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Nov 18, 2023

Top Tigers From The Tar Heel State

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the North Carolina football gameday program.

A look to the roster and starting lineup of Clemson’s 1981 national championship team shows that student-athletes who came to Tigertown from the state of North Carolina had a major impact on the program.

When we examine the hometowns of the 86 players who were on the roster for the 1982 Orange Bowl game against Nebraska, the victory that gave the program its first national championship, no less than 17 players from the Tar Heel State were listed. Only South Carolina (27) and Georgia (19) had more representatives. Players from 12 different states were listed. Florida and Ohio were next with four players apiece.

When we look at the predominant starting lineup for the 1981 season, we see that six players from the Tar Heel State are listed. The 1981 Tigers had six starters from North Carolina, six from Georgia and six from South Carolina. There were two from Ohio and one each from Arizona and Florida.

A look to the final statistics from that season reveals that many of the leaders in various categories were from North Carolina. Jeff Davis (Greensboro) was the top tackler and Perry Tuttle (Winston-Salem) was the top receiver. Running backs Chuck McSwain (Caroleen), Jeff McCall (Fayetteville), Kevin Mack (Kings Mountain) and Brendan Crite (Brevard) were second, fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively, on the team in rushing. They combined for 1,523 rushing yards and 15 touchdowns that season.

Clemson had five All-Americans on the 1981 team, the most ever in a season at the time (the 2017 team passed that number with eight), and two of them, Davis and Tuttle, were from the state of North Carolina. Davis had 175 tackles that year from his linebacker position to lead the team, still the second-highest total in Tiger history. He was named ACC Player-of-the-Year.

Tuttle had 52 receptions for 883 yards and eight touchdowns. The second-most receptions by a Tiger that year was a total of 19 (Jerry Gaillard), and the second-most receiving yards was a total of 345 (Frank Magwood).

The six starters from North Carolina on that 1981 team included four on defense. The list featured middle guard William Devane (Jacksonville), defensive end Andy Headen (Liberty), Davis (Greensboro) and linebacker Danny Triplett (Boone). They were major reasons Clemson allowed only 8.8 points per game that year. No Tiger defense has achieved that mark since.

While a few players from North Carolina came to Clemson to play for Head Coach Frank Howard dating to the early 1940s, the program did not get serious about recruiting the state immediately to the north until the 1970s.

Red Parker recognized the talent level in North Carolina and made it a priority when he became head coach. Unfortunately, he did not get to realize the benefits of his hard work on “Tobacco Road.”

Clemson’s 1974 signing class brought in nine student-athletes from North Carolina, more than any other state that year and the Tigers’ most from North Carolina in one year in history. Parker trumped that in 1975, when he brought in 15 from North Carolina, again the most from any state that year. That total is still the most signees from North Carolina in one year in school history.

While Clemson had a 2-9 record in 1975, the freshman class is regarded as one of the best in school history, and those 15 signees from North Carolina would be the leaders of the 1978 team that finished 11-1, beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl and finished No. 6 in the AP poll. That class included wide receiver and future All-Pro Dwight Clark (Charlotte), All-American Joe Bostic (Greensboro) and future long-time NFL offensive lineman Steve Kenney (Raleigh).

During the decade of the 1970s, the Tigers signed 53 players from North Carolina, and they followed that up with 45 in the 1980s under Head Coach Danny Ford. With Clemson’s brand becoming more national with the recent run of 12 consecutive seasons of double-digit wins, six College Football Playoff appearances and two national titles, Clemson’s recruiting has been national. But in the 2010s, Clemson’s best decade on the gridiron, Head Coach Dabo Swinney’s program signed 27 student-athletes from North Carolina, third among all states, trailing only South Carolina (77) and Georgia (46).

The list of Tiger All-Americans includes 11 players from the Tar Heel State and covers many years, as it has been a consistent recruiting ground. We have documented the impact of the state to Tiger teams of the 1970s and 1980s, but recent players Dwayne Allen (Fayetteville), Tyrone Crowder (Marston), K.J. Henry (Winston-Salem), Tanner Muse (Belmont) and Carlos Watkins (Mooresboro) have all been All-Americans on Swinney-coached teams.

A look to the list of some of the Clemson greats who have gone on to significant success in the NFL includes North Carolinians Chester McGlockton (Whiteville), Clark (Charlotte) and Jeff Bostic (Greensboro). McGlockton played 12 years in the NFL and was named to four straight Pro Bowls from 1994-97.

Clark is a 49er legend who was named NFL MVP in 1982, and he played on two Super Bowl championship teams as Joe Montana’s top target. Bostic was the starting center for Washington for 14 seasons and is the only former Tiger to take home three Super Bowl championship rings.

One more list that documents the impact of players from North Carolina on the program is the Clemson Hall of Fame. No less than 10 Tigers who donned a Clemson uniform after playing high school football in North Carolina are in Clemson’s Hall of Fame.