Charlie Whitehurst unfiltered: 'Clipboard Jesus' reflects on Clemson career
|Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 8:01 AM- -|
Charlie Whitehurst has always been a little different, and that’s a good thing.
His nickname, Clipboard Jesus? Legendary. His hair? Unforgettable. His record against South Carolina? A perfect 4-0.
Whitehurst became the first quarterback to go 4–0 in the rivalry between Clemson and the University of South Carolina, including a 63–17 rout of the Gamecocks in Columbia on November 22, 2003. Whitehurst left Clemson with 9,665 passing yards, 49 touchdowns and 46 interceptions and a 124.2 quarterback rating. On the ground, he gained 98 yards on 266 attempts and 10 touchdowns.
Whitehurst played for six NFL organizations, last suiting up for the Cleveland Browns in 2016. He played in 25 games (nine starts) over 12 seasons, completing 219-396 passes for 2,463 yards, 11 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
On November 2, 2002, Whitehurst made his first career start against the Duke Blue Devils and completed 34 of 52 passes for 420 yards and 4 touchdowns. There are other games that stand out – the win over Florida State, 63-17, and the 13-9 victory over the Gamecocks in 2005 when the Tigers overcame a 1st-and-35.
I reached out to Whitehurst to hear him speak on many of those memories and honestly, it’s an interview for the ages as Whitehurst leaves nothing unsaid. It’s Charlie unfiltered, and that’s the best kind of Charlie you can have.
What are some of your best memories as a Tiger, and does one stand out?
Charlie: “I used to think, and maybe I still do, the '03 Florida State game -- what I thought was probably the biggest thrill I had in sports. We hit the long one to (Derrick) Hamilton right there at the end of the third quarter to win the game. I mean, I thought it was over at that point. That was the biggest thrill I've ever had, in those 20 seconds. Beating that team when we really had no business doing it, and all that was, I think, an incredible memory for a very long time for me. The older I get, the more I start feeling, I don't know -- more nostalgic I guess -- towards those South Carolina games.
“And honestly, the first one I played in, is one that starts coming to mind more. The rout (2003) was... I mean, it was just a party, and everything went good and we all played great and all that stuff, but that one was just... we just killed them. It wasn't a football game. That one's not really as special. Even though I mean, midway through the third quarter we're relaxed on the sideline and having a party, and that just doesn't happen in that stadium, in a rivalry game.
“So that was fun, but I think that first one I played in '02 (27-20) where we were down... I don't know if we were down six or down seven midway through the fourth, and we drove twice to score two touchdowns and to win, to come from behind and win. And I had no idea about the rivalry at that point, and after that night I did, because I was from Georgia. I didn't know. I didn't know Clemson and South Carolina, I didn't grow up that way, but after that night I got it. And you know, I said, ‘Thank goodness we beat them four different times.’ But it was awesome in '02 to get it started like that.”
What are your thoughts on the rivalry now? Can South Carolina make it competitive?
“Well, I guess no, but things happen. It's like good things happen to people and organizations and teams. We hired Dabo, and look what happened. Five years ago, it was so new. Even three years ago, it was new. We hadn't won one (National Championship) until about three years ago. And how do you deal with this success? It's not like the olden days. Clemson never had it like this. I don't care what anybody says. I mean, it's not like, ‘Oh, we're back.’ No, it's a completely different level.
“It happens to teams. Alabama's had the run two different times in their history, now Clemson's doing it. We've had as good a five-year run as anybody ever. And, of course, they think, ‘Nah, they're not going to be able to compete against that.’ I mean, I don't see them (South Carolina) beating Clemson in the next few years. I mean, we'll see what happens with Lawrence after this next year, but you just never know who your quarterback's going to be, but they can't beat Clemson right now. Nobody can beat them.
