WATCH: Swinney previews National Championship
|Tuesday, January 5, 2016 1:09 PM- -|
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney talked to the media to preview the National Championship game against Alabama on Jan. 11.
DABO SWINNEY: Happy new year to everybody. It's fun to be playing in 2016, that's for sure. You know, it's kind of -- everybody is asking about this week, and obviously never been in this situation, but the bowl game was more like kind of like the opener. You've got a lot of time to kind of get ready for the opening game, and there's just a lot of things to balance. But then this just kind of feels like the next game. This is just kind of like you're into the season, and that's kind of how we've approached it. Kind of got a couple more extra days of prep time, but really it's just kind of normal for us as far as how we get ready. Really proud of our team, obviously. To be 14-0 is just special. I mean, it's just been something that I think our guys have earned each and every week. We really have had great leadership. Everybody here knows that we've got a very young team, but we've just tried to approach each and every week as truly it's the biggest game of the year and just kind of put everything we've got into winning that game, and that's just been the mentality, and then let's look up at the end of the year and kind of see where we are.
DABO SWINNEY: Happy new year to everybody. It's fun to be playing in 2016, that's for sure. You know, it's kind of -- everybody is asking about this week, and obviously never been in this situation, but the bowl game was more like kind of like the opener. You've got a lot of time to kind of get ready for the opening game, and there's just a lot of things to balance. But then this just kind of feels like the next game. This is just kind of like you're into the season, and that's kind of how we've approached it. Kind of got a couple more extra days of prep time, but really it's just kind of normal for us as far as how we get ready.
Really proud of our team, obviously. To be 14-0 is just special. I mean, it's just been something that I think our guys have earned each and every week. We really have had great leadership. Everybody here knows that we've got a very young team, but we've just tried to approach each and every week as truly it's the biggest game of the year and just kind of put everything we've got into winning that game, and that's just been the mentality, and then let's look up at the end of the year and kind of see where we are.
You know, our guys have answered every challenge, and to be the only undefeated team left in the country is special, so really proud of our team, and just their will to win and how they've competed consistently, and more importantly how they've prepared consistently all year long.
The Orange Bowl was obviously a great performance. We played very well from a four-quarter standpoint as far as the things you've got to do to give yourself a chance to win. The toughness, the physicality, our ability to run the ball, we dominated the game in the trenches, they were rushing for 300 something yards a game, and we held them to 67, and we rushed for 312. So that's really all you need to know.
It was a great, physical performance by our guys, but it's a reflection of the preparation that we had, and that's what pleases me more than anything because we talk all the time about how you play, but how you play is a direct reflection of your commitment. It's your attention to details. It's how you practice and truly prepare. It really is.
Our guys have really bought into that and had great preparation, great focus going into the ballgame, but at the same time had a great trip to Miami. Really enjoyed every second of it, playing beach volleyball, riding jet skis, eating at Joe's Stone Crab, going to the Heat game. We got to enjoy every bit of it, so I'm thankful for the experience that we had.
Our players of the game were B.J. Goodson and Kevin Dodd. I haven't really had a chance to talk to all you local guys here. And Wayne Gallman was our offensive player of the game. And then the first time we've ever had three special teams players of the game, but Huegel was obviously huge in the game, and Christian Wilkins, and Teasdall. Those were our players of the game.
And so everybody talks about being 14-0, and we've set a lot of records around here, not just this year but the last seven years. We've set a bunch of records, but the record that I'm most proud of is we set the school record for honor roll students this fall. We had 48 guys make the honor roll, and that's a 3.0 or higher. And I'm more proud of that than anything.
We set the all-time football team GPA record this fall, so everybody looks at our team and they talk about winning. We're winning because we win off the field, too, and that's what I'm more proud of than anything. Six of our seven years we've been top 10 academically, so I think you can win at the highest level, but you can be the epitome of what a student-athlete should look like, too, and you can do it the right way, and that's what our guys have done.
48 guys, 3.0 or higher, and the highest football team GPA we've had ever, not just with me, but ever, during a fall semester.
And last spring we set the record, too, so I'm just really proud of our guys for how they're handling themselves on and off the field.
