Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney spoke with reporters Tuesday at the Tigers prepare for this weekend’s season opener. See what he had to say below……
“I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited to see you guys (local media) as I am today. I mean that with all sincerity because that means it’s finally a Tuesday press conference and it’s game week so it’s an exciting time for everybody. We all love what we do, especially in the sports realm. That’s why we got into this business. Obviously everybody has different roles, but its good to get this thing going and we’re ready to kick it off.”
“I’m very anxious to see our team play somebody other than ourselves and further the evaluation of where we are now as a team. There’s only so much you can do practicing against each other with the amount of familiarity you have with each other. You practice against each other all spring and have skills and drills all summer, and then all of camp and its just harder to get a true evaluation when you don’t have another opponent. So it’s good to be able to play somebody and gage where we are and what kind of work we’ve gotten done in camp.”
“I think we’ve had a good camp, but it’s been different this year. It’s been a different camp from a schedule standpoint. The past several years we’ve been starting school on a Wednesday and we’ve been playing 10 days later. The routine was very different this year because we started on a Wednesday and we play 17 days later.
“So we had an extra week of school built in there from a preparation standpoint so that was a little different, but I think that we’ve managed that well. I like where our team is and the spirit of the team as well as the chemistry of the team. I like the look in their eye.”
“I think we’re fairly healthy. We’ve been very fortunate in that regard. As far as injury guys, Kaleb Bevelle, who is a transfer and is not eligible yet, came in with a fractured hand. Tucker Israel is getting closer everyday. He’s going through practice and going through the drills, but he’s not quite 100 percent yet, but he is getting closer so it’s good to have him back out there.
“The biggest loss that we’ve had is Korrin Wiggins. That’s the only season ending loss that we’ve had come out of camp. He had his surgery last Friday and his spirits are good. He will obviously redshirt this year and have a whole year to get back ready to go.
“We’re going to hold Chris Register out this week. He’s had a couple of stingers and has a little nerve irritation in his trapezius area. So we’re going to put him on the shelf the last few days and hold him out this week. then re-evaluate him first of next week. Hopefully he will be okay and be able to get back out there sooner than later.
“The only other guy that probably could play, but we’re going to try to hold him this week is Stanton Seckinger. He’s had a great camp and has really done a nice job for us. He has a little bit of scar tissue irritation, could’ve played if we needed him too but it was something that was bothering him a little bit.
On season-opening opponent Wofford…..
“I really can’t tell you how much respect I have for Coach (Mike) Ayers. He is a great football coach. He is a great man and I just think the world of him. He would win anywhere. He’d win at Clemson, he’d win at Alabama and he wins at Wofford. This guy is as good of a coach as there is in the country and I really believe that. He is an outstanding person and the epitome of what a coach should be. He represents the game, loves his players, loves his coaches and is just a class act in every regard.
“Openers to me are always the toughest game to get ready for. I’ve always felt that way. You’ve got more time than you ever have because you haven’t played a game, in our instance, since December. So you have all spring, all summer, all camp and it’s just the toughest game.
“There are a lot of unknowns in the opening games every single year. Some guys you’ve seen on tape, some guys you haven’t. So, again, there are just a lot of unknowns. But I think it’s especially tough when you’re playing a veteran team like Wofford. This team has 10 starters back on offense, they list eight starters back on defense, but they have 15 guys on defense that have started at least one game. S
“So they are very different from us. This is a very, veteran football team. We’ve got some good veterans and a good mix but we’re a very inexperienced team with the amount of freshman that we have on this roster. So it’s going to be a challenge.
“This is a tough team and a veteran team so when you play a group like this they’re going to pride themselves in the precision of what they do and we have got to be able to match that. And to execute at a high level right out of the gate is always a challenge. Hopefully we will be ready for that but we’re going to find out this week. At the end of the day, for us, this is what we do. We love it.
“We get 12 Saturdays and this is just one of 12 that are all the biggest game of the year. I can’t express that enough to you. That’s just our mentality in our program. You don’t think a game is big? Lose it and you’ll find out real quick how big that game is. It just really doesn’t matter who you play.
“When you’re at a place like Clemson and the expectations are always high and you have a mentality in your program that expects to win, there is no next game. Every game is the biggest game of the year. In this case, this is one of 12 for us and we’re excited about getting out there.”
“Our goals are set up to allow us to compete to be the best in the country and the first goal for us is to win the opener. It’s just that simple. It doesn’t have an opponent’s name; it’s just win the opener. We want to create good momentum for our season and we’ve done that more times than not.
“We’ve accomplished every goal that we have, we’ve just never done all of them in the same year and when we do it’s going to be magical. Hopefully this is the year that we can do just that.
“Again, excited to get going and really pumped to be in Death Valley. It’s the best it’s ever been. I’ve never seen our stadium look like it looks. I have to give Dan [Radakovich] a ton of credit and the whole administration for what they’ve done to our stadium. I had the opportunity to go through the new suites and see what they’ve done at the south club. It’s incredible. They’ve re-done a lot of stuff within the stadium itself, it’s just sparkling and it’s exciting to be able to bring it back to life starting this weekend.”
On how this team’s focus compares to past Clemson teams…..
“I think we’re focused and I don’t think we’ve had an unfocused team coming out of the gate we’ve just had different types of teams with different types of experience. This team, as I said earlier in camp, I think it’s a different make up in that the veteran guys that we have, they have really only known a lot of success here.
“These guys have won a lot of games and then the freshman came here with a different foundation in place. The sophomore group we have has 15 scholarship guys and sevem or so have already started a game. So it’s a good dynamic that we have from a veteran standpoint and all the young guys.
