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Younger Childress Is Not Overshadowed

Sept. 5, 2000

Bernie Merritt Sports Information Student AssistantThe Citadel Game Program – September 2, 2000

Most little brothers spend a majority of their lives trying to elude the shadow cast by the older brother. No matter how many years separate the two, the younger never seems to be able to be more than just the “younger brother.” If both siblings join the same school band, or the same school athletic team or even the same academic club, the younger will always be the overshadowed. However, in the case of Gary and his older brother O.J., the younger sibling is definitely not just the “younger brother.”

Both Childresses were brought up playing football since the two were about five or six years old. The brothers have played together on several teams including two McGavock High School teams and of course here at Clemson from 1996-98. Even though coming to Clemson was partly just to be with O.J., there was still more to it than that. “I thought about Tennessee first, yet I wanted to make it easier on my parents to see us both play. It made the transition from high school to college a lot easier but I mainly wanted to prove that I could be my own player and person even with O.J.”

Gary made sure he learned from his brother’s experiences and he also made sure he chose his own paths in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field. Gary joined the squad in 1996 but red-shirted the season to get a little stronger and a little more experience. In 1997 he finished the season by starting the last four games and six overall.

While O.J. was already a consistent force as a linebacker, Gary was showing the attitude he learned from his brother was going to make him a powerful force on the defensive line. “He always told me to give a 100 percent all the time,” Gary said of his older brother. “No matter what O.J. always gave it his all.”

In 1998 Gary became a solid starter, appearing in nine of the 11 starting rosters. He ranked 13th on the team in tackles with 32. He had two tackles for loss and a season high five tackles in the Tiger’s win over South Carolina in 1998. Gary also participated in at least 30 snaps in 10 of the 11 games. He was a consistent player making at least one tackle in every game and at least three in seven of the Tigers 11 overall games.

“I had a great year in 1998. I was playing good football, I was playing with my brother and I were playing with an outstanding group of guys. That’s all I could have asked for that year,” he remembered. After the 1998 season though things got shaken up a bit. His older brother O.J. graduated and moved on to pursue a NFL career with the New York Giants. At the same time Clemson was going through a coaching change after the departure of Tommy West.

“When Clemson brought in Coach (Tommy) Bowden I was a little nervous but things ran real smooth,” Gary said. “It took a while to get used to the more attack minded defense but we adjusted and had a good year in his first season.”

Even with the new staff and formation, Gary continued to do what he always did, work hard. He greatly impressed the new staff when they started workouts in the spring.

Coach Thielen Smith, defensive line coach, remembers seeing Gary for the first time as a player with great ability, determination and leadership.

“Gary has a lot of talent and is a good mix for our style of defense,” Smith said. “At the first spring and summer workouts we had, he really impressed me and the other coaches with his hard work. We saw a lot of good things out of him.”

Unfortunately the 1999 season did not turn out as planned. During the preseason, Gary pulled a calf muscle, an injury that would make him sit out the Marshall game and pretty much cost him the rest of the season. Just like his older brother, Gary would keep giving 100 percent even with the injury. He would play in eight games during the 1999 campaign, but in a limited role. The coaching staff had no choice but to use Nick Eason and Bryant McNeal to fill void left by Gary on the defensive line.

“He had a lot going for him, but the injuries that plague a lot of good athletes are just part of the sport,” Smith said. “McNeal and Eason both stepped up to fill the gap but it still would have been nice to see what Gary could have done.”

With the hope of playing a vital role for Bowden’s first Clemson Tiger team wiped away by the injury, Gary continued to work even harder to come back for his final year as a Tiger.

“O.J. had a couple of injury-filled years but he never gave up,” Gary said. “He and I got that from our mother. She would never push us or force us to do anything, but she always said if we chose to do something on our own we should be prepared to give it our best. No exceptions.”

Thanks to his mother and brother’s advice Gary is now in a position he may not have been in had he given up. With the 2000 season approaching, the coaching staff has high expectations for Gary.

“He should battle for a starting job,” Smith said. He has battled back from the injury and is working hard. His leadership and work ethic are big pluses for this ball club.”

The chance to just play for Clemson with his brother and to make it easier for his parents to see the two compete was all Gary could have asked for.

“It has been great to be a Tiger the last several years. I have competed with a lot of great athletes and have learned a tremendous amount from the coaching staff and from experience,” Gary said.

While many of Gary’s hopes and dreams have come true, he realizes many people young and old are not quite as lucky. That’s why being a part of LIFE Line is so rewarding. The program, Leadership In Football and Education, was started in 1996 by the Tigers in order to reach out to the community both on and off campus. The existing members who make up the group select new players to join whenever another member graduates. There is no set number of people in the group but each one shows great discipline, good attitude, dedication, and most important leadership.

“For me being able to give back means the world. I have been very fortunate to receive all I have,” Gary said. “It means a lot more though to see someone less fortunate than I get what he/she truly deserves.”

For Gary, being the “younger brother” has not been as it may have seemed. While O.J. was a standout in his own right, so is Gary. He has been a constant leader on and off the field. In the classroom he worked just as hard and will graduate in December in Industrial Education. The thought of playing in the NFL against or with his brother is definitely a possibility. One thing is for sure though, Gary will never be just the “younger brother.”