Every late August springs hope eternal. Many years that hope is unfounded. But in some years at Clemson there can be true hope of a special season. This year, there is hope.
Not the unfounded kind that can lead to hysteria and quick disappointment. This team, while maintaining marginal expectations, has the chance to be special. Will it happen? Only time will tell.
But opportunity knocks for the 2005 Clemson football team.
We have a quarterback, Charlie Whitehurst, who suffered through a miserable year in 2004 after looking like Superman in 2003. While many of the problems that surrounded our leader were way beyond his control, Charlie nonetheless took the criticism as if he were a seasoned veteran of the NFL. After taking the public beating instead of pointing fingers, Charlie now has the fortune of one last year to prove what we all think he can be. Opportunity knocks.
We have a coach, Tommy Bowden, who consistently weathers the manufactured storms that the media and a vocal minority of boosters blow his way. Coach Bowden has put Clemson University above himself, sacrificing sometimes brutal criticism of his coaching abilities while knowing all along that some of those things were way out of his control. After recruiting a stellar class in the off-season and finding peace in letting another run his offense, the pieces of the puzzle seem within grasp for a coach that deserves a break or two or three. Opportunity knocks.
We have a division favorite, Florida State, which has been racked with off-season injuries and arrests that compares with South Carolina in terms of embarrassment. The Seminoles are coached by an elder statesman of the game that seems to dangle on the precipice of becoming a Joe Paterno, outliving his welcome. After taking half steps backwards over the past three years, Florida State is still nonetheless expected to rule the division. But those that look deeper into the issues sense things are not the same in the land of oranges. Opportunity knocks.
We have a rival, South Carolina, which seems to do nothing but fall backwards onto its rear end time and time again, seemingly oblivious to its own folly. While Columbia continues to be the land of overly optimistic extremism, Gamecock fans continue to look at Clemson’s domination over them as some sort of blip in the plight of humanity that will soon turn full circle. All the while, Clemson views its rival as a critical nemesis—the beating of which never gets old. Opportunity knocks.
We have a new member of the ACC, Boston College, who fails to enter the league under the radar like Virginia Tech did last year. While the Hokies, in essence, snuck up on the league without making a ripple, before eventually capturing the ACC crown, BC enters the league with an X marked clearly on its back. Maybe they can handle that label. Maybe they can’t. Opportunity knocks.
We have a rival coach, Steve Spurrier, that has single handedly alienated a group of prominent high school coaches while prancing around oblivious to the impact his arrogance has had upon those that teach the young football players of this state. While taking the high road by passing the buck of blame on every single boneheaded move by his players, Spurrier has blatantly refused to accept any responsibility for the mess that is his football team. All the while, Spurrier reeks of the same self-importance that Lou made so popular in Columbia—searching for what makes Steve look better instead of finding solutions that make the University of South Carolina look better. The broken record has yet to be fixed. Opportunity knocks.
We have a stadium improvement, the West Zone, which grows larger and more impressive day by day as hundreds of workers handle the heat. Clemson fans, after a five-year period of pleading and begging by IPTAY, are on the verge of reaping the benefits of what they have invested into Clemson athletics. While many schools around Clemson invested during our previous period of stagnation, the table is now turned as the showcase for recruits once again resides on our side. Opportunity knocks.
We have a running back, Reggie Merriweather, who runs as hard and with as much grit as any back at Clemson since Raymond Priester. Reggie has lived in the shadow of other running backs and an offense that never would allow a dedication to the running game. But, when given the ball and the opportunity, Reggie has single handedly whipped Miami in Coral Gables and South Carolina in Death Valley. The prospect of a 1,000-yard rusher in Death Valley is all too real. Opportunity knocks.
We have a wide receiver, Kelvin Grant, who has tried desperately to do everything he possibly could do wrong, all the while testing the will of his coaches. With NFL draft picks surrounding him in his early years as mentors, Kelvin has nonetheless proceeded to take wrong turns at almost every intersection. Each year brings promise that the light will turn on, but to this point the disappointment has been the same. With two talented true freshmen and a lanky redshirt freshman breathing down his back and threatening to take his playing time away, another year of hope is ready to shine upon the talented Grant. Opportunity knocks.
We have an offensive coordinator, Rob Spence, whose spooky looks and relentless work habits are every bit the antithesis of what we are used to having as the leader of the offense. Spence’s playbook is enormous and ever-growing, continuously modified in the hope that defenses will never quite be sure of what Clemson will do on the next play from scrimmage. Spence takes over an offense that was putrid in 2004, but always seemed poised to break out if simply coached to do so. Opportunity knocks.
We have a defensive coordinator, Vic Koenning, who quietly works out the structure of a defensive unit that will look much different in 2005. With less of a reliance on man-to-man coverage, along with a bandit end that harkens back to the early 80's, the Tiger defensive unit will try desperately to grab more turnovers and wreak havoc on offenses around the league. At some point that tide will have to turn. Opportunity knocks.
We have a cornerback, Tye Hill, who runs as fast as any player in the Atlantic Coast Conference. After spending several years honing his skills as the “other” cornerback opposite Justin Miller, Hill now clearly takes on the role of shutdown corner for this defense. While Hill’s speed has never been a question, his technique and playmaking ability have been a work in progress up to this point. Opportunity knocks.
And we have a fan base, made up of Clemson Tiger football fans, which stands at the forefront of the greatest home schedule in the history of the program. Death Valley is arguably one of the top 10 most intimidating places to play when Clemson fans have it going, and four huge opportunities to create an electric atmosphere lie in front of us all. Three of those four big time home games (Texas A&M, Miami, and BC) involve teams that have not set foot inside Death Valley within any of their players’ lifetimes. While many of these players have played in big time college football games, none of them has experienced Death Valley at its greatest. Opportunity knocks.
The 2005 football season is right in front of us. Opportunity knocks. Let’s kick in the door.
Other Articles by Scott Rhymer