Tigers take center stage at ACC Football Kickoff
Swinney covered a variety of topics Friday (Photo by Jeremy Brevard, USAT)

Tigers take center stage at ACC Football Kickoff

by - Senior Writer -

CHARLOTTE, NC – Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, quarterback Deshaun Watson and linebacker Ben Boulware took center stage at the ACC Football Kickoff at The Westin in downtown Charlotte Friday morning.

The Tigers were also the center of attention. Clemson played for the National Championship last season and is expected to compete not only for an ACC title this season but also make another run at the College Football Playoff, and the questions came fast and furious.

Here is a transcript of the main interview session with the media:

Coach Swinney Opening Statement

COACH SWINNEY: Glad to be here. Always a fun time to kick it off. Woke up this morning just really excited, first of all, that I got an opportunity to be here with you guys today. It means I get a chance to be at Clemson another year. Hard to believe this is my eighth year as the head coach and my 14th season at Clemson.

Really just honored to be back. It's a privilege to have two of our best leaders with us, Deshaun Watson and Ben Boulware. I think it's just the epitome of although we may be different, we can still be unified and love one another.

I asked both these guys if I showed up looking like that, what would happen. He said, We'd probably all laugh at you.

I'm like, How come you can get away with it but I can't?

Anyway, we'll roll with it.

But two great leaders. We talk in our program about being three-percenters. These are one-percenters. These are two young men that represent everything we want our program to be about, in every year of their life. Both will be graduates in December. Deshaun is five hours short of graduating in two and a half years at a top-20 institution like Clemson. So just really honored to have two great leaders alongside of me.

From a football team, we're excited about the season, just like everybody. Everybody's undefeated, ready to go. Love our team, love our roster, love our staff.

We feel like we're one of those teams that has a chance to have a special season. But we all know there's a lot of work to be done. So this is kind of that pathway to the next step. This means that we're going to be back on the grass here soon. We're looking forward to it.

That's all I got for you.

Deshaun Watson

Q. Cam Newton claims how much he likes having you at his seven-on-seven camp. I assume he won't root for you in your season opener since you're going to Auburn.

DESHAUN WATSON: Me and Cam are really close. Had the opportunity and privilege to meet him in junior high school, playing for his first seven-on-seven team. Ever since then we became close friends. Communicate all the time, text, call.

But he just gives me good advice pretty much off the field saying to be true to who I am, listen to the coaching staff, buy into the process, don't get yourself distracted with the outside things, just focus on the main things.

Yeah, who knows, he probably will have a little pool for us the first game. Why not go for your own university, so...

Q. You were in Oregon a couple weeks ago, The Opening finals. Tell us about your experiences with the coaches you worked with over the summer.

DESHAUN WATSON: I had an opportunity to go back and counsel for the elite 11. The Elite 11 was held in LA. Then The Opening was held in Beaverton, Oregon, which is Nike headquarters. It was a great time to learn from the vets that's been there to where I want to go one day. Trent Dilfer won a Super Bowl, played 14 years in the NFL. Pick his brain. Then learn from guys like George Whitfield, quarterback guru. Jordan Palmer, who played 19 years in the NFL. His brother is Carson Palmer.

There's a lot of great knowledge up there. Not just be closed in for what I think or what I assume. Just a great experience to be able to teach the high school kids, show my experience, what I went through, what I'm going through now, to get those high school kids ready and prepared for the next four or five years of their lives.

Q. What can you say about the talent of the wide receiver corps, how have you improved them, how they've built you up and pushed you to go that extra mile?

DESHAUN WATSON: We have a great wide receiving corps, a lot of talent coming back, a lot of potential. We make each other better. We make sure if someone is doing the wrong route, not doing the right amount of depth in that route, we let each other know how they want the ball thrown, how I should throw the ball versus this coverage, things like that.

We have a great relationship. We communicate very well. We have a lot of depth, guys that have a lot of experience, and with the young guys that is going to step in in camp and be able to compete.

On paper it's there. But it's something that we have to go and earn. They're not just going to give us 40 points every Saturday just because of the talent we have on our team. We have to execute and perform at a high level. That's going to start by preparing and grinding throughout the week each and every day at a high level so we can go out there on Saturday and execute and show what we've got.