This next one, Alabama, it is what it is. They're a complete football team in every sense of the word, great coaches, great depth, great talent, great on offense, great on defense, great in special teams, fundamentally, technically. I mean, that's just -- it is what it is.
But to me, this is what it's all about. They represent the best, and there's really no way you can argue with that. This is their fourth National Championship appearance in seven years, and I think this is -- they've won 15 already. We've got a lonely trophy sitting down there in that case. They've got a family of trophies in Tuscaloosa, and proud to be a part of one of them.
But this is the way it ought to be. If you're going to play for a championship and you have the opportunity to play against the team that has been kind of the standard, you know, I think that we're excited about that. We embrace that and look forward to competing against them.
Offensively, best offensive line we've seen. Obviously they've got the Heisman in Henry. He's a whole different animal. You know, Drake is pretty good, too. Everybody talks about Derrick, but Drake is a pretty special player.
They've got explosive skill with their receivers. No. 88 is as good-looking a tight end as you'll see. Coker has played great. He's played great for them. When people have challenged them, he's stepped up and has made a bunch of plays for them. Just a really good offensive football team.
And then defensively, I think they've got 11 guys that we have in the depth chart, and one is a freshman and one is a sophomore. The rest of them are all seniors and juniors, and just a bunch of talented guys. They look a lot like our defensive front last year when we had Shaq as a backup. That's kind of what they look like. Very experienced, very much a complete defensive unit, all veteran players, linebackers are just great players. I mean, 19 is special. 10 is a great football player. All the guys in the secondary, Cyrus is a guy that obviously is a dual-threat guy from a return standpoint, as well.
Really good team. We've got to have a great week of preparation, and I think we're off to a good start in that regard. I love our schedule. I like the plan that we have in place as far as how we're getting our team ready. Guys are in segment meetings right now, getting a little bit of extra time yesterday and today, and then we'll travel on Friday. Both teams have to be out there, so that's a long way to go, so it's a -- we will practice here before we leave, and then we'll head out to Arizona. Saturday out there is our one day of practice. It's kind of like a Thursday type of practice that you would have in a normal week, and then Sunday is kind of like a Friday, and then you play the game on Monday.
We've got a good plan, good itinerary for out there. Our guys are excited.
But again, we've got a lot of work to do, but I do like the start that we've had.
I know you guys have got a lot of questions, but before I get to that, I do want to offer my condolences to the Parker family. Coach Red Parker, one of our former coaches here. I did not get a chance to meet him or know him, but he and I did have a phone conversation a couple years ago and talked a lot about his high school coaching and things like that.
With that, I'll take your questions.
Q. Do you feel like it's a disadvantage to have less practice time with Alabama because of the way the semester --
DABO SWINNEY: No, no, no. People make a big deal out of that. First of all, tomorrow and Thursday they've got a little bit more time. Maybe they can have an extra meeting, something like that. Maybe they can do a walk-through in the morning and maybe a little extra film session. But I think at this point to be honest with you, more isn't better. I kind of believe in the less is more.
We are who we are, they are who they are. Let's go play the game.
Our guys don't go to school on Friday. Neither do theirs. It's all the same Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday. That's all the same. This past Sunday, Monday, Tuesday is all the same, tomorrow and Thursday, but you know what, our guys, they're used to going to school anyway. That's what they do. We just had 48 guys make the honor roll. Had the highest team GPA that we've had in the history of our program, and we just had our first undefeated season in 30-something years. They haven't had any problem balancing that type of stuff, so I wouldn't make a big deal out of that. If they beat us, it's not going to be because they had two extra meetings or an extra walk-through on Wednesday and Thursday, it's going to be because they just beat us.
Q. When you finished up the Orange Bowl, did you try and make your way home? Did you have a chance to watch any of the Alabama game?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah.
Q. Did you watch it on the plane?
DABO SWINNEY: No, we didn't come back until the next day. We watched it -- a lot of us watched it on TV. We were celebrating and taking a peek at it just like everybody else.
Q. When it became pretty clear that Alabama was going to win the game, what kind of emotions were going through you?
DABO SWINNEY: It's kind of cool. I mean, you know, I think it's neat. I think God has got a sense of humor. I really do. I think it's great.