“And that's not boasting and speaking... I mean, I wish it was more competitive, to be perfectly honest. It would make it more interesting. I want Clemson to win every year, for sure, but it would be nice if they were closer. It was kind of exciting. What, was it last year or two years ago that it was kind of a game. I don't hate South Carolina in that regard. I want them to be good. I think it's good for the rivalry -- it's good for Clemson. I have some respect for South Carolina. I mean, it was memorable to play them. So I want them to get better, but the problem is Clemson is a juggernaut, and that's the way it is right now.”
What do you remember about your first start, on the road at Duke?
“I remember NC State came to us the week before. I can't remember, but I played at the end of a couple of games that year. And then that Monday, I think it was in Mike O'Cain's office, the quarterback coach. And we kind of talking about I had played okay in the game, in mop-up and he asked me a question. He said, ‘You think you're ready to start a game?’ And I was like, ‘Oh boy.’ I remember thinking, ‘No!’ but I remember shaking my head like, ‘Hell yeah.’ And he said, ‘Alright because that's what we're thinking. Not sure yet, but that's what we're thinking.’ I remember walking out of his office going, ‘Oh, hell. What have I got myself into?’
“We went right down the field on the first drive and I threw a touchdown and it was all going good. And then all of a sudden it turned into a game and... I remember throwing to some guys on some routes in that game that I had never thrown. I'd never thrown a ball like that before. I think I threw it 50-something times. I had never thrown it that much in a high school game. I had never thrown for 300 yards in my life. I think I threw for 200 a few times in high school, maybe. And I remember walking off the field just kind of like, ‘Golly. We almost lost to Duke,’ and that's no disrespect to Duke at all.
“And Duke is a better program now than they were then, but I remember just being like, ‘We almost lost to them,’ and that would have been a huge responsibility. I'd had a big part in that, and I walked off and I was kind of dejected, and the stat guy said, ‘You broke every record, every single game record passing.’ But, what? We almost lost, what are you talking about? Said, ‘You did 420 yards.’
“I could not believe it. I never thought in my wildest dreams thought I could do something like that or be part of a passing attack that could do that. And it kind of scared me. I was like, ‘Oh shoot. I might be okay. I might be kind of good. I don't know.’ I mean, you don't know until you play. I played high school football up until that day, and that's all. So I felt good about it. I didn't know if it was a fluke. We went and the next week we played good again, and then got exposed to Maryland, but then beat South Carolina, and then get the crap beat out of us at the bowl game. That was the first time in college football that I felt like, ‘Okay, maybe I can do this. I got a chance.’ I just remember him telling me that, going, ‘420 yards.’ Oh my God. I couldn't believe it. So it was a great feeling.”
We can’t go too much longer without talking about 1st-and-35, at South Carolina...
“We got a holding penalty. Then we got a clipping penalty and we're at 1st-and-35 and I don't know how much time was left. I think it was six minutes, and we hadn’t done crap on offense, and I played horrible. We had done nothing and we have 1st-and-35. I remember one of the linemen, he was kind of down on himself, but it wasn't even like, ‘Hey man, let's go.’ It wasn't even that. It was just, we all kind of walked back to the damn huddle, and it was just like, ‘Crap. Alright, here we go. Let's see what happens.’ But I remember the sequence, we hit a screen for a little bit, a little middle screen.
“I hit Chansi (Stuckey) for 15. We got it to like 3rd-and-18. And, that's the hard one right there. I mean, hell, but we hit three and then, I think we hit a quarter or I hit Curtis Baham on a corner to the right. And it was like, ‘Oh my goodness. I mean, we actually overcame. And then it was just kind of like, ‘Hey, let's not get any more damn penalties. I see we got a chance here.’ Luckily, I had that freshman behind me, number one (James Davis). God Almighty. He was one of my favorite guys I've ever played with. That guy, James Davis, his first snap at the Texas A&M game that year as a true freshman?
