Many recruiting analysts said that Swinney gave him a scholarship because his father was an Alabama teammate. In 2018, Turner had a key interception against Notre Dame in the Cotton Bowl. In 2019, he had a game-saving interception against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl. In 2020, he was an All-American.

There are many leaders in this class, and it is the major reason this team has come back from a challenging start to a 7-3 record. The Tigers still have a chance to win the ACC title and to extend the program’s streak of double-digit-win seasons to 11.

While today’s seniors date to 2016, for the sake of consistency, we will review some of the facts of this group from the last four years.

• Has a 46-6 record, the second-most wins in the nation in the last four years, just one behind Alabama (47-4).

• Has won three ACC titles and made three College Football Playoff appearances.

• Won the 2018 national championship with a 44-16 win over top-ranked Alabama.

• Has finished in the top four of the AP poll each of the last three years.

• Has a perfect home record, leading to the program’s 33-game home winning streak entering today’s game, the longest active streak in the nation and the longest streak by a program since Boise State (2006-11) won 35 games in a row and Oklahoma (2005-11) won 39 games in a row.

• Has recorded nine wins over top-25 teams, including four wins over top-four teams.

Our appreciation for this group of seniors is considerable, as it has made a great contribution to the heritage of Tiger football.