Oct. 30, 2009
When people think of senior tight end Michael Palmer, many words come to mind. To see how important he is to the Clemson program, one only has to look at the compliments paid to Palmer by Offensive Coordinator Billy Napier, who was Palmer’s position coach at tight end during his first three years.
“Michael Palmer is a guy who I will never forget,” said Napier. “He is a class act on and off the field. He is a tremendous person and leader. As a player, he is extremely dependable and has a high football IQ. He is a very tough kid and has played through injuries. He is a guy who should be remembered around Clemson as a true competitor and one of the all-time greats at his position.”
Calling Palmer one of the greats in Tiger history is not far-fetched. With 21 catches in his first seven games, Palmer is on pace to reach over 30 this year. With his five receptions at #8 Miami (FL) last weekend, he became the first Tiger tight end to reach the 20 mark in 25 years.
No Clemson tight end has had 30 receptions in a season since 1970, when John McMakin had a record 40. McMakin went on to win a Super Bowl Championship ring with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Bennie Cunningham, the only tight end named to the ACC 50-Year Anniversary team, was an All-American at Clemson in 1974 and 1975, and he never had more than 25 receptions in a season in Tigertown.
“We have concentrated on throwing to the tight end more and a big reason is the ability of Michael Palmer,” said Head Coach Dabo Swinney. “He has outstanding hands, knows his assignments, and is a team leader. When the season started, I thought he would have a chance at the season record.”
Palmer came to Clemson after a decorated career as a two-sport athlete at Parkview High School in Lilburn, GA. During his high school basketball career, he averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per game in his three-year varsity career and was named to the all-county team as a senior.
On the gridiron, he played for the state championship as a junior and was named all-state as a senior after totaling 21 catches for 385 yards and five touchdowns. After high school, Palmer had scholarship offers for both basketball and football. While his basketball offers were mostly from smaller schools, he received plenty of attention in football. He looked mainly at Clemson and Virginia as his two most likely destinations.
“I liked how Clemson and Virginia both used the tight end, but I picked Clemson because I thought it gave me the best opportunity to play,” said #86. “And Clemson is just two hours from home. I also liked the atmosphere at Clemson.”
Palmer made an immediate impact when he arrived on campus, as he had five catches for 30 yards as a freshman while playing all 13 games, including three as a starter. He saw more playing time than any other first-year freshman tight end in school history.
He earned his first career start in a nationally-televised Thursday night game at Virginia Tech in 2006. “That might have been the most memorable game of my career, because I could not hear a single snap count the entire game. Virginia Tech is the loudest opposing stadium I have been to.”
Palmer had consistent sophomore and junior seasons. He had 13 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore and 12 catches for 160 yards and three scores in 2008.
The most memorable play prior to 2009 for Palmer came last season at #24 Florida State. With Clemson trailing 13-10, Cullen Harper lofted a pass to Palmer in the endzone that gave the Tigers a 17-13 lead.
Palmer has also seen his production and opportunities increase in the 2009 season. With a young group of wideouts, he has gotten more opportunities and has made the most of them. Palmer has had at least one catch in each of the last six contests, including five catches for 65 yards at Maryland and five receptions for a career-high 74 yards and a touchdown at Miami (FL).
Michael Wade, Palmer’s roommate for the past four years, believes Palmer is the most dependable player on the team. “He has taken on a leadership role this year, and the guys on the team look to him when times get tough. He always finds a way to get the job done, and he does it with a great amount of tenacity and desire. We are lucky to have people like him driving this team.”
While Palmer’s personal stats are noteworthy and comparable to stats of the school’s great tight ends, Palmer is focused on team goals. “My goal for this year is to bring an ACC Championship back to Clemson. That would make my senior year something very special and would be something that I would always remember. We all know it has been a while since Clemson has won the ACC title.”
Palmer has fond memories of his times on the field, but it is the relationships he has made with his teammates that he will remember the most. “I will always remember my teammates and all the friendships I have made during my time here. We have made some memories that can never be taken away.”
A lot of his memories will center on living with Richard Jackson and Wade for four years and all the fun times they have shared together.
“Palmer is like the brother I never had,” admitted Wade. “He’s always been there when I’ve needed him and truly has become one of my best friends. We made an emphasis to make the best out of our college experience, and he has been a big factor in making mine a great one.”
Jackson echoed Wade’s sentiments. “We have always stuck together throughout everything these four years and Michael has become like a brother to me.”
Palmer recalled the countless nights of sitting around the apartment and playing either “Guitar Hero” or “Rock Band” for hours at a time. On most nights, Wade would take the lead guitar, Palmer would take the bass, and Jackson would play the drums.
Aside from Jackson and Wade, Palmer noted his two position coaches as major influences on the field during his time at Clemson. “Coach Napier has taught me a lot about football. He is very detail-oriented and has helped me so much with my footwork.
“Coach (Danny) Pearman has made me a tougher player and a better player. He is a great communicator with the players. He uses his experience to teach little things, like how to get open and how to play the right way. That comes from him having been a tight end at Clemson 20 years ago and now coaching the position for many years.”
Off the field, there is no doubt that Palmer’s biggest influences are his parents, Robin and Glenn, who are fixtures at all games the Tigers play.
“They have molded me into the person I am today,” said Palmer. “From a young age, they took me to church and instilled values in me.”
On any gameday, you can see these values, as Palmer always has his favorite Bible verse (Colossians 3:23) written on the tape wrapped around his wrists.
“This is my favorite verse and I cling to it in all aspects of my life. It helps me keep my priorities in order.”
Another passion is the game of basketball. He has played it since the age of five and calls it his “true love.” During the offseason, it is not uncommon to see him playing intramurals and pickup games at Fike in his free time. His team reached the championship game of the intramural league last year.
“The championship game was originally scheduled for an open day during spring practice, but it was moved to a Wednesday and the first day in pads. We were pretty sore and tired by the end of that game.”
Even Swinney named Palmer as one of the five players he would have on his basketball team during an interview at Fan Appreciation Day this year. After football, Palmer plans on joining a men’s league so he can continue playing competitively.
After graduating in May of 2010 with a degree in sport marketing, Palmer is keeping his options open. He plans to give the NFL a shot and go from there. But for now, he is enjoying his last few games as a Tiger.
Trey McCurry, a second-year graduate student from Honea Path, SC, is a graduate assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
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