CLEMSON — – One by one, they jumped into the murky, muddy water of dubious origin, eliciting roars of disgust and excitement from their teammates as they emerged on the other side of the moat, soaked, freezing and muddy.
The tradition meant one thing: Clemson’s on-campus football practices were finished for 2011.
“Did we have some get in the moat?” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney asked. “Oh, my gosh, I hate I missed that. That’s a rite of passage. They’ve been here a long time, walked (on the pathway) across the moat many times. It’s always a bittersweet day. You’re finishing up practice here, but knowing you’re not going to be on this field again with those guys, it’s kind of sad.”
Clemson will hold meetings and do film work today, with the team dispersing for the Christmas holiday afterward. They’ll reconvene in Miami for the Orange Bowl Dec. 27. Players have three options to get there: drive on their own, take a team charter from Clemson or use a round-trip ticket paid for by the school.
Swinney’s message Thursday was simple: be smart and be safe in their travels.
“I talk to them all the time about making good decisions,” he said. “It’s enjoying Christmas and the meaning of Christmas and the opportunity to be home at a special time. We talked a lot about how you’re not invincible, people know who you are, there’s a lot of eyes on you. You’re representing Clemson all the time, not just when you’re here.
“I’ve been a part of it … there’s nothing that rocks you to your core like losing one of your teammates, for something stupid.”
Swinney praised his seniors’ leadership and said they “left a great legacy and left Clemson better than they found it.”
“They’re not done,” he said. “They’ve got one more to go. This is the type of finish they want to have. The challenge to them is to jump back up and pick up on the 27th and be ready to lead one more time, hopefully lead us to an Orange Bowl victory and go out in style.”
When asked, Swinney said he didn’t have any confirmation on if any players would miss the Orange Bowl for academic reasons, but should find out by Wednesday night.
Nine players – left tackle Phillip Price, defensive tackle Rennie Moore, defensive end Andre Branch, wideout Jaron Brown, fullback Chad Diehl, safety Kantrell Brown, tailback Mansa Joseph, center Dalton Freeman and punter Dawson Zimmerman – will graduate from Clemson today.
Price, who re-injured his sprained right knee in the ACC title game, has been limited for the past several days, but with the upcoming time off, Swinney expects him to be ready to go against West Virginia Jan. 4. Same goes for David Smith, who injured his toe and was held out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday.