Dozens of Upstate schoolchildren got a big send-off to their Christmas holiday Friday.
Clemson University’s football program teamed up with the Call Me MISTER program to host an afternoon with the kids in Death Valley. The students didn’t just touch Howard’s Rock and run down the hill into the east end zone; they toured all of the football facilities, played catch with some of the Tigers heading to the Orange Bowl Jan. 3 and left with brand-new Nike running shoes just in time for Christmas.
“The football field was my favorite part,” said Jamazzeo Glober, a seventh-grader at Greenville Early College. “I liked touching the rock and going down on the field.”
The highlight for T.J. Earle, a fifth-grade student at Blue Ridge Elementary School in Seneca, was “the tiger in the case” displayed with Clemson’s 1981 national championship in the west end zone lobby.
Fifth-grade teacher Wallace Cobb arranged for his Pendleton Elementary students take part in Friday’s event. School let out at lunchtime Friday, but the students weren’t about to pass up a chance to visit Death Valley and meet their favorite Tigers.
Cobb, a 2011 Clemson grad, is active with Call Me MISTER (Mentors Instructing Students Toward Effective Role Models), which places teachers from diverse backgrounds into the state’s lowest-performing elementary schools.
“It’s a chance for the kids to see these people they care about and see what the college experience is and what it entails,” Cobb said. “They could be home right now, but they all wanted to be here.”
Former Tiger football player Jeff Davis helped spearhead the event. He said it was a way for Tiger players to inspire youngsters by exposing them to the possibilities of college life.
“We want our student-athletes to be involved in the community, and show these children the importance of working hard in school,” said Davis, an assistant athletic director. “We’re presenting them with Christmas presents (Nikes donated by Coach Dabo Swinney’s All In Foundation), but it creates this opportunity to expose the students to college and get them to start dreaming now. ... It gives our student-athletes an opportunity to give back. They are so fortunate to have their scholarships and go to college — the least we can do is give back to the community.”
The players led the guests around Memorial Stadium and across the street to the indoor football facility, where the students got their new shoes. Some players helped the kids try on shoes and the rest played catch with the students.
Pendleton fifth-grader Jacari Clark snagged a toss from freshman wideout Germone Hopper and got both feet down in the end zone before tumbling out of bounds.
“It’s been good meeting the players and just being here,” said Jacari, a linebacker/kicker on his youth football team.
The players appeared to have as much fun as the students.
“The kids are just excited to be here,” noted junior quarterback Cole Stoudt. “It’s been good to have them come out. We’re role models to them, which gives us and them something to live up to.”
Redshirt freshman tight end William Cockerill commended the students for the smart questions they asked, but one of them threw him for a loop.
“One kid said he was an Auburn fan ... at least he’s not a Gamecocks fan,” Cockerill quipped.