This coming Saturday will be one filled with emotion for the 20 seniors that will run down the hill one at a time minutes before the No. 1 ranked Tigers face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons for their final home game of their careers.
Many of the Tigers that will be honored on Saturday have names easily recognizable to the Tiger faithful. Names like C.J. Davidson, B.J. Goodson, Eric Mac Lain, and Charone Peake—just to name a few—immediately come to mind, however there are others. Other who have paid the price. Others who have given their time, blood, sweat, and tears over the years.
Others with names like: Beau Brown, Daniel Stone, Collins Mauldin and many more that have spent their time understanding that they will never see the field. Their one goal has been helping to build a program that would eventually reach the pinnacle of the college football this season—finally culminating this week with a unanimous No. 1 ranking in the AP Poll, Coaches Poll and College Football Playoff.
For Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney it is all about the relationships and bonds that are formed through coaching that means no matter where these 20 men end up they will always be a part of the program that they left better than they found it.
"It's a special time," Swinney said Wednesday during his weekly teleconference. "Even though they're not going to be able to play for me anymore here in the Valley. We'll always have relationships and I try to remind them of that. But it's always a fun day, and we've got this group right here that's been incredible."
"I mean, we get them when they're 17, 18 years old, and some of these guys you've known since they were 15 or 16 because of the recruiting process. And to see them change and mature and grow into men that are ready and prepared to go onto the next level and to to know that you've had a part in that and to know that you've helped to have a program in place to help them develop those tools that they need and the education. I mean, it's awesome."
This class of 20 young men has done exactly what Swinney implored of them upon their arrival at Clemson to, "leave the program better than you found it."
A win in their final home game this coming Saturday would mean a record 43rd victory for this group of seniors. Currently sitting at 42-7 overall a win this Saturday would set the school record for the most wins in a four-year period—a feat made even more special by it being accomplished on Senior Day.
In terms of winning percentage this class can also say it is the best, boasting a school record .857 mark bettering the previous best of .844 mark by the seniors of 1984, a group that included William Perry. Those seniors finished with a 37-6-2 record over their career.
For Swinney it is clear that this group have not simply lived up to the standard set before them—they are the standard.
"I mean, again, they're going for their 43rd win on Saturday," Swinney continued. "They would surpass last years class, who became the winning-est class ever, and they've set the new standard and they're not done yet."
For these seniors they understand the finality of the day. They understand that this is the last time they will stand at the top of the hill, rub the rock, and listen to 80,000 plus going crazy as they enter the field of play. For senior left guard Eric Mac Lain he understands it will be emotional, but that there is still a job to do.
"I've been here five years, so it's going to be a very emotional day," Mac Lain said Tuesday. "But at the end of the day we have a football game to play. When we get to the top of that hill we are going to be ready to go...I'm going to be crying for hours, it should be real fun. I can't wait to play. I'm an emotional guy. All of the emotions—anger and sadness. It's all going to be jam packed, unfortunately, for Wake Forest."
Even with the emotions of Saturday—the reminiscing and the tears Swinney's job will be to curtail all of those things. His job will be to make sure that the seniors are honored while remembering that there is still a lot of football left to be played.
"We've still got another regular season game and then a championship game and a bowl game for sure," Swinney said. "These guys have a chance to walk out of here averaging 11-plus wins in their career. That's pretty amazing."