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CFP National Championship Clemson Alabama Football-Huggins

Clemson's Albert Huggins celebrates after the NCAA college football playoff championship game against Alabama, Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Santa Clara, Calif. Clemson beat Alabama 44-16. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — No one could have scripted the ending to the story any better than for Clemson defensive tackle and former Orangeburg-Wilkinson standout Albert Huggins.

After being relegated to a reserve role for the majority of his four seasons, Huggins was asked to fill a massive, 6-foot-4, 350-pound void left when starting defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence was suspended for the postseason after testing positive for a banned substance.

And fill the void is exactly what he did, amassing six tackles and one quarterback pressure in two College Football Playoff games.

“I did exactly what I set out to do,” Huggins said after the Tigers’ 44-16 national championship victory Monday night over Alabama. “I wanted to come out here and show the world what I can do and that is what I did.”

Huggins not only filled the void in a way that few thought possible, his disruptive play on the inside played a large role in the Tigers holding the Crimson Tide offense scoreless over the last 44 minutes of the game and to a season-low 16 points.

However, even Huggins did not see that kind of dominant performance coming for the Tigers, who entered the game as 5.5-point underdogs.

“No man, honestly, I didn’t see that coming,” Huggins said. “I mean, I knew that we had a great game plan but to hold an offense like Alabama has to only 16 points, no, I never saw that coming.”

Even though Huggins did not see the defense having the type of performance it had, he did believe that he had what it took to be a dominant force on the Tigers’ front.

“I absolutely thought that I would play my best game tonight. I never had a doubt about that,” Huggins said. “I mean, man, I am so excited to prove to the world, the scouts and everyone else that I could be a dominant guy.

“That was my mission, to go out and ball out for my brothers, my teammates and just show them that I had what it takes. I always knew that I could do it.”

The belief in himself was not something that Huggins always had. In fact, there was a time when the former Bruin considered transferring. But now he is thankful to a coach who believed in him.

“Man, Coach (Todd) Bates, I can’t thank him enough for what he meant to me,” an emotional Huggins said. “I mean he believed in me when I was doubting myself. When I was questioning whether or not I was going to still be here, he believed in me and I can’t thank him enough for everything he has done for me.”

The Tiger defensive tackles coach always believed Huggins had what it took to shine. He just needed someone who believed in him to show him that he was good enough.

“Albert, I could not be happier for him,” Bates said. “I mean the suspension could not have happened to a better person in Dexter Lawrence and a better person could not have gotten the opportunity in Albert Huggins. I mean, he has waited his time and for him to go out and play the way he has is a testament to the kind of player that he is and the kind of person he is.”

Huggins joined an elite group of Tigers as a member of a senior class that improved to 55-4 since 2015. The class also finished with a .932 career winning percentage, breaking the school record set by the 2017 seniors (.877, 50-7). And the seniors became the first in school history to field a winning percentage of .900 or better.

While other senior classes may break those records, there is one record that will never be taken away from Huggins — being a member of the first senior class to win two national titles.

“Man, it hasn’t even set in yet, Huggins said. “I can’t even wrap my mind around that and how special it is to be a part of a group of seniors that has accomplished so much. I’m so thankful and honored to be a part of this special group of brothers."

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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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