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Oct 21, 2022

Raymond Priester | Record-Setting Performances

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Syracuse football gameday program.

Editor’s Note – For each program in 2022, Tim Bourret chronicles a great individual performance in Clemson history. Today is the fourth installment.

The weather for the first half of the Duke vs. Clemson game at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 11, 1995 was so bad that the Hall of Fame induction ceremony scheduled for halftime was canceled. All-time basketball great Larry Nance received his plaque underneath the south stands.

For most running backs, such a sloppy turf would not call for a 100-yard rushing total, nevermind a record-setting 263-yard performance.

But for Tiger sophomore running back Raymond Priester, the conditions were perfect.

“That was a great day for me,” said Priester. “I loved playing in the mud and the rain. It suited my style. I was never a burner…I was a power runner, and a bad field suited me just fine.”

This was a different time in college football. Teams tried to run the ball much more than they do today, and Head Coach Tommy West enjoyed that style. It was a style that brought Clemson much success in the 1980s under Head Coach Danny Ford when West was an assistant coach.

“It was our game plan all week to run the ball against Duke,” continued Priester. “So I was excited for this game.”

It did not take Priester long to get going in what was a downpour in the first half.

“Early in the game, we ran a play and the Duke safety came up and made a good tackle. When we ran the same play later, I was ready and ran over him (for a 41-yard gain).”

Priester had some help from the Tiger defense early in this game. While Priester set the Clemson single-game rushing record, on the other side of the ball, All-America defensive back Brian Dawkins set the school record for interceptions in a quarter (3). The record still stands today, and he was honored with national defensive player-of-the-week accolades by Sports Illustrated.

Those interceptions set up a touchdown and field goal, as Clemson took a 17-0 lead at halftime. Priester then raced 44 yards for a touchdown in the middle of the third quarter to give the Tigers a 24-0 lead.

The Tigers were on cruise control, and it looked like Priester might not play in the fourth quarter, hurting his chances at Cliff Austin’s single-game record of 260 rushing yards against Duke in 1982.

The sun came out for much of the second half, and while the turf was still sloppy, the weather was more conducive to the Duke passing game. Head Coach Fred Goldsmith’s Blue Devils scored two touchdowns to narrow the Tiger lead to 24-14.

That put the ball back in Priester’s hands. Time and again, he pounded the Duke line for 10, 12 and 15 yards at a time. While he scored just one touchdown in the game, he set up teammate Emory Smith three times in the game for short touchdowns. Quarterback Nealon Greene was doing a great job running the option, gaining 95 yards on the ground on just 10 carries.

“The offensive line was great all year for us,” explained Priester. “They certainly were that day. We had over 400 rushing yards, and Duke knew we were going to run the ball.”

Priester was correct, as the Tigers passed for just 17 yards and only attempted nine passes. Clemson gained 433 yards on the ground on 65 carries.

“I owe a lot of my success for my career to Jim Bundren and Glenn Rountree,” added Priester. “They were like brothers.”

Bundren and Rountree started 47 consecutive games together from 1994-97 and were on the field for most of Priester’s 3,966 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns in his career.

The Tigers won the game 34-17, and late in the game, Priester surpassed Austin’s single-game record by three yards, much to the delight of the Clemson fans and his teammates.

Clemson finished the regular season with an 8-3 record, winners in each of its last five games by double digits. Priester finished with a school-record 1,322 rushing yards on the season, one of seven Tiger rushing records he set in the 1995 campaign.

Priester gained another 1,345 rushing yards the following season to break his own record. As stated above, he finished his career in 1997 with 3,966 rushing yards, a record that stood for 23 years until Travis Etienne broke his mark in 2020. However, Priester’s rushing yards per game figure (112.1) in the 1996 season still stands as the highest in school history.