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Whitehurst reminisces on rivalry between Clemson, UofSC

Nov 25, 2021, 7:30 AM

Whitehurst reminisces on rivalry between Clemson, UofSC


Prior to Clemson’s more recent string of quarterback prodigies, there was Charlie Whitehurst.

During his time with the Tigers, he witnessed a loss to South Carolina but went 4-0 against the Gamecocks in games he started. Clemson won those games from 2002 to 2005 by scores of 27-20, 63-17, 29-7 and 13-9. He’s the only signal caller in the history in the rivalry to record four victories.

The State caught up with the Atlanta native ahead of the Clemson-Carolina rivalry game, set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.

NOTE: Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Alexis Cubit: Prior to coming to Clemson, what did you know about the South Carolina-Clemson rivalry?

Charlie Whitehurst: “Nothing. I’m from Atlanta. The first Clemson game I ever saw, I dressed out for my freshman year. .... I was recruited later in my senior year, so I didn’t know anything about Clemson, really. I knew about the Georgia-Georgia Tech rivalry. You always hear about Auburn-Alabama, at least growing up in the South, but I didn’t know much about it. I really didn’t understand until I was redshirted my first year in ‘01. I noticed that week in practice, it was a little bit different. People were taking this a little bit more seriously. We went down my redshirt year and got beat. I remember after the game seeing some of the guys from South Carolina, a couple of the seniors, were really torn up about it. I mean, there were a couple guys crying in the locker room, and it really affected me.

“Then fast forward a year, and I was playing in the game that was in Clemson in 2002. That was a night game and that was the real deal. By then, I fully understood the rivalry. I think it’s unfortunate that the whole country doesn’t understand because it is a heated rivalry. They hate us; we hate them. It took me to witness that first game my redshirt year to see how much these guys cared and then playing in it the next year and how I just felt it. We were able to win that game. It’s excitement but it’s a relief because you know how much these older guys care. If that was going to be their last try against those guys, I’m so glad that our guys have that memory as winners.”

AC: Backing up just a little bit, what made you decide to go to Clemson?

CW: “Well, I wasn’t really heavily recruited. I was going to go to North Carolina. Georgia sort of offered me before (head coach) Jim Donnan was fired, but (quarterback) David Greene was there and (D.J.) Shockley was coming and everything, so I didn’t think I wanted to go there. Georgia Tech never offered me, so I thought I was going to go to one of those two, but didn’t have the opportunity. I was going to go to North Carolina. Mike O’Cain was a guy that was helping recruit me there. He was the offensive coordinator at North Carolina then under Carl Torbush’s staff.

“They got fired in December, so I was still going to go on my visit at North Carolina and Mike O’Cain had just been hired as the quarterbacks coach at Clemson because Rich Rodriguez had left and gone to West Virginia. I’m on my way to North Carolina for my visit and he said, ‘Hey, just don’t commit this weekend. Let me see if I can get you an offer here at Clemson.’ So I kind of made him that promise. I loved North Carolina. I thought I was going to go there, but he got me an offer on Monday and I went on the trip to Clemson.

“I just felt more comfortable. I was really comfortable with him, coach O’Cain, who I’m really thankful I got to play for. Clemson’s a football school, and UNC is an incredible place. Chapel Hill would’ve been great, but it’s a basketball school. That’s just the way it is, right? Everybody knows that. I saw firsthand and I just wanted to play big-time college football, so I luckily got that chance.”

AC: So then you get to Clemson and you see how seriously the guys took the Carolina game. For you, as someone who learned as you got there, what was it like playing in those games?

CW: “I started playing so young, it was my second year that I just felt such a responsibility not to screw anything up. I was kind of green and I was able to play. I don’t think about my college career all that much. I was thinking about it the last few minutes and going, ‘I did belong early.’ The year I started playing, pretty quickly, I was doing pretty well. I did belong. Even though I probably didn’t realize it, I did at the time. I was just trying to, as a young guy, as a quarterback in a leadership position, but I’m 19, 20 years old. These guys have been playing longer, they’ve been there.

“It was big. I’d never really played in a rivalry game before where it really, really mattered to a lot of people. Just trying to do the best you can. Luckily, I did fine. We were able to win the games. The first one I played in, I think we were down a touchdown in the fourth quarter. We scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to win the game. Just an incredible relief. When it was over, there was some sense of accomplishment that I was able to step in there with some older guys and fight with them and just how awesome it was.”

AC: Speaking of that, you mentioned the come-from-behind win, but what was the most memorable game from that series? You went 4-0, so probably some good ones to choose from.

CW: “The problem is, you remember a lot of bad plays and losses as an athlete. I think looking back, the first one was the most exciting because it was a night game in Clemson. You never say you’re scared, as an athlete, but I didn’t know what the heck to expect. You have no idea.

“I think it was my fourth start. It’s just everything’s so new and so incredible and so exciting. The next few, we beat them really bad and that was certainly a thrill for other reasons. It was just that we kind of embarrassed them, really. I remember I was out in the third quarter. We were cutting up on the sidelines and watching some of the other guys play (thinking) ‘Wow, there’s no stress.’ We’re in the most hostile place we’ve ever played football and there’s no stress for the last 20 minutes of the game and how fun that was.

“We had a fight the next year. I feel like you’ve got to play your rival at night, and the ‘04 game with the fight was a day game. ... They’re all memorable. And then the last one, I didn’t play very well in the first half and I know there was a record that was going to be my name and everybody’s that played the last four years attached to it. Kind of downplayed it, didn’t want to think about it, but when it looked like we weren’t going to win, there late in the fourth quarter, it was like, ‘I can’t believe I’m going to let this chance go. ‘James Davis was running the ball for us. He made a few good runs. I finally started completing a few and defense held them to nine.”

AC: What’s something that most people don’t know about the rivalry, as a player, that’s maybe an interesting tidbit?

CW: “Well, you just have to play in it. I think the people that have been going to those games for so long and live in the state know. I think you have to play in it and see it to really realize it. I was hearing about it. ..., ... And after playing in it — four of them — and watching another, that’s as bitter of a rivalry as there is. I mean, I can’t see a rivalry being any more intense.

“I remember Rob Spence was our offensive coordinator my senior year. After the game in the locker room or the next day, he said, ‘Oh my God. I had no idea.’ ... Pregame warmups in their stadium at night is a hostile and, I don’t say this in a bad way, a pretty nasty environment, but that’s football. That’s what makes football fun. That’s why I think games are awesome at night because people have time to tailgate and they’re feeling really good by the end of it. It’s a fight. It’s fun to have a little bit of controlled chaos out there.”

AC: Last thing, what are you up to these days? I know you were in the NFL for a little bit, but what’s keeping you busy now?

CW: “I’ve been retired. I guess 2016 was my last year, so it was 11 years doing that. That’s a long time playing football. College football is a full-time job. Thank goodness guys can make a little money doing it now. It’s probably more than a full-time job going to class. It’s a long time to do it, so finally the last five years I’ve had a lot of free time. I just try to have fun all the time. I travel around.

“Right now, I was just driving out some hunting land (in Georgia) that I deer hunt in. I was checking some cameras in the woods, so nobody really makes my schedule for me now. It’s a bit of a learning experience how to make your own schedule, but I certainly enjoy having time to do whatever I want. I haven’t jumped into a new career yet. Maybe down the road. I like the outdoors in the fall and try to do that.”

Alexis Cubit: @Alexis_Cubit

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