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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

—IT’S PERSONAL

CLEMSON — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney likes to say that every game is the biggest game of the season for his Tigers. While that may draw snickers and sneers from the fans and media for the first 11 games of the season, the 12th game is definitely the biggest one of the year — because it is South Carolina.

Whether you are a player or a coach, when week 13 finally rolls around, you know what it means.

“We are focused on winning the game,” Elliott said. “This is something that is big for the state. It is personal for me. It is personal for a lot of guys from the state of South Carolina, and for the players that may not be from the state, it is going to be personal to them down the road.”

While it is “personal” to the Gamecocks, who will be looking to end the Tigers’ four-game winning streak and crush their hopes of making a fourth-straight appearance in the College Football Playoff, it is also very personal to the Tigers.

“Honestly, it's personal. It makes me want to focus more on a day-to-day basis whether I'm out at practice or from kick to kick mainly because I've got a lot of buddies that go there,” former Blythewood High School kicker Greg Huegel said. “Say I miss a field goal or if it's a close game, no matter what, I'm going to hear about it at the end of the day. It's really just staying focused and getting the job done.

“I get a lot of people talking crap, but it is what it is.”

For the Tiger true freshman duo of quarterback Trevor Lawrence and wide receiver Justyn Ross, this week will be their first induction into just how heated the rivalry gets between the two in-state schools.

“I'm not from here, so I don't know a ton, but just watching it on TV when they were at South Carolina, I saw the hostility and the atmosphere and how the game went,” Lawrence said. “Anyone who is watching can tell it's a pretty intense rivalry.”

While Lawrence is relying the TV to get an idea of how intense the rivalry is, Ross is leaning on the knowledge of those who have played in the game -- namely wide receivers Tee Higgins and Diondre Overton — to give him advice on the game.

While Lawrence has spent the majority of his senior season setting and breaking records, there is another thing that is equally as important to him -- sending a second-straight senior class out with a perfect record against the Gamecocks.

“It’s a big game. I'm just going to have a good week of preparation and get ready for it. It would mean a lot to me,” Lawrence said. “The biggest thing is it's the next game. That's one of our goals to win every game we play against them. It's the next game but it's a big game because it's against South Carolina but it's another team that's in the way of what we're trying to do. It would mean a lot to help these seniors never lose to South Carolina. It would be awesome.”

One of those seniors that is trying to leave with an undefeated record over the Gamecocks is defensive end Clelin Ferrell.

For the redshirt junior, after being a part of the game for four years, he understands just what this game means to the fans, the players and the coaches because, again, it’s personal.

“I know it's kind of amplified for everyone else in this state. Obviously, this is the state championship,” Ferrell said. “The fans are obviously not very fond of each other. It's a lot of history between us but we just want to treat it like another game. We know it's kind of personal and you want to go out against your so-called rival in the last game of the season. It's going to be a good game. They're a very good team and they have a lot of good players. We just have to go out and prepare. We have to have a great week of practice.

“Obviously, you want to be playing well when you go into the state championship. Obviously, we know it is going to be a tough hard-fought game, and because it is South Carolina it is going to be a bit personal. It’s good to be kind of hitting our stride right when this game happens.”

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia.

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