Q. Can you talk about this year and the difference of the expectations. You're hearing all about it, seeing it with the Heisman conversation, ACC Player of the Year stuff, also the team overall. How do you as the quarterback handle all that and try to keep your team focused at the task at hand?

DESHAUN WATSON: Just really it's simple. Each and every year is a different year. We have to start over. Last year's wins, touchdowns or stops isn't going to do anything for us this year. We know we have a target on us and we have to go 10 times harder to get where we want to go this year than we did last year. We just got to take it one day at a time and make sure everybody is on the same time. Know and understand that nothing is going to be given to us, we have to go earn it.

Watson talks to the media Friday

That's starting off with being a good citizen off the field, being a good student in the classroom, watching film, working out, taking care of your body, eating right, little things like that. If you take care of the little things, the big things are going to take care of itself.

The standard is never going to change. The best is the standard. Coach Swinney has been preaching that for the past eight years. This is no surprise for us. This is what we've been building for, especially for the guys that have been here from the start, guys like Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, C.J. Spiller, all these guys been building up for this moment right here. It's a privilege to be able to take the torch and run with it.

Q. Mike Williams suffered a difficult injury in the opening game last year. What will it feel like for you to throw him a touchdown pass?

DESHAUN WATSON: He brings so much his talent, ability to jump, catch, run routes, be physical at the line of scrimmage, just really more of his knowledge of the game. He's just a freak athlete who loves to work, loves to compete. He's not selfish.

He's a great guy, laid back, fun to be around, fun to talk to. He's one of those guys that's going to make people around him better. The younger guys that just came in, he's going to be a great mentor for a guy like Deon Cain to teach him the ropes, show him how to actually play and prepare as a pro.

He's just going to be a great asset to have him back on offense. Just another weapon for us to be able to have on Saturday.

It's great to have him back. Of course, he's going to be fired up to get out there against Auburn.

Ben Boulware

Q. Academic all-ACC team last year. With so much going on in the Clemson football program on the field, how did you create the balance between football and academics?

BEN BOULWARE: I think it's being mature enough and knowing your role. Coach Swinney preaches us to us every day about being a good student, a good citizen. Coach Swinney has done a great job of instilling in us those values, the benefit of hard work.

It was going to be a tough season playing 15 games. I know football is only going to last so long. I know my education is going to carry me for the rest of my life. I think that's the great thing about our program, it's really education first.

Coach Swinney knows football will take care of itself. He's recruited great talent, great athletes to this program. He's also recruited great men. I think he knows we're going to take care of business on the field and off the field.

Q. Can you tell me how you've matured and grown as a young man and football player? Talk about that process for you, what you've gone through to be better in both those areas.

BEN BOULWARE: I think it definitely started with Coach Swinney, Coach Venables. Coming into this program, I was very selfish. I think a lot of athletes coming into top programs, you come in highly recruited, you think you're going to come in and start, be a freshman All-American, this and that. In most cases it's not how it is. I think I realized that early on, that I knew I had to embrace my role, whatever that role was.

I know I wasn't going to start over Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey. I embraced the role of being on special teams and make the most of the opportunity. Whenever my opportunity came, I was going to make the most out of it on special teams and on the field.

Boulware was a hit at the ACC Kickoff

Just being able to play more and more snaps every year, being able to split time with Tony, learning from him, learning from Stephone, Grady, everyone on our defense. We had such great leadership on that defense. It was real easy for me because I was able to absorb all the information and knowledge from them. That maturation process was so easy for me because I had such great leadership around me.

Q. Who do you feel will be the biggest surprise on defense this year?

BEN BOULWARE: I don't think he really will surprise anybody, but I think Dexter Lawrence is going to be an unbelievable player here. I think he's going to have an unreal career. Combination of his size, being 6'6", 340 or however big he is, he's a mammoth. Being able to run a 4.8, he's a freak athlete. For him being so blessed, physical appearance.

He's very mature for how young he is. He knows what he has to do. He knows that he has to block. He knows how to block. He stays to his-self. He's kind of shy but also very mature.

