Dec. 30, 2008
Today was the final day of practice for the 2008 season. It had to be a bittersweet day for the 29 Clemson seniors, because, well….it is practice. But, it was also the end of an era in some respects.
That list of seniors includes Cullen Harper, Michael Hamlin, Dorell Scott and Rashaad Jackson, all fifth year players. Those players have gone through over 500 football practices including regular season, bowl practices and spring practices. And we aren’t even counting the offseason workouts.
At the end of the practice today, Coach Swinney reminded the underclassmen that it is a Clemson tradition that the seniors are carried off the field after the last practice. It was quite a scene to see James Davis, Hamlin, Tyler Grisham, Bobby Hutchinson (it took about six guys for him) and the others carried off. There were many media members to witness this ritual and sure it will be documented in upstate affiliated newspapers, internet sites and television stations.
Some of Clemson’s greatest players in history were carried off that Jacksonville University field today. Davis needs just 112 rushing yards on Thursday (his birthday) to become Clemson’s all-time leading rusher. He already has 49 career touchdowns, also second in school history and just one short of Travis Zachery’s record.
Aaron Kelly, who at 6-5 is not easy to carry off the field, needs just 23 receiving yards to become the school’s career leader and he already has the ACC career record for touchdowns. How many schools have their all-time leaders in rushing yards and reception yards in the same senior class? That could be the case with a productive performance by both players on Thursday.
There are others in this class who have left their marks and will be strong candidates to earn a place in the Clemson athletic hall of fame a few years down the road. Cullen Harper is second in school history in passing efficiency and first in completion percentage.
Chris Clemons has left his mark with over 300 career tackles and 38 consecutive starts at free safety, while Mark Buchholz has helped the heritage of two Clemson football programs, the soccer and football teams. He has never missed an extra point. Punter Jimmy Maners is fourth in school history in career punting, trailing only all-time greats Chris Gardocki, Dale Hatcher and Banks McFadden.
A victory over Nebraska can make this the winningest Clemson senior class (33 wins) since the seniors of 1993 (which also won 33 games), the group that was led by Brentson Buckner and Stacy Seegars. That senior class also went through a disruptive season when Ken Hatfield left the program after the regular season. The seniors that year held the team together for the Chick-fil-A Bowl and led the Tigers to a victory over Kentucky.
This year’s team has had a similar challenge with a change at the top of the coaching staff on October 13 when Tommy Bowden stepped down as head coach. Dabo Swinney rallied the forces, but it took this group of special seniors to keep the team together and allow it to win four of its last five games and earn a big to a Jan. 1 bowl game.
As Coach Swinney said after practice on Tuesday, the reason this team stayed together was the character of the senior class. I have seen that character close up for the last five years. We have seen it repeatedly at the bowl site this week. Many of the seniors made the trip to the hospital to visit children instead of taking off on a shopping trip or a trip to the beach.
The seniors of 2006 were a perfect 20 for 20 in terms of earning degrees and I wouldn’t be surprised this group also records a perfect record eventually. They have represented Clemson well on and off the field for five years and will for many years to come.
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