STRIVR has a national champion in the family!
Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney grew up in Pelham, Alabama, and “crawled on” the Crimson Tide football team because he wasn’t as good as the walk-ons, he says.
In high school, his dad fell hard for the bottle, obliterating his marriage in the process, which left Dabo’s mother trying to support her and her youngest son on a single minimum-wage income. When Dabo moved into his dorm room in Tuscaloosa, he convinced his mom to come with him, and for three of his college years he shared a bed with her, not only making the best of hard times but embracing them as a blessing.
Dabo grinded through the coaching business with relentless positivity and joy, and when Clemson promoted him from wide receivers coach to head coach midway through the 2008 season, he sold a vision of the future in which Clemson was the best team in the country. Almost nobody believed that was possible then.
Dabo Swinney built a program on love and family and fun, and on Monday night he coached Clemson to its first national championship in almost four decades. At 47, his run only seems to be beginning.
Deshaun Watson was a five-star quarterback from Georgia and could have gone anywhere. Alabama, Florida State, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Miami, Ohio State, Oregon and many others with more recent success than Clemson offered him scholarships. But Deshaun wanted to make his own way and be part of building something, and he believed in the vision Dabo was selling in Death Valley.
As a true freshman, Deshaun beat South Carolina, which Clemson hadn’t done in six years — and he did it while playing with a partially torn ACL. A two-time Heisman Trophy Finalist, Deshaun has been incredibly talented and projected as a high first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.
He also managed to complete school in three years, and he’ll now head to the NFL as a national champion, a college graduate and the perfect example of who young college football players should strive to be.
Mike Williams was a lanky wide receiver out of South Carolina in the class one year ahead of Deshaun Watson, and he too could have gone almost anywhere. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Notre Dame and many others offered, but Williams chose the Tigers.
Heading into the 2015 season, Williams was a projected first-round pick. In the first game of the season, Williams collided with the goal post and broke his neck. He was forced to miss all of last season and wonder what that collision would do to his future and dream of playing in the NFL.
Williams caught eight passes against the Tide and was far and away the best playmaker on the field. Completely recovered from the neck injury, he leaves Clemson in the same conversation as Sammy Watkins for the most gifted wideout to ever play for the Tigers, and he’ll be a Top 10 pick in the NFL Draft this spring.
Linebacker Ben Boulware was a coveted recruit too, but after four years in orange it’s hard to ever imagine there was a school other than Clemson in the mix. He became more than the anchor of Clemson’s defense — it’s not an overstatement to say he was the on-field soul of the program.
After losing to Alabama in last year’s championship game, Boulware stewed over it all summer and then posted this tweet before the start of training camp, a rallying call to Clemson Nation:
On Tuesday, Boulware wrote to Clemson fans: “After 4 years man, my times up. It’s time for some of these younger boys to take the reins of this program and build a dynasty, but I can wholeheartedly say that I gave y’all everything I had. From the day I moved onto campus in the Summer of 2013 to my last snap last night, I emptied the tank.”
Boulware leaves Clemson as a legend and a champion, and he has a home in the South to return for the rest of his life.
Hunter Renfrow was not at all like Watson or Williams or Boulware, but rather more like his coach. A 5-foot-11 wide receiver from Myrtle Beach, Renfrow was a walk-on in 2014, redshirted and then earned a scholarship before the 2015 season. He’d go on to catch two touchdowns in last year’s national championship and then two more on Monday night to help beat the Tide.
Renfrow already feels like an unforgettable piece of Clemson lore — and he still has two seasons of eligibility left to exhaust. He won’t be a coveted NFL prospect, but somehow he feels destined to be a future great New England Patriot, catching touchdowns in Super Bowls while everyone wonders how so many teams could have missed on him.
I highlight these four players only because they had big nights against the Tide, but there are so many more accomplished players and impressive people on Clemson’s team that helped the Tigers win the title.
It’s because of them that Monday night was an incredibly gratifying moment for STRIVR, as we watched Clemson, one of our first sports training partners, win it all.
STRIVR now has two football seasons in the bank, which includes back-to-back national title game appearances and a championship thanks to the Tigers.
We had very little to do with that, of course. Clemson won the title because of its players and coaches and a thousand little things that make a college football program what it is.
Using virtual reality to train Deshaun Watson and other Tigers is one of those thousand little things, though, and for that we are proud and grateful.
Congrats to the 2016 Clemson Tigers!