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Where Are They Now: Cliff Harrell

Cliff Harrell spent four seasons at Clemson blowing open holes for Clemson running backs. Now he's hitting the books like he hit ACC linebackers.

Playing fullback is a thankless job involving few photographs.
Playing fullback is a thankless job involving few photographs.
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

After a short break for a much needed vacation, "Where Are They Now" is set to continue, hopefully on a weekly basis (it depends on player availability mostly).

Today I'm privileged to reintroduce  Cliff Harrell (02-05) to Tiger Nation. Cliff came to Clemson via Tallahassee, Florida. He escaped the shadows of Doak Campbell Stadium and turned down scholarship offers from schools like LSU, Auburn, and Syracuse for a chance to play in the real Death Valley. He came to Clemson as a two way player from North Florida Christian High School, starring as both a bruising 6'1, 240 pound running back and a bone crushing linebacker. In fact, he was second team All-State as a senior at linebacker in Florida, but was recruited by most programs to play fullback. While Cliff only tallied 7 total carries (he did average a robust 5.1 yards per carry) and 7 receptions (this time averaging 5.3 yards a reception), he blew open holes for some of the best backs in Clemson football history. Cliff was the quintessential human battering ram. You may not have heard his name over the P.A. very often, but he certainly left his mark on Clemson football and a few linebackers. So, without further delay, welcome back Mr. Clifford Harrell.

You had quite a few options coming out of high school in Tallahassee, including schools like Notre Dame and Auburn. What was it about Clemson that convinced you to spend your college career in the Upstate of South Carolina?

I fell in love with Clemson, shockingly, after the Clemson/FSU game in 2000.  Clemson lost that game 54-7 but it was observing how the players, coaches, and staff responded during and after that game that made me want to be a part of that family.  How Clemson responded in the midst of that loss was special. I was being recruited heavily by other Division I programs but I committed to Clemson the Sunday after that game.  Clemson is a family and it was proven on that day.

Based on your current path in life, you appear to enjoy school. What degree did you finish up with at Clemson?

I finished with a degree in Human Resource Development and Technology in 2005 and I swore that I was done with school forever.  After that I worked professionally for a few years before beginning my Master's program at Florida A & M University where I received a master's in Sport Administration.  I had a similar feeling after completing that program, but 2 years later I found myself in a doctoral program at the University of North Florida.  I am currently writing my dissertation with a focus within Athletic Academic Support Services.  I always credit Clemson University for establishing a scholarly foundation which has led me to this point.

Thinking back on your days at Clemson, what was the most satisfying victory you were a part of, and what was the most stinging defeat?

The most stinging loss was Clemson/Miami 2005.  Three overtimes and a game that we should have won before the end of regulation.  It was a great game!  Death Valley was the loudest it was my entire career.  I couldn't hear Charlie the entire 2nd half and into each overtime.  All of the plays had to be signaled in from the sideline and from Charlie to the rest of the team.  The most satisfying victory was Clemson/FSU 2005.  We won 35-14.  They were ranked and we were not but it was enjoyable beating the hometown team one more time my senior year.

You went from the man with the ball in your hands in high school, to the man creating holes for other running backs in college. Was that a difficult transition?

It was difficult at first.  In high school you are the star and then you get to college you become a role player.  I knew exactly what my position was heading towards professionally (fullback) but I thought that my athleticism and skill set could bring a new dimension to this position.  My years blocking for Travis Zachary, Bernard Rambert, Yusef Kelly, Duane Coleman, Reggie Merriweather, Kyle Browning, and James Davis was great, but I wouldn't change a thing. The Clemson network is powerful and the experiences gained from athletics and academics have served me well.

Do you have any advice for incoming Clemson football players?

You only get four years to play at the highest level of College Football and the best thing that you can do is enjoy and savor the moment! Most importantly, get involved in campus activities and clubs.  Try to find some time to be a regular student (although I know it is tough to do).  It is so easy to be isolated with just your teammates away from your sport but it would behoove you to enjoy all of the perks that come with being a Clemson student.

Do you get back to Death Valley for any games?

I haven't been back to a game in a long time.  Actually, I have never seen a Clemson game from the stands in Death Valley, but that streak will be broken soon.  My oldest son is a die-hard Clemson fan and I want him to have that Clemson experience.

What is your prediction for the upcoming season?

National Champions!

If I were to go back in time and tell your 15 year old self that you would be working on your Ph.d in Educational Leadership, would he believe me?

Not a chance.  This was not a childhood goal of mine.  This was nowhere in my future as a child.  But life is an amazing journey and I now sit only 2 semesters away from finishing my mother's doctoral degree. She passed away when I was 15 years old from cancer and at the time she was a second year doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program.  I did not wish for this nor strive to be on this journey, but I'm sure glad to be able to finish the chapter that my mother started nearly 2 decades ago.

What lessons did you take from playing football at Clemson that you still use today?

Resilience, hard work, dedication, leadership and FINISH.  These qualities were ingrained in us as student-athletes and those same qualities are what helps make me successful today.  Thanks Coach Burns!

I think we can both agree that getting old is terrible. I couldn't walk the day after playing a kickball double header last week.. What do you miss about not being old?

Aww man.  I feel it every day now.  The mind is still young but the body feels 10 years older than my actual age.  I knew that I was getting old when I couldn't play in a basketball game anymore.  When you are a young athlete you can hop out of bed onto a basketball court and play for hours.  If I tried to play basketball today it would require a warm up session, stretching session, and a water break before easing back into the game.  I miss the unlimited amount of energy.

How glad are you that social media wasn't around during your time at Clemson?

So glad that I can't express it. Not having it has saved us from a lot of trouble. I remember when Facebook started and the buzz around that social media site (back when you actually had to be a college student to register). I thought back then that this was too much information for anyone to see. Now with so many different apps and social media sites, people are overindulging at a rapid pace. Change is good. Progress is good. But all change isn't beneficial. Athletic departments just have to monitor and educate each student-athlete more proficiently.

Once again, I would like to thank Cliff for taking time out of his busy day to help me with this project. I'm always looking for more former Tigers to interview. If you are a former Tiger, or you know a former Tiger you think might want to participate, please leave a comment at the bottom of this article, email me at, or hit me up on twitter at Drew Schneider@drewtigeralum.