I just think he knows that football will take care of itself. He knows he's a great player. He'll have a great career here and a great freshman season.

Coach Swinney

Q. Could you update us on Mike Williams' situation. It was ghastly at the time. Where does he stand right now?

COACH SWINNEY: He's great. Ready to go. Had a great spring. He's confident. I thought the early part of spring, it took him a little while to kind of get his wind because he obviously hadn't played football in a while. Really kind of hit his stride the second half and finished strong, competed at a high level all spring.

We did not let him scrimmage, but he did everything else, all the one-on-ones, all that stuff. He's great. I mean, he really is. He's poised to get back out there and hopefully pick up where he left off, scoring a bunch of touchdowns, but hopefully jogging back to the sideline when it's over.

Q. You were joking about being back for another year at Clemson. You're in an odd profession. Even with all you've accomplished, do you feel like you have job security, or how much job security do you feel you have? With each level of accomplishment that you reach, does the pressure grow almost unrealistic?

COACH SWINNEY: Ain't no job security in what I do, that's for sure. If they'll tell Coach Bobby Bowden it might be time to move on, they'll tell Dabo, I promise you. There's no security in what we do.

But I don't think of it like that. I just try to focus on doing the best I can do day in and day out, year in and year out. Sometimes, as I tell my players, the days are long but the years are short. Just try to enjoy the journey. That's really it.

I don't know. I mean, we don't know if we're all going to wake up and have air in our body tomorrow. I don't really worry about stuff I don't control. I just worry about my personal approach and attitude.

I love what I do. I'm passionate about what I do. I'm passionate about where I do it at, a place like Clemson. I just try to do my best. If my best isn't good enough, I mean, you move on.

We embrace the expectations. Always have. I think our guys understand that. There's a small margin for error week in and week out with this profession and this job. Understand that everything is scrutinized to the Nth degree, what you say, how you say it, whatever.

None of that stuff really bothers me. It comes with the territory. I just try to stay true to my core values, do what I think is best, in the best way I can possibly do it.

Q. You spoke about obviously not having stability on things you can't control. But your staff is staying together, your commitment to one another. What can you say about what you've given to them and what they've given to you back over the years to put you in the situation you're in?

COACH SWINNEY: If you look at any successful program out there, I mean, Alabama is probably the other program that's certainly had the type of consistency on the field that we've had. You surround yourself with great coaches. I think Coach Saban would tell you that, he's had great coaches. I've had a great staff.

To be good at anything, you have to surround yourself with good people. This is a people business in every sense of the word.

Coach Meyer up at Ohio State, he's always had a great staff. You have to surround yourself with good people because you're one person. You can't do it all.

I've been very fortunate to have a great staff really from the start. I've had a great group of men I've worked with from day one that have done an incredible job of helping us build a foundation and build the program that we all enjoy today.

But most importantly, the credit goes to the players, you know. You can have a bunch of good coaches, but if you don't have buy-in from the players, it ain't going to work. Very thankful for the young men that have played for me. As Deshaun was saying, all the way back to C.J., Tajh Boyd, Sammy, Spencer Shuey, Da'Quan Bowers, guys when we were in the process of building something special, stayed the course, didn't grow weary, bought in when they didn't have to buy in because they didn't come there for me to be their head coach.

Just very appreciative of all the people who have had a part in helping us build our Clemson brand to where it is today because it's no one person's credit, that's for sure. It's a total group effort.

Q. Last year, 14-1, made it to the championship game. How do you keep your team motivated for year number two? How do you keep your team motivated during the season?

COACH SWINNEY: It's probably easier, to be honest with you. We have a highly motivated team. I think it's just the culture of our program. Regardless of whether we won 10 or won 14, it's always about what's next.

As Deshaun said, what we did last year is not going to win for us this year. We've got to go prove it and earn it all over again with our daily commitment. We start over. New team, new chemistry, new leadership. Pay the price all over again. With a humble and hungry spirit.

We didn't win the game. We finished with some regrets. We want to finish with no regrets. Even had we won the game, for us, we're going to start over. We're going to go back to the basics and try and reinstall our program, the core values of our program, get everybody on the same page with a common purpose and go grind. That's just what we're always going to do.

