Note: The following appears in the Florida State gameday football program.
Most FBS-level programs publicize a list of their former players in the NFL through press releases and social media graphics. Clemson is one of those schools because the Tigers had the 11th-most former players on NFL opening day rosters.
As of early October, there were 38 former Tigers on NFL rosters, including the likes of veterans DeAndre Hopkins, Sammy Watkins, Deshaun Watson, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, plus rookies Clelin Ferrell, Dexter Lawrence, Christian Wilkins and Hunter Renfrow.
The Clemson football communications staff also publicizes stats provided by P.A.W Journey. P.A.W. stands for “Passionate About Winning.” P.A.W. Journey is a program-wide initiative where staff members, led by former Tiger great Jeff Davis, develop leadership qualities within the student-athletes and cultivate their personal growth, life skills and professional development.
The goal of the program is to prepare each young man to be an example to current Tigers by sustaining a winning lifestyle long after their playing days are over.
Prior to the beginning of the 2019 season, 66 of Dabo Swinney’s former lettermen had played in an NFL game dating to the 2008 season, when he was the interim head coach. In his first 11 seasons (including 2008), 339 players lettered under Swinney.
Nearly 20 percent of his former lettermen had played in an NFL game prior to this season. I do not have figures for all FBS schools, but the number is actually among the best in the nation for the last 11 years.
So, almost one of every five lettermen during the last decade has made it to the field for an NFL game. What happens to the other 80 percent?
That is where P.A.W Journey comes in. As stated previously, there are many aspects to P.A.W Journey, and job placement is a large aspect of the program.
While the list of 38 players on NFL rosters in game notes each week is impressive, so is the list of 2018 seniors who are not playing professional football. Just as impressive and just as important a statistic is the fact that all 37 of Clemson’s 2018 seniors, the seniors who led the program to a second national title in three years, were employed or were pursuing further education.
We all know what Ferrell and Renfrow are doing in Oakland, and Wilkins in Miami, but Swinney is just as proud that Justin Falcinelli, an All-ACC center who left Clemson with a master’s degree, is working for Cobec Consulting in Washington, D.C. Patrick Godfrey is with Wells Fargo, Chris Register and Kendall Joseph are both with GE Healthcare, and the Davis twins, J.D. and Judah, are working for Adobe and Sunoco, respectively.
Jalen Williams is in Hawaii working as a contractor with the U.S. Air Force. He made a presentation to the team in August about the importance of preparing for the next chapter of life beyond football, and the part P.A.W Journey played for him.
“We strive to have a 100-percent job placement rate for each senior class,” said Swinney. “We track that and take great pride in it. That is Rashard Hall’s area and he takes great pride in his job. He has done an amazing job heading up the program. He has made an investment in our young men and has made a difference in so many of our former players.”
Hall played for Swinney from 2009-12 and showed great leadership qualities his entire career when he was a captain of the 2012 team. He has expanded this program to incorporate internship opportunities for the Tigers who have done nothing but enhance their resumés for life after football.
Every March, Hall organizes Bridge Week, when companies come to Clemson to make presentations and give players interview opportunities. Earlier this year, he organized 35 microinternships with 15 corporations from eight states.
I have witnessed Swinney’s dedication to helping all his former players, whether they are NFL prospects or walk-ons. There is no telling how many phone calls and letters of recommendation he has made on behalf of his players.
Swinney, Hall and Davis as well as P.A.W. Journey staff members Savannah Bailey and Travis Blanks are daily examples that when you sign with Clemson, it is not just a four-year commitment, it is a 40-year commitment.