CLEMSON – The world of college football rivalries has seen family members fight, best friends no longer talk to each other and their respective schools lose recruits.
The last is the case for Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell, whose trip to the University of South Carolina on an official visit was spoiled by a run-in at a Waffle House.
“My first visit to Clemson, I came in for the spring game and heard a lot of different things about the rivalry and people saying different things,” Ferrell said. “After my first visit to Clemson, I took a visit to South Carolina. Mind you, it’s a little bit different down there. Their fans take it a little bit differently than how our fans do. Obviously, none of us like each other.
“When I went down there, I went to Waffle House, and some guy came walking into the Waffle House in Columbia with a Clemson shirt on. Next thing I know, I see people trying to fight him and stuff like that. I was like, ‘OK, what is going on here?’ But yeah, its’ real down here. Now I understand why people take it so serious.”
For Ferrell - a Richmond, Va. native who didn't grow up amid the Clemson-Carolina feud - there is taking the game seriously and then there is taking the rivalry too far. And that is exactly how the redshirt sophomore feels when he thinks about the fan base at South Carolina.
In 2015, Ferrell joined fellow redshirts Tanner Muse and Denzel Johnson as they drove down to join their teammates on the sidelines for the Tigers’ season-ending 37-32 victory. But during the game, Ferrell and his teammates were subjected to having “stuff” thrown at them and other members of their team while on the sideline.
While he doesn’t take those actions personally, it was a lesson in how serious the fans are about the annual Palmetto Bowl.
“From what I’ve seen, I’ve seen them take it a little bit too far,” Ferrell said. “When I went down there my redshirt year, they were throwing stuff at us and throwing stuff at us as we walked into the tunnel. Fans do that everywhere, and that was really my first look at the rivalry. I didn’t understand how serious it was.”
According to Ferrell, following the Tigers’ victory two years ago, members of the Gamecock team and the fan base thought they should have won the close game that ended with the Tigers finishing off a 12-0 regular season and with the Gamecocks looking for a new head coach after a 3-9 season.
The fact that the Gamecocks feel they should have won the game two years ago at Williams-Brice Stadium has the Tigers wanting to once again “leave no doubt” this year.
“It was a really good game; a close game,” Ferrell said. “They say they should have won that game, but maybe we can go down there and put that to bed. They play that same old song and wave those towels around. I’ve never been to a night game down there, so I can’t wait.”
While the Tigers are currently riding a three-game winning streak in the series, it was not long ago that the Gamecocks held the upper hand — literally, as the South Carolina faithful would hold up five fingers, signaling their five straight wins in the series.
But it was Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney who was unaware of the fact that fans were mocking him and his program in photos taken with him.
“Coach Swinney would sometimes take pictures with different South Carolina fans, just because they would come up to him and ask for pictures, and a lot of times they would be in the picture doing this (five bomb),” Ferrell said. “He didn't know what that meant. So when he told me that story and someone had finally told him what that meant, he was like, 'Dang I didn't know that was going on.’”
Since those photos were taken, the Tigers have reeled off three straight wins in the series by a combined score of 128-56 — including a 56-7 victory last season.
But for Ferrell, those photos did not serve as motivation to beat the Gamecocks because the only motivation he needed was to go out and play his best.
“That was kind of funny to me,” Ferrell said. “I don't really get into the whole thing with rivalries because when you are a player, that shouldn't affect you and that shouldn't be the reason why you are playing just because it's a rivalry. That shouldn't be your motivation. It should be just going out there and playing your best for your team and stuff like that.”
Ahead of this season’s game, Gamecock quarterback Jake Bentley stirred the pot this offseason when he stated that Clemson was not really the better team.
“We just didn’t play well that week,” Bentley said. “Because at the end of the game, everyone knew that they weren’t that much better than us or better than us at all.”
Bentley, who started the game last season for the Gamecocks, finished by completing only seven passes for 41 yards with an interception and was taken out of the game by head coach Will Muschamp.
“We hear the talk. We don't really listen to it, though,” Ferrell said. “Obviously, he's a competitor and he's going to think his team is just as good as ours or just like any team you play compete with, which you should. Obviously you can't get into that. It's about what you do on the field and how you show it.
“I don't really have too many thoughts on that. It's going to be up to us if that's true or not. Really we just have to go up there and not really worry about what they have to say. At the end of the day, we know it's about players making plays and who's going to go out there and be the most physically tough team out there. We're just going to have to see Saturday.”