I think that mentality has allowed us to become an incredibly consistent program over the last five, seven years. This has been an easy team, probably the easiest team I've had, from a sense of urgency standpoint.

Q. You did such a great job with your players last year. In Glendale you kept reminding them they earned it and deserved to be there. What do you and this program take away, how does playing in that national championship game help you moving forward, especially this year?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think the big thing is we all dream big, we talk about dreaming big, dream the dream. Last year it was dream the dream, 15 for 15. We kind of laid that out there. Let's go earn 15 opportunities. They give you 12. You're kind of guaranteed that. You earn what you get after that. It was something that we talked about a lot last year.

But I guess the thing I would say is it's one thing to dream about something, it's another thing to experience it. It's been a long time since we've had a team at Clemson that has had a national championship experience, and all that comes with getting that experience, the run of that, the pressure of that, 10 straight weeks.

You're getting everybody's A game every single week. You're No. 1 in the country. Oh, by the way, we have another layer. We have a College Football Playoff. When Clemson won the national championship in '81, they were 12-0. 12-0 got us a ticket to the ACC championship game, which then you win that, you get a chance to go to a playoff, win that and get a chance to go to the national championship.

This team has an experience that's different than any team I've had in the past. I think, again, we all learn from what we go through in life, the good and the bad. The failure is just as important, if not more important, than the success.

Just another step in our journey last year. Again, I think the guys coming back, they know what it takes. Again, it's one thing to think you're good enough, it's another thing to know that you're good enough.

I think, if anything, just a total buy-in from our players, just a validation of what we do in our program, how we do it, how we train, how we practice, how we meet. Everything I think just creates a little bit more buy-in. We've been working toward that for quite a while now.

Q. Being from Pennsylvania, in years gone past, Penn State has been able to come down to South Carolina and get some top-of-the-line talent. The coaching staff says they want to come back down into South Carolina and establish that recruiting again. Since you've had such great success with Clemson, have you been able to seal off the state or is it still a real battle as far as recruiting in your home state?

COACH SWINNEY: Well, I mean, again, we've just tried to work our tails off, build a great program at Clemson. We don't really worry about other people. There's a lot of good players out there. At the end of the day, young men have to go where they think's the best place for them.

Swinney and Watson share a moment Friday

For us, we've just tried to focus on the inside. I don't really focus much on the recruits, to be honest with you. I focus on our players, on our staff. If we do a great job with that, the recruiting will take care of itself.

Again, it's one thing to talk it, it's another thing to walk it. Last year, we talked about this is what we're going to do, what we hope to do. Now we're selling results. It's easier.

We have a complete commitment from our university, our administration. We have great facilities, it's important. At the end of the day it's about the people there. You can go stay at a Ritz Carlton, but if they treat you like crap, you ain't going back, I don't care how fluffy their pillows are.

At the end of the day it's about people. We've got a bunch of good people at Clemson. That's always been my focus, is to surround myself with good people, to build a program, to change a culture. You have to do that through recruiting. You do that through discipline. You do that through graduation. You do that through staff.

For me, I just focus on us. I don't worry about other schools. We're just going to put our product out there. This is who we are. If you come to Clemson, this is what you can expect. We're very transparent. I want guys to come knowing what they're getting into, what the expectations are going to be, because it's not for everybody.

No question, as we've had success, South Carolina as well, Clemson and South Carolina, we've been able since I've been the head coach, a lot of those great players in our state have stayed in our state. I think that's great.

But at the end of the day you got to go to the place that's best for you. Don't go there because it's the closest. Go to the place that's best for you. That's just the way it is.

In our state, it's important for both us and South Carolina to do a great job because, I mean, there's more people in Atlanta than our entire state. It's a very small population. With that means you have a much smaller pool of Division I caliber-type players. Then you throw in the academics, the character, all that. The pool gets even smaller.

We can't just survive off the state of South Carolina. We have to do a great job. It starts there. But to go recruit anywhere, you have to have a good product you believe in, you're passionate about, and you can articulate the message.

THE MODERATOR: Coach, thank you for the time today. Good luck this season.

COACH SWINNEY: Thank y'all.

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