You know that idiom of saving the best for last? In doing this series, I quickly came to appreciate that the deepest position in Clemson football history HAS to be defensive tackle. The four I am choosing for the mountain are absolute, no doubt legendary studs, but some that I had to push to honorable mention simply boggles my mind. Clemson’s hallmark has usually been defense, and last year’s team was carried by that group. To be great on defense, you have to be strong up the middle on the line of scrimmage, and Clemson has enjoyed a long line of difference makers there.
So, these are my four choices for the mountain. Only one was an absolute no doubter while all the others required a lot of back and forth among a LOT of worthy candidates.
- Grady Jarrett (2011-2014). This was my no doubter. What put him in that category beyond just his remarkable career? Dabo Swinney will only name one of his former players when asked about “all-time” or “starting a team” and it is Grady Jarrett. Jarrett sort of embodies the “little ole’ Clemson” concept because he was a lightly regarded prospect without all the elite physical measurables, yet he emerged as one of the most dominant defensive players in the country, including leading the #1 ranked defense in the nation in 2014. Jarrett employed his elite wrestling skills and work ethic to not only dominate at Clemson but also in the NFL.
- Christian Wilkins (2015-2018). Few players have left a bigger mark on Clemson than Wilkins did. The former 5-star recruit immediately became a starter on the 14-1 2015 squad that signaled the program’s ascent into the truly elite. Wilkins was so athletic that he spent much of 2016 at defensive end after Austin Bryant got hurt, before shifting back to DT in time for Clemson’s National Championship victory over Alabama. Wilkins spent the next two seasons at his natural DT position as the Tigers won another national title to make it two in a three year span. He founded the “Power Rangers” at Clemson, swag surfed, executed fake punts and goal line offensive plays, and celebrated every touchdown as if he had scored it himself. Wilkins is truly a one-of-a-kind personality and a virtual lock for the Ring of Honor.
- Michael Dean Perry (1984-1987). This mountain had to have a Perry, if not two, but I always pick Michael Dean between them when forced to choose. William was up there with Chester McGlockton and Christian Wilkins in terms of absolute freakish athletic ability for men their size, but Michael Dean was akin to Grady Jarrett when it came to work ethic and consistency and absolutely maximized what he had to work with his entire career. Michael Dean was so dominant that Danny Ford had to throw him out of practice just so they could operate. He won ACC Player of the Year as a defensive player! It is crazy to think that Clemson’s TFL and sack records were held by each Perry brother for a while when you consider the defensive ends and linebackers that also came through the program.
So before I get to #4, I’m going to discuss the group of guys who I considered very, very strongly for the mountain. These are more than just “honorable mentions” in my eyes, but four is all you get on Mount Rushmore. Jim Stuckey was probably the first truly dominant DT in program history. Jeff Bryant was a monster for the 1981 National Title Team. William Perry has been mentioned already, but he is one of the most legendary Tigers of all time. Mark Drag, Rob Bodine (27 TFLs in ‘91 as a DT!), Chester McGlockton, Brentson Buckner, Trevor Pryce (one year wonder, but man what a year!), Jarvis Jenkins, Brandon Thompson, Carlos Watkins, D.J. Reader, and Dexter Lawrence all deserve mention. Even if you narrow this list, you still get to four incredibly strong resumes. Yet, in the end, I am going with:
4. William Perry (1981-1984). Even though I didn’t feel Perry truly maximized what he had to work with in his football career, especially when you consider there really wasn’t any 300+ pound guys doing anything close to what “The Fridge” as an athlete in that era of football, Perry still had a dominant career at Clemson. As stated, he held the sacks and TFL records until his younger brother broke them. He was the only three time All-American in program history until Anthony Simmons came along. Clemson had to go through Herschel Walker and UGA as well as Tom Osborne’s Nebraska running attack (featuring center Dave Remington) to win the ‘81 title, and Perry was a major reason why the Tigers were able to pull it off. You can still catch clips of Perry blocking punts with upbacks and tracking down running backs 20 yards downfield on social media. I only wonder what Perry might have done if he was wired more like his brother or Grady Jarrett? Still, he has to be on this mountain I believe. I had the “Defensive Line” poster featuring both Perry brothers in my room as a kid growing up.
I hope you guys enjoyed this summer series. I’m very excited that we are about to have real football once again to talk about and hopefully new great memories to create. Will 2022 be another magical season? If so, those DT’s like Bryan Bresee and Tyler Davis are going to be a major reason why.