Welcome back to this summer’s time machine series! This time we stay on the defensive side of the ball and try to choose four guys to make up a hypothetical Mount Rushmore monument for-all time Clemson greats.
While the Tigers have been known as #WRU and an emerging #DLU, cornerback has been one of the most historically deep positions in modern Clemson history. Other than the dip we saw from 1998-2001, Clemson has typically had at least one high level future draft pick guy on the outside from 1980-2021. So many big time players have come through the program at corner: Delton Hall, Dexter Davis, Donnell Woolford, Jerome Henderson, Dexter McCleon, Alex Ardley, Justin Miller, Tye Hill, Chris Chancellor, Crezdon Butler, Byron Maxwell, Cody Sensabaugh, Mackensie Alexander, Trevon Mullen, A.J. Terrell, and, most recently, Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich. How do you get down to just four from a group like this? Only two, in my mind, are absolute no-brainers but the debate after that is fierce.
1 . Donnell Woolford (1985-1988). Woolford is probably the most complete corner I have seen play at Clemson in my lifetime. There really wasn’t anything he didn’t do at a pretty high level once he learned the position after coming to Clemson as a running back. He was a dominant player his final two seasons before becoming a first round draft pick and multiple year starter for the Chicago Bears. Like a couple of others on this list, Woolford was an impact special teams guy as well. Before Brian Dawkins, this was the #20 in Clemson history.
2. Mackensie Alexander (2014-2015). If Woolford was the most complete corner I’ve ever seen at Clemson, Alexander takes the award for best pure cover guy. The only blip on his resume was probably not finishing interceptions as well as some others, but I never saw Brent Venables specifically target opposing WR with one guy except when Alexander was in the program. Alexander’s 2015 campaign was absolutely dominant, including erasing guys like Will Fuller of Notre Dame who had been killing people. Most Clemson fans strongly believe had Alexander not left the National Title Game with Alabama with an injury that the Tigers would have won, and I am one of those. Alexander was the closest thing to Deion Sanders to wear a Tiger uniform.
Now is when it gets extremely hard to pick two. You saw those names listed earlier. One of those guys is a top five cornerback in the NFL right now. Another is perhaps the most freakish athlete at corner I’ve seen at Clemson, or really anywhere. Another had one of the most dominant seasons as a freshman of any Clemson player ever at any position. All ACC, All American, and future NFL players abound. But, after a lot of teeth gnashing, here are my 3rd and 4th members of the monument...
3. Justin Miller (2002-2004). While Miller’s 2002 season was incredible, the best season from a Tiger corner ever in my opinion, he didn’t quite play at that level during his final two seasons or he’d be in the no-brainer category. However, he was still a major playmaker on some very suspect defenses and a major factor in Clemson being able to win games against FSU and Tennessee in 2003 and Miami in 2004 which were all big steps in turning Clemson around on the national scene. Miller was also a dominant return guy and single handedly kept Clemson in the 2004 FSU bout with his return exploits. Miller was also key in helping Clemson recruit the kind of corners needed to be a top 10 program after seeing some horrific play at the position in 2000 and 2001.
4. A.J. Terrell (2017-2019). Terrell would be a no-brainer for me if not for the one painful outing against Jamar Chase and LSU in New Orleans, but he had a stellar career and his pick six vs. Alabama in the 2019 National Title Game is one of the most iconic plays in Clemson history. Terrell was an excellent tackler for his position as well as a strong cover guy, using his excellent length to his advantage. While it is a shame his final game at Clemson wasn’t his best, albeit facing elite future NFL guys, what he and his partner Travon Mullen did against the 2018 Alabama WR corps was incredible. Obviously Terrell has quickly become a top flight corner in the NFL, putting that LSU game far into his rear view mirror like any great corner should.
So there you have it. It was very hard to pick just four guys among so many awesome players. I’ll be having that issue again soon with DT, DE, LB, and WR.