Again, you're looking at a guy that grew up in the state of Alabama, and I mean, my dream was to play there, to go to school there. I was the one first in my family to get a college degree, and to be able to get it from the University of Alabama was a dream come true for me and for my family, and not only to go down there and really as an 18-year-old kid, I left when I was 31. But I grew up in Tuscaloosa, basically. That was kind of the most normal time of my life. I lived in that little apartment there for five years. I lived there longer than -- that was kind of my spot until I got married. It was a special 13, almost 14 years for me before I moved away from Tuscaloosa.
Going there, walking on, earning a scholarship, my last game as a player, we win the National Championship, I get the opportunity to be a grad assistant coach was a special privilege for me, and then for Coach Stallings to hire me as a full-time coach shortly after that, just a lot of great memories for me, obviously.
But you get on, you go on with your life, and I've been at Clemson 13 years, and I've been trying to get back to the National Championship as a coach for 20-plus years now. You know, to have the opportunity to be in my first National Championship game as a coach, and it comes against Alabama, I just -- I just have to smile at God on that one.
I think it's special. And for me personally, my dad died in August, and we haven't been undefeated since 1981, and Big Erv goes home to be with the Lord in August and here we are 14-0, I just have to believe he's having a lot of fun up there and smiling down, because this would have been like his little shop down there, that little M&M Hardware Store down there in Alabaster, it would have been a scene right now coming in to see my dad and talking about Alabama and Clemson, because that's his two teams. It's just really neat from that standpoint.
It didn't take long to get past, well, that's a neat match-up until you turn the film on. You watch the tape, and you go, oh, boy. This is a great football team we're getting ready to play. So it's going to be a lot of fun. I just think I've got a lot of friends in Alabama, and for all of them -- I've got a few of them that are conflicted. I've kind of found out where I stand with some of them (laughter), but it's a great match-up, and the two best teams. That's just the way it's worked out, and I think it's special.
Q. Do you think you're a little bit different in how you're approaching this? It seems like a lot of people would rather play anybody but a school they have such strong ties to. For instance, Venables said he's not crazy about playing Oklahoma.
DABO SWINNEY: No. If I could just script it, you know, if I could just -- if you could say, hey, you're going to get a chance to play the National Championship game at some point, who do you want it to be against, I would pick Alabama, again, for the same reasons, because they're the best. They've been the best. They've earned that. They've got 15 National Championships and I don't know how many SEC Championships.
DABO SWINNEY: There you go, 25. This is their fourth National Championship in seven years. You know, so we want to be the best, so let's go play the best team out there and see if we can get it done and measure up. If we're good enough to get it done, we'll get it done. If we're not, then we'll go back to work and keep working.
So I think it's exactly the way I would have wanted it to be.
Q. Another thing, too, about this game in particular is Clemson's depth of ties to this school. When did you become clear on that?
DABO SWINNEY: A long time ago, to be honest with you, because when I was a sophomore at Alabama in '90, that's when Gene Stallings came, and he brought a bunch of Clemson guys. Woody McCorvey was the receiver coach at Clemson, and that's how I started learning. I knew about Clemson, but I started kind of intimately learning about Clemson through Woody McCorvey and Ellis Johnson and Chip Davis and Danny Pearman and Curley Hallman. Hootie Ingram was my AD for years at Alabama. The ties are crazy. I think Hootie was instrumental in getting the Paw patented when he was here. Obviously Frank Howard. I met Frank Howard when I was about 10 years old. I got a picture of Frank Howard in my office having dinner with my mom and dad at a restaurant. Just the craziest -- it's just crazy how things get intertwined like that, and then Woody McCorvey obviously became a great role model and mentor in my life. Still is to this day. He's my chief of staff here, if you will, and not to mention Charley Pell, Danny Ford. I mean, it's just amazing the ties between the two schools from a head coach standpoint, but then you look at all the assistants who have left Clemson to go to Alabama or left Alabama to come to Clemson. It's really crazy. Bill Oliver, I spent six, seven years with Bill Oliver, and worked with Curley Hallman. So just so many guys. Charlie Harbison was a guy that was back and forth to both schools. Just a bunch of ties between these two schools for whatever reason.
