CLEMSON -- Nelson Faerber remembers the play like it was yesterday.
Faerber, the senior wide receiver out of Duluth, Ga., blocked a punt against the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia in 2007 that was returned for a touchdown, a key play in Clemson's 23-21 win over their rivals, one of many highlights in Faerber's career.
"Coach (David) Blackwell was up in the box, and he signaled down to coach (Ron) West for the block, and a lot depended on where they were at on the field, and what hash, as to where the block would come from," Faerber said. "It just happened to be my side, but I felt confident going in because I had done a lot of individual film study and I felt it would be there. Sometimes, you go through a whole game without it being called, but it was the right call at the right time."
The rest, as they say, is history.
"I had a pretty good get-off once the ball was snapped," Faerber said. "I knew once I got past the blocker that I had a good shot at it because I got through pretty clean. I couldn't tell if he (the punter) double-clutched or if it was a perfect snap. I didn't even feel it hit my hands, but I could hear it hit my hands. I won't forget it for a while, but walking around campus, people won't let you forget it."
Faerber also replaced injured starter Tyler Grisham at wide receiver, and played 43 snaps against the Gamecocks, even catching a touchdown pass to help key the Tiger victory.
Pretty heady stuff for a player that wasn't even on scholarship when he arrived at Clemson. Faerber, who played at Chattahoochee High School in Duluth (the same as former Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst), was offered by the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy, but didn't get a lot of other Division 1 interest.
"I took an official visit to Navy, but through the recruiting process, I met coach (then receivers coach and now head coach Dabo) Swinney at some camps," Faerber said. "He brought me up here for a visit, and I came up with my parents on an unofficial visit. Nothing was guaranteed, like a scholarship, but it turned out to be the best situation for me as opposed to the military academies."
Faerber arrived in Clemson, and paid his own way for his first two seasons, trying to make a name for himself as a preferred walk-on, and even though the out-of-state tuition was expensive, he persevered until the day came when then-head coach Tommy Bowden announced in a team meeting that Faerber was going on scholarship.
"That was a nice break for my parents," he said. "As soon as I heard, I texted my dad immediately and told him I had saved him about $100,000. When coach Bowden told me, it was in a team meeting, and it was such a special moment for me. The players gave me a round of applause, and it was nice knowing I had earned the respect of the players and coaches. It's something I will never forget."
Now, as Faerber prepares to play his last game as a Tiger, he says his football career turned out perfectly for him at Clemson.
"I can't imagine going somewhere else, like Georgia or another in-state school back home," he said. "Now that I have been through everything here, wearing the paw means so much to me. Donning that orange is pretty cool, and every time we play, I am so proud to represent the school. It is something special around here."
Faerber is known as a special teams dynamo, and even his new head coach says that opposing coaches mention "No. 83" when talking about the Tigers, and Swinney said that Faerber is the type of player every team has to have in order to win.
"He is one of those guys that was overlooked a little by the D-1 schools, just because he did not have the measurables," Swinney said. "Now, he can run – I mean he can fly, but he is not a very big guy and he got overlooked by some of the big schools, but he said "I can do it" and believed in himself.
"He is one of the best, if not the best, special teams players we have, and has made some big plays at wideout in his career. He has a toughness that demands respect from his teammates. You need guys like that, because that is how you win games. He understands that this is not a game of potential, but a game of performance, and he performs."
For his part, Faerber said that taking the field against Nebraska in the Gator Bowl will be bittersweet, as it closes one chapter in his life and opens another, but he will never forget, and sorely miss, wearing the paw.
"The hardest thing to get over is not having that bond with 105 guys that is so much fun," Faerber said. "When I play, I want the coaches to remember that 83, because I know this game is about what you do, not about what you've done. That last 60 minutes is going to be something special."