Note: The following appears in the Troy gameday football program. To purchase a copy of the program while supplies last, send a check for $6 to Clemson Athletic Communications; P.O. Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
Cordrea Tankersley cannot pinpoint the origin of his hometown’s name, but that does not stop the incessant questions aimed in his direction.
“All of the Florida boys on our team always ask me, ‘Tootie, you’re from the beach?’” he said, referring to Beech Island, the small Aiken County community in which he was raised. “They think I’m one of them. I tell them it’s spelled B-e-e-c-h, not B-e-a-c-h. We have the Savannah River, and there’s no island.
“But I love where I’m from. It’s home.”
It was in Beech Island where Tankersley earned the affectionate nickname “Tootie,” first coined by his older brother, Codarius. The day he was born, it was the only phrase Codarius could muster. The nickname stuck and eventually carried over to college, where today the younger Tankersley brother opens the home portion of his senior season against Troy.
Tankersley’s football journey began when he was just four years old. His older brother, who preceded him by a year and 10 days, began playing organized football. It did not take long for the younger Tankersley to develop an interest, even though he was not old enough at the time to play.
“The moment I saw my brother score his first touchdown, I knew I would play this game,” said Tankersley. “Seeing it up close, I thought I wanted to score touchdowns and play, too.”
He would go on to make his mark at Silver Bluff High School, a AA powerhouse that has produced a long line of talent despite its small size and relative obscurity. Tankersley’s uncle, D’Wayne Bates, was an All-American at Northwestern and played in the NFL. Vanderbilt’s Corey Chavous and South Carolina’s Troy Williamson followed the model. Four graduates of Silver Bluff have been drafted in the first two rounds of the NFL draft since 1998.
Now, Tankersley is Silver Bluff High School’s next prized product with a potential future at the next level. How he became an All-ACC cornerback playing in the national championship game is another story.
He did not always play the position. In fact, he drew the bulk of attention with his athletic abilities as Silver Bluff’s starting quarterback.
“I played some cornerback as a freshman and sophomore,” he said. “And then as a junior, I was our quarterback. My senior year was the same thing, but also some safety. I was all over the field. Whatever coach (Al) Lown wanted me to do, that’s what I was going to do.”
Tankersley had the attention of college recruiters, particularly those at Clemson, Miami (Fla.) and South Carolina. He committed to the Tigers in 2011, but he would not join the team that next summer. He was short on credit hours, and instead went to Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia alongside another Clemson commitment, defensive end Shaq Lawson.
Tankersley was already a disciplined individual, but the experience at Hargrave was an eye-opening one.
“It was a new experience, and not one of my favorite ones,” admitted #25. “I was there for seven months just to earn enough academic credits to enroll at Clemson. It was stressful being away from my family for so long. Football was fun and it kept me in line.
“After football, we had to drill every day. It strengthened my discipline. It also taught me to not take anything for granted and to take advantage of my opportunities. God blessed me with the score I needed on my final test, and that brought me here.”
Tankersley earned an opportunity for playing time as a freshman, contributing a team-high nine stops on special teams in 2013. He again played special teams the following season but had to display some patience as he saw senior cornerback Garry Peters log the majority of snaps ahead of him.
“Garry balled out and had a great senior season, and I respect that,” stated Tankersley. “All good things come to those who wait, and I was patient. My junior year, I packaged the anger I had inside and put it all on the field.”
The anger was fueled by different external factors in 2015. Tankersley was the unknown in a secondary led by cornerback Mackensie Alexander and safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse, all of whom were drafted in May.
Alexander received the bulk of scouting attention, and the bulk of publicity as well. Tankersley rarely received public mention, and opposing offenses took their chances with the new starter in Clemson’s lineup.
Defensive backs coach Mike Reed took notice quickly of a more focused player in Tankersley, one he thought was ready for the spotlight that would come his way with Alexander on the opposite side.
“A lot of teams gameplanned against Mackensie,” said Reed. “As the boundary corner, you see a lot more balls come your way. He took it in stride, made plays and did what he was supposed to do.”
By every measure, Tankersley lived up to his position coach’s expectations. He had five interceptions and 11 pass breakups, leading the defense in both categories in 2015. His interception total tied for 20th in the nation.
“I had an edge,” said Tankersley. “I played with anger every day, trying to prove something. Mackensie was a great player, but my mindset is that I wouldn’t come second to anyone. That’s how I played last season.”
A personal highlight came at Miami, one of the schools he had narrowed his college decision to during the recruiting process. In the Tigers’ 58-0 thumping of the Hurricanes, Tankersley stepped in front of a Miami receiver just before halftime and returned it for his first career touchdown.
Tankersley said it was the first time in his life he had ever scored on the defensive side of the ball.
“That was a great moment,” he said. “I knew they were running comeback routes, and I just went for it. If he ran a stop and go, I would’ve been toast.”
Following Clemson’s narrow loss to Alabama, three members of the defensive backfield declared for the 2016 NFL draft, Alexander, Green and Kearse.
Tankersley was close to joining them.
“I had my mind set…I was leaving,” he admitted. “But I sat down with my family and didn’t want to make an emotional decision. I had proven myself, but I wanted an opportunity to be even better. I wanted to get my degree and graduate in December in three and a half years. I can raise my stock to the first round, and who doesn’t want to go in the first round?”
It is an exciting time for the parks, recreation & tourism management major. From one credit shy of enrolling with his original signing class in 2012 to being one of the most respected 2016 veterans, his journey is similar to that of growing up in Beech Island.
Few have made it out of the tiny Aiken County community to this level of achievement. It takes a special character, someone like Tankersley whose position forces him to play on an “island” in many situations, to come this far.
“It’s a night and day difference with ‘Tootie,’ who was a quiet kid when he arrived here,” added Reed. “Now he’s matured into a guy who can play with technique and speak the defense. If he continues to do what he’s supposed to do, hopefully he will have his name called and have an opportunity to play at the next level.”
That sure would make his community proud.
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