There's a lot of closet Clemson fans at Alabama. They don't want to admit it, but there's a bunch of them. I think we've kind of become a team in that state where people pull for. Kind of gives them another team. It's kind of boring -- when your team is done on Saturday, at least you've got somebody else that you can watch.
I think our brand has definitely grown in that state.
Q. You're the first team to be 14-0 going into this thing, a chance to go 15-0. What would that mean?
DABO SWINNEY: That would be we're the best ever. That's what it would mean. Who's going to argue with that? One of y'all will. (Laughter.) You'd lose in a court of law. (Laughter.) I promise you that. I'd love to be the lawyer on that one, because you know what, ain't never been a 15-0 team.
Q. One of the things in the summer, Deshaun is at a Habitat For Humanity thing. A kid asks him a question about his goal, and he said, I want to go 15-0. I mean, it struck me as strange because nobody has ever done that before. How did you get these guys thinking this is possible, this is what we need to work toward?
DABO SWINNEY: I think you've got to lay the vision out there. August 3rd, I came in and I kind of put a bunch of numbers on the board and I kind of talked about what each one of them represented. I gave them a tee shirt, and on the back it said "15 for 15," and here's what it means. It's 2015. Right now we've sold every ticket, but there's only 12, and we want to make them print 15 tickets.
You know, we talked about when we win the ACC, it's going to be our 15th ACC Championship. You know, there's nothing wrong with winning them all, guys. But what we've got to do, we don't have to win them all, we've just got to -- each week, we've just got to be good enough to win the one we're playing. We started talking about the mentality of what it was going to take and just kind of laying the roadmap out there. You know, these guys embraced that. It wasn't necessarily about being 15-0, it was about being the best that we could be. You know, Ohio State wasn't 15-0 but they won the National Championship. So it wasn't necessarily about being 15-0, but as the season went, because every week we talk about -- if you lost one early, all right, what's the best we can be? We can be 11-1, all right, but you can't win 11 -- it was kind of like, okay, well, we can still be 12-0, boys, but you can't win 12 until you win six, you can't win 12 until you win seven, and just kind of that weekly focus that we went about our business with, but then as the season continued to go, well, now if we're going to win it all, we've got to be 15-0, you know? And they've embraced that.
But I think that you've got to have -- you have to be able to articulate it and lay a plan out there. You've got to be capable, and I definitely think that we're a team coming into this thing that was one of the 10 or 12 teams that really had a shot, and it just worked out for us.
It's hard to win every and each week. There's a lot of other great teams that are out there that are very worthy of being in this game. There's no doubt about it. They're a few plays away. In my opinion there's no doubt about it we're about four or five plays away from being in this game. This year we made those few plays. We kept a couple of key guys healthy, got a little lucky there. That's all part of it.
But the thing that I'm most proud of, it's not just the 14-0, but it's the consistency. We're here because of the consistency and the longevity that we've put in place in our program over several years. I mean, this is going to be our fourth top-15 finish in a row, third top-10 finish in a row in four years, so we've been very consistent in the culmination of that, and the accumulation of that has helped us to get to where we are right now.
Q. What's the plan with Shaq this week and how has he looked so far?
DABO SWINNEY: Looked good yesterday running around. He was a little sore but was able to do I think everything that Danny wanted him to. Danny was pleased. I'm very optimistic.
Q. Is anyone in your family going to Roll Tide instead of pulling for Clemson?
DABO SWINNEY: Not if they're in my family. I've got a lot of people that want to be in my family right now, by the way. It's a big family. I've got a bunch of cousins and nephews that I didn't even know I had.
But no, it's all good. It's all good. All I know is they're not getting a ticket from me unless they're wearing orange. It'll be a lot of fun.
Q. You talked about turning on the tape, and a lot of people who follow Alabama think that your '92 with Curry and Copeland, those guys, was the best defensive line Alabama has had. Now they're looking at this defensive line and saying, these guys are pretty good, too.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, yeah, you're splitting hairs there. That's a great group. Time will tell. I think you go back to that '92 team, and you can measure that. I mean, you have the third pick in the draft, the fourth pick in the draft. You had three first-rounders or four first-rounders, and you had all these second-rounders, the Thorpe Award winner, George Teague and what they went on to do in their pro careers and on and on and on, so I don't think you can really truly measure that right now. I mean, statistically, that '92 team was about No. 1 in everything. This group here, I think they're 2 total defense, but they're about No. 1 in everything else. They're a dominant group just like that group was, but who's the best, I mean, I think there's a lot of arguments either way, but only time will tell.