“We truly start over every year and it’s just reinforcing those things. They buy in to the things that we have in place here and how we prepare and that’s allowed us to be consistent. But when you’ve got as much turnover as we’ve had, it’s critical to go back and revisit the who, what, when, where, why of what we do here and the philosophies in place and truly start over.”
On what was going through Swinney’s mind during the fourth quarter of the game vs. Wofford in 2011…..
“Next play. I mean, we’ve got to win the game. In 2011, we were a very young team and I thought they had an excellent team coming into that game. They executed well, especially in the first three quarters and we had a few mistakes here and there but that was a hard fought game. You go back and look at that game and you look at all the guys that were out on that field, it’s pretty eye opening because there is a bunch of them are in the NFL (26 currently on NFL rosters) now and that team went on to win the league.
“ It’s good when you have that visual to be able to show your guys because they may not hear the name Wofford on ESPN every week but these guys can play and this will be a huge challenge for us.
“They do a great job of running the triple option but they present so many different formations from the same personnel. They’re a triple option team and then they’re running the spread and they do it all from the same personnel and they do it well. You make a mistake and they’re going to make you pay.
“They’re just really good at what they do and that showed up in that 2011 game. But, we found a way to win the game, to achieve the opener. There’s nothing up there that says win the opener by four touchdowns, it just says win the opener. We found a way to win it, we moved on to the next one.
“We weren’t a great team that yea.r but we accomplished some things that had not been done around here in a while in 2011 and that propelled us to where we are now. We will have to play well and we don’t expect anything but a dogfight.”
On whether this program could put the pieces together and do something special this fall…..
“I think we are closer than we’ve ever been to being the program that I want us to be, especially from where we started six years ago. There were a lot of walls around this program and we’ve been knocking them down one at a time. When you have three, four or five 10-plus win seasons, then you can become relevant.
“Are we elite? We haven’t proven that yet. We’re one of those teams that has a chance and I’ve felt that way for the last few years. We’re a team coming into the season that’s got a shot and that’s really all you can ask for. All you can ask for is to have a program that gives you a chance to compete at the highest-level year in and year out.
“At the end of the day, what do you get out of the team that we have? What kind of player development do we have in our program? How are we graduating our players? Those are the metrics I look at to gage where we are as a program. We have a great foundation in place, we have good tradition here but we still have a lot of work to do. My goal is by 2,020 to look back and say we just had the best decade in Clemson football history.”
On whether there is more buzz surrounding Clemson this season…..
“I think that’s a fact. Outside people’ perception of Clemson may be different than it was six years ago and I think that’s a good thing. Everybody wants to have a program that people look at and say, they have a chance. I think we’ve made great progress there. But we haven’t played a down this year. We have potential but you don’t play the game on paper and it’s not a game of potential.
“It’s a game of performance and that’s all that matters when it’s said and done. There are only three teams in America that have had four straight 10-win seasons. That’s a small group and that’s hard to do. That’s the type of consistency that we want to be known for because if we continue to do that we will have that magical year.”
On the leadership of this team compared to the 2011 team…..
“It’s very, very different. The difference is that none of those 2011 guys had had the success that this group has had. This group doesn’t know anything else. In 2011, we didn’t have the mentality that we needed to have, especially with the amount of young players we had on that roster.
“But that’s all part of getting your program where you want it to be. This team’s senior leadership group can hang their hat on a lot of things. They’ve been a part of a bunch of wins and are fully invested in to the culture that we have.”
On the gap between Nick [Schuessler] and Kelly [Bryant]…..
“It’s pretty big right now. Nick Schuessler can play and he has really earned the respect of his team. This past spring was tremendous for him. He’s way more athletic and faster than people might think. He has bought in to what he has to do to make himself the best player possible. He is clearly our number two.
“Having said that, Kelly Bryant is in a different hemisphere from where he was at the end of spring and where he is now at the end of camp. He made himself relevant. Give him credit for the amount of work he put in this summer. He is a sincere, genuine young man that possesses a great work ethic and is a physically special guy. He has size, strength and the ability to run.
On whether Swinney worries about Heisman and Championship talk affecting Watson’s mentality…..
“I really don’t, not with that guy. Y’all spend time with him. He’s one in a million, there’s just not many guys like him that think the way he does. He calms me down. He’s just an amazing young man that is really grounded and is truly focused. I mean he’s going to graduate next December in three years and have his degree.
“He’s too focused on what he has to do to be great and his preparation and his academics. He’s not in a cave and he knows and he hears all these things; but this young man’s been dealing with this stuff forever and he’s just always been focused and just has great demeanor to him and a poise that’s just rare. So not really, maybe that comes, but at this point there’s not a lot of talk about that. He just wants to win.”
On how how he keeps his playmakers happy…..
“Fun’s in the winning. Just go win. I’ve never had a problem with that, we’ve had all kinds of guys around here. I’m not trying to keep them happy to be honest with you. I don’t really worry about keeping guys happy. I worry about winning and doing what’s right. You get what you earn here. It’s been that way since day one, you get what you earn.
“I tell everybody that in the recruiting process. I don’t promise anybody nothing. You’re going to get an opportunity. If you’re the best guy you play. If you’re mentally ready, if you’re physically ready, you never really know on all that stuff until they get here. We have fun playing. If we can that ball 80 or 85 plus times a game then that ball will get distributed to a lot of different people. We play a lot of guys, that’s just the philosophy that we have in place. I think that allows you to develop your program and also develop players.
“Again, it’s not always 50-50—last year we had a lot more 50-50 guys. It might only be 80-20 but that 20 is critical for that particular player’s development but also your program’s development. So we’re going to play a lot of guys and if you’re doing what you’re supposed to do it’s amazing how that ball finds its way to you, it really is. So it’ll be fun, when we’ve been at our best around here is when we have had a bunch of guys.”