Swinney's special seniors have 'transformed Clemson...changed the culture'

'They set a standard and have made it realistic to achieve that standard'

Football - Tyler Shatley

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Tyler Shatley

For a coach and his players, every 'senior day' is an emotional affair, filled with the memories of once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

In the eyes of Dabo Swinney, this year's group of Clemson seniors takes special to the extreme.

Nearly five years ago, in February of 2009, Swinney signed his first recruiting class as Clemson's new head coach - a group of 12 that he tagged 'the dandy dozen.'

Senior class has tight bond

Class of 12 down to seven

Clemson's group of signees didn't cause even a blip on the national radar. Rivals ranked the class No. 37 in the nation, and no better than seventh in the ACC.

Swinney was convinced, however, that he and his new staff had taken the first step toward something special: "the brick and mortar" he needed to begin laying a foundation.

A core group of seven players - all redshirt seniors - remain from the original class of 12. They include record-setting quarterback Tajh Boyd, running back Rod McDowell, tight end Darrell Smith, linebackers Quandon Christian and Spencer Shuey, and offensive linemen Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley. They are joined by two recruited walk-ons now on scholarship - placekicker Chandler Catanzaro and long snapper Phillip Fajgenbaum.

Three members of Swinney's first class played as first year freshmen and departed after last season - defensive end Malliciah Goodman, linebacker Corico Wright, and defensive back Jonathan Meeks.

Of the remaining two 'dandy dozen' signees, wide receiver Bryce McNeal graduated from Clemson in three years and played his final two seasons of football elsewhere, while offensive lineman J.K. Jay was forced to give up football because of a back injury.

The 19 seniors, including walk-ons, who'll rub Howard's Rock and run down Clemson's fabled hill for the final time on Saturday, have won 36 games - the sixth highest total for a class in school history - and set a class record for ACC victories with 24.

Swinney says they've done much than post impressive numbers.

"They've transformed Clemson - they've changed the culture, they set a standard and have made it realistic to achieve that standard," said Swinney during his press conference on Tuesday. "They're winners. They have a chance to be the winningest group here since the eighties. They've done a lot of great things - some things that had never been done, and a bunch of things that hadn't been done in a long, long time.

"It's not just this group - it's all the people involved in the process. But this group in particular came here at a time when there was total change and no guarantees, and they took a leap of faith - in me, as their head coach, and in Clemson.

"What a journey it's been. They've been a part of the brick and mortar in laying a foundation of sustained success. I think that's what this group will be remembered for."

On Saturday, they'll get a proper send-off from a sellout crowd gathered for senior day, military appreciation day, and a student-led 'purple out' initiative.

"This is a special week for us and for everybody associated with our program,” Swinney said. "It's a great thrill and honor to recognize the efforts and sacrifices our military have made for us. And it's senior day. It's a really special time that gets frozen in time.

"This has been a very special group to coach and be around the last four or five years. These guys are leaving quite a legacy. They're graduates, or are about to graduate. Some of them will have a chance to play at the next level, and they're all going to be good citizens, good husbands and good fathers.

"This is my first full-cycle senior class. Every group is hard to say goodbye to, but the fact that they came here as my first class of signees in February of '09, and now see them as graduates and see what they've done, that's very special for me."

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Comments » 2

DahlonegaJoe writes:

This is a good milestone achievement on the journey.
We have a few more milestones in front of us….and the journey is never done.
This milestone is significant as explained in the article.
Consistently beating South Carolina (like the old days) and then beating the lead dog in the SEC on a regular basis are key next milestones.
All that said - Great Job - THANKS TO THE SENIORS - I look forward to cheering you as you come down the hill one more time Saturday. Beat Citadel. Then Beat SC. Go Tigers.

TigerFan95 writes:

Sure this class has accomplished a lot, but perhaps it needs to be emphasized to Dabo that if they don’t win in Columbia in two weeks this group of seniors will be remembered most for being one of a handful of classes that never beat SC.

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