Q. These guys are all pretty good?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, they're really good. They look a lot like we did last year. We led the nation in 11 categories last year, but we had six D-linemen go on to the NFL. We were deep and talented in that front last year, and experienced. I mean, I think we're deep and talented right now. We're just very inexperienced. Where you look at them right now, I mean, last year we take Vic Beasley out and here comes Shaq Lawson. I mean, you take Corey Crawford out, here's Tavaris Barnes and Kevin Dodd. You take Grady out, here comes DJ Reader. It was just -- DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson, and we were just really deep, and that's what they look like, and that's why they've been such a tough team to play against, because I'm telling you they've got 11 guys and they've got one freshman and one sophomore. It's all seniors and juniors, so not only are they talented, but they're experienced, and obviously well-coached.
Really tough, tough group. That's where it starts. And then you -- I mean, they've got backers that are going to be first-rounders. They've got a bunch of secondary guys that are going to be first-rounders when their team comes. So they're a complete group, no doubt.
Q. You rattled off a bunch of names early on about Alabama, but what has the vertical passing game taken off with the emergence of Calvin Ridley the second half of the season? What is your perception of the work he's done right now?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, everything starts with the running game for them, first of all. That's just who they are. Those guys up front, this offensive line sets the tempo, and then obviously that No. 2. I mean, they just beat you to death with that guy. He's a different animal.
And so you've got to commit people so they get a lot of match-ups, and when you've got explosive guys, it's hard for one guy to hold up consistently.
So you know, they've exposed people with the speed. Ridley is a -- I don't know what his actual -- he's got to be a 10.4, 10.5 100-meter guy. That's what he looks like. They put him in the slot, and you put him in the slot, and he's getting free releases. He's a problem for safeties. He's a real problem. But they move him around.
But all those guys are good. 16, 13, they're all good players. The tight end is a great weapon. So they're just very balanced. I mean, they force you to -- if you don't stop the run, you have zero chance. Absolutely zero, because they're going to commit to it, obviously. Henry has had several games he's carried the ball 40-something times.
That's where it all starts, and that's led to some explosive plays. And then you've got to give their quarterback a lot of credit. Like I said, when people have done a pretty good job of kind of keeping them within reason in the run game, Coker has made a bunch of big plays for them. He's made big plays in the run game, as well. They'll run him, they'll tempo, they'll do some no-huddle stuff, but the explosiveness that they've got on the outside has been a real challenge for a lot of people.
Q. In trying to build a program from 10 wins a year to where you are now, how critical has it been to have the physical nature of both sides of the lines and to be able to match up with --
DABO SWINNEY: Well, you're not going to get it done any other way. There's only two teams left that have had -- there's only two teams left that have had five 10-plus win seasons, and we're playing each other, us and Alabama, and they're there the same reasons we're there, and that's -- you build your team from the inside out. There's an old saying, your importance to the team starts with how close you are to the ball, and you kind of go from there, the trenches. And we've been able to really get the right kind of guys in here over these seven years. We've produced a bunch of great linemen.
I think that we've got -- we've recruited well. You look at the other night, here Shaq Lawson goes out of the game and Austin Bryant goes in, 4th and 1, probably the biggest play of the game, and you've got two freshmen and a sophomore that make the stop. Kendall Joseph played three plays in the game, but he was ready, and Dorian O'Daniel and Austin Bryant.
I think that the development of not just having good players but the development of those guys is critical, and that's what Alabama has been able to do, and that's what we've been able to do.
Q. To that point, Kevin Dodd had to wait his turn. Just what he has done down the stretch in this season when his opportunity was presented?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, he had to wait his turn because he had to become a good player. I mean, you get what you earn. Sammy Watkins didn't have to wait his turn because he was the best player, and Kevin Dodd wasn't. He was a guy that had talent and had skill and potential, but as I tell these guys all the time, it's not about potential, it's about performance. So you have to work, and where Kevin Dodd deserves so much credit, it's his work ethic and his commitment to get better and to mentally learn the game of football. He played very little football, had not much of a football foundation when he came here. A lot to learn as a player, to be coachable, and again, to just -- willing to grind. And that's what he deserves the most credit for: He's gotten better and better and better, and then his opportunity -- he became the best player, and he's had a great year for us.
