“Football might not be a lifelong profession, but what you learn from it empowers you for a lifetime.” This realization made by Jeff Davis, former Tiger All-American linebacker, captain of the 1981 National Championship team and current Assistant Athletic Director of Football Player Relations & External Affairs, has formed the foundation of his professional career in Clemson’s athletic department. It has culminated in the establishment of a new standard for student-athlete development.
While the recent construction of Clemson’s new Allen N. Reeves Football Complex has naturally garnered widespread attention due to its grandiose appearance and luxurious features, the most significant characteristic of the new football complex is the presence of P.A.W. Journey, a program that redefines the experience of a college football student-athlete. The P.A.W. Journey suite greets you on the right as soon as you enter the facility, setting a clear precedence for the significance Head Coach Dabo Swinney has chosen to place on this transformative leadership initiative.
P.A.W., an acronym for “Passionate About Winning,” encourages football student-athletes to maintain a continually competitive posture towards all aspects of the journey of life. Composed of three pillars that Davis believes best prepares Clemson’s football players for their future roles as leaders in their careers, communities and homes, P.A.W. Journey aims to develop football student-athletes holistically.
“Our football student-athletes have to go to practice, lift weights and focus on their academics,” said Davis when explaining P.A.W. Journey’s philosophy, “sometimes, life gets lost in all of that. So, my goal is for P.A.W. Journey to keep life at the forefront of their minds.”
Striped, the personal growth pillar of P.A.W. Journey headed by Davis, is centered on the idea that Tigers are made rather than born, and focuses on instilling character, confidence and conviction into the players. Charged with tasks that require them to identify their core values or construct personal and professional plans for their futures, Striped asks the players to identify who they are, what they believe and act according to those identities and beliefs.
Working closely with Davis is Savannah Bailey, who serves as the Director of Life Skills and Community Service and is responsible for the C.U. in Life pillar of P.A.W. Journey. Bailey creates, offers and aids the players in executing a variety of opportunities, such as community service initiatives and preparatory workshops, that develop and enhance the life skills essential to their success at Clemson and beyond.
“Whether it’s in the community, their hometowns or across the country, the players use their influence and passions to serve others,” said Bailey. “P.A.W. Journey is able to broaden their worldview while supporting them in their own development.”
Inspired by the concepts of love, living and light, the C.U. in Life pillar has been integral to Clemson players taking part in life-changing experiences, such as service trips to Haiti and Costa Rica during the summers of 2017 and 2018, respectively.
Davis also works closely with Rashard Hall, former Tiger safety (2009-12) and Director of Career and Professional Development, who heads the third pillar of P.A.W. Journey, designated as 5th Quarter. The program promotes and provides professional development for football student-athletes. From networking with professionals in their fields of interest, to attending workshops on how to thrive in their careers, 5th Quarter emphasizes the importance of each Clemson player’s accessibility to marketplace knowledge and experiences.
A shining example of the groundbreaking work being conducted through P.A.W. Journey’s 5th Quarter program is the placement of 28 players in micro-internships within five different companies across the country this past spring. They were able to cultivate skills and increase their expertise and interests in fields such as product marketing, sales, entrepreneurship and company logistics, among others.
With the abundance of commitments that college football requires of every player, the narrative for his evolution has always begun and ended with the sport of football. However, P.A.W. Journey is changing that narrative by viewing football as a gateway to countless growth opportunities and life lessons for its participants. As a result of this exceptional student-athlete development program, Tiger players are discovering that in earnest.
The message Davis often provides, “True champions always seek new victories,” speaks to this pursuit and the understanding that the Clemson football student-athlete can achieve success both on and off the field, now and for the rest of their lives.