Note: The following appears in the The Citadel gameday football program.
A few years ago, Tim Bourret asked me what I remembered about Marion Reeves, Clemson’s first African-American football student-athlete. I was a student assistant in the sports information office under Bob Bradley when Reeves played for the Tigers (1970-73).
I told Bourret I remembered Reeves as a good football player who was a great guy. We all enjoyed watching him play, especially the two big interceptions he had in Columbia in the 1971 win over a heavily-favored South Carolina squad.
Bourret then asked if there had been much fanfare about Reeves’s arrival on campus. (Craig Mobley had entered Clemson the previous year on a basketball scholarship and was the first Tiger African-American student-athlete.)
I had to stop and think. With such a major groundbreaking event, one would expect significant media coverage. However, all I could remember about Reeves was his solid character and consistent play on the field.
Did Reeves remember any fanfare when he signed?
“There was a small article in The State paper in Columbia, but that was about it.”
In retrospect, that tells you all you need to know about Reeves. He came to Tigertown to get a good education and play football. He did both in such a classy way that we did not even realize history was being made.
Reeves recalled the beginnings of his Tiger career in very simple terms.
“In the spring of 1970, Coach (Doug) Shively came to my high school to look at film of another player on the team, but I kept showing up on the film. Coach Shively invited me to Clemson one Saturday, and during the visit, he offered me a scholarship.”
“I recall Coach Shively telling me about a player who he thought could really be a good one,” said Clemson Head Coach Hootie Ingram, who was in his first season after succeeding the Tigers’ legendary head coach, Frank Howard. “We weren’t looking to break a barrier, we were just looking for some young men who were good football players.”
Reeves has fond memories of that first year at Clemson.
“Those were good times. We had some good athletes in the secondary, guys like Ben Anderson and Bobby Johnson. I made some great friendships at Clemson that have lasted a lifetime.”
All three players had four interceptions apiece that season.
Reeves had many highlights that 1971 season, but two stand out. The first was an interception against Virginia quarterback Harrison Davis, the first African-American quarterback in the ACC, in a 32-15 Tiger win. Then there was the two-interception game at South Carolina, leading Clemson to a 17-7 victory in his hometown.
A starter the first seven games of his senior year in 1973, his season was cut short due to a knee injury.
“I was probably having my best year,” he recalled.
Reeves played professionally for a few years, one with the Philadelphia Eagles (played all 14 games) and two in the CFL with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
After his professional days, Reeves returned to Clemson and finished his degree before beginning a career in textiles. After working for several companies in Georgia and South Carolina, he opened a masonry business in Irmo, S.C.
Several years later, he answered a higher calling by becoming a pastor.
“The Lord has a way of putting you in situations that prepare you for things to come,” explained Reeves. “When I was at Clemson, Coach George McIntyre, my position coach, took me to First Baptist Church in Clemson a few times, and I taught a Sunday school class. Coach ‘Mac’ was a great Christian man, and that helped me prepare to become a pastor.”
Today, Reeves pastors Pleasant Spring AME Church in Columbia, S.C., a calling he has done for 23 years. He and his wife have four children, including 1997 Clemson graduate LaShonda, and eight grandchildren. One is a baseball player at Presbyterian College.
“Pastoring a church and raising a family keeps me really busy, but I love it,” he added.
Reeves entered Clemson in the fall of 1970, and for that first year, he was the only African-American football player in the program. His solid character led Clemson through what could have been a trying time, but it became an era everyone remembers with pride.
In looking over the 125 years of Tiger football, one can make the claim that few student-athletes have had such a profound effect on the program.