Q. There are some fans out there that look at the 2008 match-up between Clemson and Alabama as the turning point for this era. Do you kind of see it that way?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I don't know about that. I know we got smashed. I know that. I mean, we just got physically whipped. That was a long night, long ride back to Clemson. I remember that very well.
Q. When you look back on playing in the National Championship, are there specific things you learned from that experience that have helped you get to where you are today?
DABO SWINNEY: Absolutely, there's no doubt about it. I mean, I think you draw from all your experiences, but when you've actually done something, it brings it even more to life for you. You know, we won 20-something games in a row at Alabama, and the biggest thing that I remember when we won it, when we won it, you've got to take it -- ride now it's just like, hey, throw another trophy right next to the other one, but when we won it in '92, it had been a long time since Alabama had won a championship, for Alabama's standards, whatever, 1978 or '79, and this is 1992. You're talking about -- you've gone through -- you've finished the '70s and '80s and now you're into the '90s. It wasn't good times.
You know, that team -- and not anybody thought we could win the championship that year. I think we were a 13½-point underdog as a matter of fact. Every time I see Gino Torretta, I remind him of that. I think we were a 13½-point underdog, like one of the biggest underdogs ever. Some of the media people said we were a high school team going to play an NFL team, and we were 12-0.
But we won the game.
But what I learned from that is it's about how you play. I learned that a long time ago. It's about your team. It's not -- again, it's not always the most talented team. It's the team that plays the best and cares about -- and we had such a brotherhood and such a chemistry. We really had a team that served each other. The defense, the offense, the special teams, I mean, we won games that year in all kind of ways. Everybody talks about we won the National Championship, won 34-13 against Miami. We barely beat LA Tech, like barely. David Palmer took a punt back; that's the only reason we beat LA Tech. We're losing in the fourth quarter at Mississippi State in Starkville that year, only time all year, first time all year we were down in the fourth quarter, and we caused a fumble on punt team, Steve Busky causes a fumble, and Willis Bevelle, whose two boys are on my team now, causes a fumble. We block a punt that I should have got for the touchdown, by the way. I'm still mad about that, but it bounces like perfect right into Langham's arms and he walks in for a touchdown. We won a lot of different ways, and so there was a confidence with that team that we were just going to get it done.
You know, but the biggest thing for me was the experience of being on the mountaintop. That's not what it's all about. And that's what people think life is about, how much money is in your bank account, all that stuff, your friends you have, what house you live in, the car you drive, how many championship -- but that stuff is so fleeting. It's amazing how quick that moment goes away. It really is.
You know, the best part of that game was being in the locker room after the game and the celebration with your teammates. But what I got out of that morning anything was a perspective of, man, what a journey, and the best part of it was just -- it was truly the journey. It was the daily grind. It was the summer workouts. It was the bus rides. It was the movie theater. It was the dorm. It was the dining hall. It was the tough practices. It was just the relationships.
You know, so I've always just kind of had that perspective of let's make sure we enjoy it, and I've tried to be purposeful in that this year with this team because I knew that these guys were on their way to a special season, and I think that they've had a great time. I don't think they're going to have any regrets. I don't think they're going to look back and say, man, dang, I wish I'd have enjoyed that a little bit more, because it's a rare thing. It really is. It's a hard -- you've got the exceptions. You've got a school like Alabama. That's a rare exception.
You know, most schools, I don't know, there's probably only about 34 or 35 schools that have ever even won a National Championship in the history of football, and if you take the last -- since 1981, Texas has won one. Georgia has won one. Clemson has won one. I mean, it's just hard to do. How many has Michigan won since 1981? How many has Ohio State won? It's a hard thing to do. You have the exception, Miami had a little run, Florida State has won about three, Florida has won about three. Alabama is the enigma. It's just hard, so it's about knowing that these guys have enjoyed their journey.