“I think he ripped it down the left sideline for 30, and he wasn't, he just... I looked at him like, ‘God Almighty.’ And he kind of winked at me, and I'm like, ‘This is the fricking 18-year-old kid just being insane and this is nothing.’ Well, anyway. I think he had a bunch of good runs in that drive too, and got us down there close and then punched it in, and it was such a relief to score a touchdown on that drive and then to take the lead. Because I really wanted that for our guys. I get credit for that thing, but there's a lot of guys that were on those plays those four years. A lot, and a lot of guys from South Carolina too.
“As much as I want to win every game I've ever played, the game against South Carolina, that's a big deal. I mean, you get to walk around the rest of your damn life talking crap, so. And we were able to get that, and it was just such a relief. I was pretty much exhausted. My damn shoulder was hurt. I was shooting my shoulder every game. I was pretty much done at Clemson. Oh, we played another bowl game, but I was kind of like, ‘Okay, it's time for me to move on and all that.’ And I was just kind of relieved. I wasn't even as happy as I wish I would have been now, but in the locker room, I was just so relieved. I was happy for the guys because they were going crazy in there. We're really happy about that, and I was happy I didn't lose a game for them because I almost did in the first half.”
Who are one or two or three of the best players you played with?
“We sometimes talk about this, some of our friends. From an athletic standpoint, how good Derrick Hamilton was. He'd be a playmaker on Clemson even now. He was a really, really great athlete and a great guy. Justin Miller was an incredible athlete. He's as good an athlete as I ever played with and that would ever come through there. He's on the same level too. I mean, he could have played every position on that defense. He could play inside linebacker, 205 pounds. That's how just athletic he was and all, but the guys I have probably the utmost respect and admiration... I mean, Leroy Hill on defense is probably my favorite guy, and I got to play with him at Seattle as well. He's just a cool bad-ass mother.
“I mean, he's just a bad dude, and I really like him personally, and he was a great linebacker. He was a great football player. I love all of them and probably a handful of other guys that I won't mention, but Tommy Sharpe was my center and one of my best friends. I like guys that fight. Tommy is undersized. He had no business doing what he did at Clemson. He had absolutely no business. Maybe he wasn't smart enough to know any better. He's as tough as anybody I've ever played with. He was determined, he was driven and all that stuff. They called him The Technician, because that's the only chance he had was to have perfect technique and all that, but he would fight guys in spring. He was a long snapper. We needed a third-team center for spring practice one year, and the guy just started. Then somebody gets hurt, he's the second-team center, and he starts fighting all the damn defense alone after every single play. Every single play. It's like you want to get noticed, pick the biggest, biggest dude and fight him.
“And he did it. He actually would do it, and he'd get his ass whipped. And he'd come back and do it again. So, that was awesome. Awesome for him. He ended up being a two-plus year starter in division one football, and he's 5-11, 260 pounds. So those two guys, probably the most, but I had a great time there. I had a bunch of great guys. You come in with 25, some odd guys as a freshman and you go through it, you kind of think you're always going to be together. It's been near 20 years. Well, it's been 15 years since we were all together. You start seeing the guys at spring games and all that, and you're like, that was a part of our life that it is kind of over now. And you just feel like you're going to be doing it forever, and you're not. I love my time there. It's more special now to me than it probably ever was before.”
What do you do to keep busy these days?
“I have a lot of time on my hands, friend. Yeah, and especially this spring has been really, really interesting. Everybody's had interesting situations. I've been pretty much traveling this whole spring and just hanging out kind of quarantined at all my friends, kind of my friends' places. I got a friend that had a lake house or, sorry, a beach house. I was there for a month. I've been in Charlotte, in my other buddy's house for nearly a month. But, I basically play golf in the summer and the spring, I hunt in the fall and try to figure the rest out.
“I've got a bunch of little hobbies and stuff. I tinker with my cars. I've got some cars I like to take apart and put back together, but yeah, I haven't delved into a new career or anything. People ask me, ‘Why don't you coach? Why don't you do this? Why don't you do that?’ I had a schedule for a long time and now I don't, and it's hard for me to get back into a real structured lifestyle, but I think at some point it will have to happen. It's just not right now.”