Note: The following appears in the North Carolina football gameday program.
Riggs Faulkenberry originally planned on taking his talents to the West Coast. The Greenville Senior High School graduate was a linebacker in his senior season with the Red Raiders and accepted a preferred walk-on spot at Stanford.
He was all set to attend until one day, while driving, he received a text message saying he would be a good fit for the program. The text was from Dabo Swinney.
“My dad graduated from Clemson, but he didn’t play a sport. He was just a normal student. I grew up in Greenville and came to games, but I never thought I would go to Clemson. Part of me always wanted to come here.”
The choice to come to Clemson was about more than just football. As a history major, two-time ACC Academic Honor Roll member and P.A.W. Journey ambassador, he has taken advantage of the resources Clemson offers, from leadership training to professional preparation and beyond.
“I didn’t know a ton about P.A.W. Journey, but that was another reason I wanted to come to Clemson. Coach Swinney emphasizes the 30-year-old version of yourself, and I thought that was something I should invest in. I was going to take advantage of all the stuff there is, whether I’m on the field or not.”
Through P.A.W. Journey, he has gained valuable leadership skills that have helped him make a direct impact on his teammates and coaches. He serves on the football formal committee and has also spoken in front of the team about the team Bible study, led by Reggie Pleasant, that he attends. He attributes much of his personal and spiritual growth to Pleasant, as he has attended the Bible study since his freshman year.
“I don’t think it was an accident. I needed someone to talk to at the time, and I don’t think we even did any Bible study. We sat there and he talked to me, and I don’t think I’ve missed a single one since. He gives out an award at the banquet every year for spiritual leadership, and I received that last year.”
Along with teaching strong leadership skills, P.A.W. Journey has helped him hone his interview skills. Last summer, he interned with The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in New York City.
“It’s really cool, because someone like me, who’s not getting his name called on the loudspeaker every game…it gives me a platform to have a voice.”
Faulkenberry described how Clemson bonds people together for life. When asked about his teammates, he mentioned walk-on linebacker Jaden Murray and their newfound friendship.
“Playing on a team like this brings you together with people you would have never met. He played at North Greenville and came here for three years as a student and walked on. He’s 23, and I’m 20, and he’s from Denver. We would have never become friends. It’s cool how all those things bring us together.”
The linebacker saw action in a Tiger uniform for the first time in the game against Charleston Southern on Sept. 9. He described the milestone moment and how surreal it felt to play in Death Valley.
“It was crazy. My parents were excited to see me, because obviously so much work goes into it. I could even hear my mom cheering among the 80,000 fans. Being a walk-on, you don’t always get a chance to go out there, so it’s cool. It felt like I was finally reaping what I sowed.”
After graduation, he aspires to live in New York City and attend law school, but Clemson will always be home.