Welcome to Run it Back, a series that revisits noteworthy moments in the long history of Clemson running backs.
On Nov. 11, 1995, Raymond Priester left a Devil in the mud, crawling on all fours. The would-be tackler, some poor Duke defensive back, didn’t stand a chance against Clemson’s sophomore tailback. There wasn’t much wrong with the defender’s approach. He didn’t show the best form, but the hit would’ve planted, or at least slowed, most college running backs. Priester, however, thrived on that kind of contact. He was one of those runners who seemed to get stronger and faster with each collision, and on that day in the middle of that season he already looked far too strong and far too fast to be on the same field as everybody else. By the time the defensive back found his footing again, Priester was five yards away, cutting upfield, toward the sideline. The small crowd—made sparse by rain and a ho-hum season—came to life. Desi Thomas, Duke’s last man standing, eventually tracked Priester down around midfield, but the damage was done.
With that 44-yard first quarter run, the Tigers’ tailback cleared the 1,000 yard mark on the season. It was obvious, early, that Duke just couldn’t hang with Priester, and no. 27 reinforced that notion all game long. Priester ran for 263 yards on 30 carries. In the process, he set a school record for rushing yards in a single game. He passed Cliff Austin, who set the previous record of 260 yards in his own historic performance against Duke in 1995.
Clemson has a history of great rushing performances against Duke. Each of the top two individual rushing bests in Clemson history, 263 by Raymond Priester in 1995, and 260 by Cliff Austin in 1982, took place against Duke. The Blue Devils are 108th in rush defense this year.— Tim Bourret (@TimBourret) November 11, 2018
The record still stands today, after 23 years and the best efforts of a slew of great rushers. Nobody has eclipsed Priester’s 1995 performance. Not Woody Dantzler. Not James Davis. Not C.J. Spiller. Not Andre Ellington. Not Wayne Gallman. They all fell short. Some of them have eclipsed 200, but nobody has hit that magic mark. Priester stands alone at the mountaintop.
Saturday, when Clemson plays the Blue Devils, I don’t expect the record to fall. Despite Duke’s poor rush defense and Travis Etienne’s deadly combination of explosiveness and efficiency, it is highly unlikely that any back in this offense will receive enough carries to come close to the mark. It appears the 2018 backfield might just be too good to touch this particular record.
The program has changed since Priester hung up his cleats. The expectations are higher. The occasions are grander. Yet, some things haven’t changed. Clemson still wears orange helmets. Priester’s record still stands. The sophomore running back is still the best player on the field.