CLEMSON— For Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, he has had the opportunity to attend numerous NFL Draft’s since becoming the Tigers’ head coach.
Whether it was C.J. Spiller, taken with the ninth overall pick in 2010, or Sammy Watkins, taken with the fourth overall pick in 2015, or last season which saw Shaq Lawson taken with the 19th overall pick—the Tigers have made themselves a mainstay in the first round.
It had been since 2014, and Tajh Boyd, that the Tigers had a quarterback taken in the NFL Draft, but all of that changed when Deshaun Watson heard his name called 12th in this year’s draft—something meant a great deal to him, but also to his head coach.
“It’s great to see these guys have opportunities,” Swinney said. “But you always have a special relationship with your players, but especially your quarterback. The quarterback and the head coach—there has to be a ton of trust and respect. That’s the way it’s got to be, and it’s certainly been that way.
“I saw a picture…of him at Gainesville, and a picture of him at Clemson. I said soon to be you’re going to have another championship team to add to this picture…Just happy for him. It’s a culmination of a ton of work. It really is. It’s a great moment.”
One might think that Swinney’s bond with Watson could be due to his impressive on-field performance.
Watson finished his career with an laundry list of accomplishments including: finishing with a 32-3 record, two-time recipient of the Davey O’Brien Award—given to the nation’s top quarterback, two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, and guided Clemson to back-to-back ACC Championships, back-to-back College Football Playoff Semifinal victories, back-to-back national championship game appearances, and led the Tigers to their first national championship in 35 years with their 35-31 victory over Alabama.
However, for Swinney the bond that was forged between his quarterback and himself had nothing to do with the achievements—it was his work ethic.
“Deshaun is such a team player. But this is a great individual accomplishment and individual moment, and I’m blessed to be able to be a part of it and witness it and experience it with him,” Swinney said.
“He’ll be the first one to thank everybody who has helped him get here—that’s for sure. But this guy has put in the work and done it the right way.”
But Watson is not the only Tiger to hold a special place in the heart of the head coach.
There is a special place reserved for former Lake Marion Gator and Vance native Mike Williams as well.
After bouncing back from a season-ending injury in the 2015 season opening game, Williams went on to finish his career as one of Clemson’s most decorated wide receivers in school history. In three seasons, Williams amassed 177 receptions for 2,727 yards and 21 touchdowns in 1,871 snaps over 42 game (30 starts), and finishing third in school history in receiving touchdowns, fourth in receiving yards and fifth in receptions.
Williams was selected seventh overall by the Los Angeles Chargers in front of approximately 150 friends in Holly Hill, but even though he was not present at the draft, Swinney shared what makes Williams so special—his drive.
“Mike Williams is another guy…here’s a guy that missed a whole year with a neck injury and just to see him come back and to fulfill this dream, what a great, great moment it’s going to be for him,” Swinney said.
Whether it is the first rounders like Watson and Williams, or the undrafted free agents, Swinney has only one bit of advice for all his former Tigers when it comes to the NFL Draft and the team that selected them—you only control a small part.
“I just tell them they’re going to go right exactly where God wants them to go, because that’s the reality of it,” Swinney said. “For us, it’s always about what’s in front of you.”