Note: The following appears in the Syracuse gameday football program
For any freshman, the academic transition from high school to college is far from easy. Add in hours of practice, workouts and meetings every week and pair it with upperclassman-level classes. This is the challenge senior defensive tackle Nick Rowell faced after earning a tryout walk-on spot on the football team as a junior.
Rowell grew up in Spartanburg, S.C., where he attended James F. Byrnes High School. It was his experience at this top program that prepared him for his walk-on tryout and college career at Clemson.
“It was basically a college program in high school. I knew what I was getting in to, so I went to my old coach and he gave me a program to get me ready before I got there. It was a lot of grinding, but that’s part of it. I knew what they expected me to be when I got here and I wanted to be in good enough shape to jump right in and not be left behind the guys who were already here.”
Not only did Rowell lack a preferred walk-on spot at tryouts, he needed to prove he could play on a team that had just won the title as the top team in college football in the 2016 season.
“It’s crazy. I’m here at the best the program has ever been, and the fact that I made the team at the point it’s at now makes it mean that much more to me. It let me prove to myself that I can do this and play at this level.”
Despite the odds, the coaches told him just 15 minutes into the tryout that they liked his size, footwork and agility. After trying out with over 100 other prospective players, he received the call that he had earned a spot with the reigning national championship team.
“I was elated. It was pure joy. I told myself beforehand that the worst thing that could happen was I could get cut, but if I never tried, I would never know. When I made it, I couldn’t believe it. It’s really an honor to be here.”
After making the team, Rowell quickly realized the many obstacles he would have to face. As a walk-on junior, he was not only shocked by the academic stress, but he needed to establish what his role as a player would be as well.
“It was pretty difficult because I knew I had a short clock. I didn’t have too much time to develop and grow. I came in as an old guy, but I’m also brand new to the program, so I’m also seen as younger. I went from a redshirt to a senior really fast.”
Now as a senior, he has settled into his role and tries every day to be a leader both on and off the field. He remembered a visit to Death Valley as a child with his father when he was able to meet head coach Dabo Swinney, and he is shocked by what his perseverance and hard work has allowed him to accomplish.
“There’s a picture of me in sixth grade with coach Swinney at the Rock, and I told him I was going to be one of his players some day. Sure enough, here I am.”
Rowell hopes to continue to teach and embody the high standards of the Clemson football program in his final season as well as in his future endeavors.