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TBT: Clemson Unsung Heroes

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Moving through the "Dark Territory" of summer with a look back at an underrated player of Clemson Tiger past.

Spot the Ball.
Spot the Ball.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I'm a sucker for history and think it is important to look back for perspective and also to pay tribute to those who have donned the Orange and White and made Clemson proud.  This is a little summer series to take a look back at some of the players who the average fan may have forgotten because he wasn't an All-American or a future NFL star.  This is a series for the all important glue guys that are so important to the success of a team.  This is for the guys who maximized their talent and even played above their heads more often than not.

The first edition of this is dedicated to an undersized safety who played way bigger than he was in the early 2000's: Jamaal Fudge aka "The Candyman."  Fudge came to Clemson as an afterthought of the heralded 2001 signing class that included Roscoe Crosby, Airese Currie, Charlie Whitehurst, Leroy Hill, Tye Hill, and Ben Hall among others.  Fudge was generously listed on his signing day profile as 5'10" 180 pounds.  He was much closer to 5'8" and never reached 200 even with a brief cup of coffee in the NFL.  Despite this, Fudge emerged as a steady presence in the secondary beside fellow signee Travis Pugh and delivered hits way beyond his diminutive stature.

Fudge redshirted before entering the 2 deep in 2002.  He became a major force in his redshirt sophomore year of 2003 and was a key contributor to what was the best team of the mercurial Bowden tenure, mainly because of the headline victories over #3 FSU, #6 Tennessee, and the Hall of Fame 63-17 annihilation of South Carolina.  Let's also not forget that the '03 team was the last Tiger squad to vanquish the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta and did so convincingly with a 39-3 victory.

The Tigers had a difficult slate in 2003 considering Maryland was about as good as they have ever been, NCSU had Phillip Rivers, Wake was on the uptick with second year coach Jim Grobe, FSU was still FSU, and UVA had Matt Shaub and Heath Miller.  The Cavs came to Death Valley on October 11th ranked in the top 25 while Clemson was limping home from Maryland having lost 21-7 (where one of the most egregious officiating hose jobs had occurred and had a major hand in the outcome).  This was a must-win with a difficult trip to Raleigh looming and the game was a classic.  Fudge was by far and away the defensive MVP of what would be a 30-27 overtime victory.  When the Tiger defense totally stuffed the UVA running game in the first half, the Cavs all but abandoned the run and attacked with a bevy of short passes with future NFL starter Matt Shaub at the controls.  Fudge responded with a whopping 20 tackles and easily the defensive play of the game when he crushed current Pittsburgh tight end Heath Miller in the end zone to break up a sure touchdown.  Miller outweighed Fudge by at least 50 pounds but there was no fear from the Candyman.  I happened to be sitting in the West stands that day and it happened right in front of me.  I was even more impressed when I went onto the field after the game and got to walk up to Fudge to congratulate him.  At 6'4", I towered over him and realized even more the kind of size he was giving up on a regular basis to tight ends like Miller.

Another memorable Fudge moment came in his senior season, albeit in a loss in Atlanta to the Yellow Jackets.  It wasn't the defense's fault that day as the Tigers lost 10-9 behind a very injured Charlie Whitehurst and no James Davis.  Fudge delivered a hit that some refer to as a "stunner" on a GT running back.  Fudge unloaded on him and the GT back folded with what looked to be temporary unconsciousness.

Here is Fudge slinging a bigger back to the ground. Or how about Fudge lifting gigantic FSU running back Greg Jones up and pile driving him into the turf?  There is a nice long list of highlight plays from Fudge's career.  It just helps us remember that for every Gaines Adams or Vic Beasley, there is a Robert Smith or Jamaal Fudge.