Q. You talked about your time at Alabama being the most normal time in your life. What did it mean to have your mother there with you and then what did it mean to be able to help her and your brothers later on?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I mean, it meant that -- we just did -- you just do what you've got to do, first of all, but I loved having my mom there. It was a little different at first, but again, when you're in the middle of situations in your life, you know, you just make the best of it. That's kind of how I've always lived my life, and that's what I try to tell people. Just make the best of it. That's what the happiest people in the world do. They don't have the best of everything, they just make the best of everything. That's to me what true peace and happiness is all about.
I think that it gave me a drive, because I was driven to graduate. I was driven to create a better path for my family, for my brothers, for my dad, for my mom, and I didn't want to be a part of the problem, I wanted to be a part of the solution. And so I was driven that way, and that's why I would put the work in. I wanted to exhaust the moment that I had from a relationship standpoint, networking, academically. I didn't want to just get my degree, I wanted to excel. I wanted to be on honor roll. I wanted to be an All-SEC academic guy. I wanted to get my masters. I wanted to arm myself because I was sold out that if I get my education, then my life can be better, and if my life can be better, my family's life can be better.
You know, when you're in the midst of that, sometimes it's very hard to keep that perspective and focus on the future because you get caught up in some tough moments. But my mom was great. I mean, we slept in the same bed for three years. It was a special time. It really was. A little small -- it saddens me that our apartment was torn down by the tornado, just smashed. But we lived in apartment 81. That was my high school number, and I lived in apartment 81, lived there for five years, and my mom lived there with me for three years, my redshirt sophomore, junior, senior year, and then my first year as a GA we got fancy, and me and my mom and Chris Donnelly, who was still -- he had one more year, I was a GA and Chris had another year as a safety, we moved in, rented a little house over toward Alberta City in Coventry was what it was called. We rented a little house, and we each had our own room. That was big-time. So we had a nice little home, and in fact that house was torn down by the tornado, too.
But it was a special time, and then I got married the next year. You know, my mom probably would have lived with Kath and I if it wasn't for my father-in-law because I was making about $450 a month, and Kath had just finished her masters and she was teaching school making about $22,000. But her dad helped us so that we could make sure my mom had a nice apartment, and so she was close to us, but she had her own apartment. And then she met Larry McIntosh, who's my stepdad, and Larry McIntosh has just been a blessing to our family and has taken my mom all over the place.
Larry never had kids, so he didn't know what he was getting into when he started dating my mom, and they've been married now I think about 18 years. So it's been a great journey, and it's been fun to see my family grow, and especially the transformation that took place in my dad's life. Just awesome to see how he lived, especially the last 15 years or so of his life, and the blessings that my mom has had, and then my brother, my oldest brother, I was able to help him go to college, and he graduated from Samford University and retired 30 years from the Pelham City Police Department. Now he works for me up here.
It's been great.
Q. What about your boys, letting them experience this with you, they're old enough to know what's going on, they're not too old that they're gone. Have you been able to reflect on how special it's been that they're at the age in their life right now, what they're going through?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, they don't know what they don't know. I mean, they really don't. I tell them sometimes, y'all need a little more Ryecroft Circle and a little less Sycamore Drive every now and then. I tell them that. But they're just great kids. And I know I'm a dad, but God has blessed me. I have three of the most precious boys you could ever want to be around. They get it. They get it. They're just humble kids that don't expect anything. They work hard. Don't really ask for anything, and we can thank Kath for that because she's done a phenomenal job with raising them.
But it's just been special. I mean, it really has, because Will is 17 now, Drew is 16 here in another week, and Clay is 12, and to see them grow up with the way they've grown up, because they don't just know anything different. And the people that they've been around, the relationships that they have with so many guys, it's been really special. One of these days they'll really realize what they've been able to do and experience -- and right now it's just kind of their normal, if you will. But they're just great boys. Great boys.
Q. Deshaun has had 100 yards rushing the last six games. Do you think he can have the same kind of success against Alabama?
DABO SWINNEY: I hope so. It's going to be -- we're going to find out. We're going to give it all we've got. That's for sure. We probably won't win if he don't play well. You don't win championships without your best players showing up and getting clocked in and performing. That's for sure. He's been there all year long. I know this: Nobody is going to prepare harder. Nobody is going to play with more will to win than No. 4.