Ronald Reagan was the last president to meet with the Clemson Tigers in the White House.
On Monday, the Tigers returned for the first time since 1982 to visit President Donald Trump, months after their 2016 NCAA National Football Championship victory on Jan. 9.
It’s a tradition for championship teams to visit the White House.
The Tigers’ championship drought ended in the College Football Playoff. Clemson beat Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and later Alabama to become the 2016 NCAA Football National Champions with a 14-1 record.
Trump called the team’s victory one of the most exciting games he’s ever seen.
“All of you played with such tremendous heart and determination. You never, ever gave up,” Trump said. “You can never give up in life. And it all paid off. With your grit and resolve, you proved one of the most important truths in life: that success is about how hard you are willing to fight in order to overcome and in order to win.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said the White House visit and the victory over Alabama are “special moments” in the players’ lives with many more to come.
He challenged the team to take the lessons they learned on the field and apply them to the next phases of their lives off the field.
“Continue to do the common things in your life in an uncommon way. Continue to be all-in. Continue to apply ‘best’ as the standard in everything you do. Be a person of excellence in everything you do,” Swinney said.
Some players from the championship team were absent because many of the team’s seniors from this past season have gone on to careers in the NFL.
However, some former team members were able to attend, including quarterback Deshaun Watson and defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, who were both drafted by the Houston Texans. Watson threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow to beat Alabama 35-31, and Watkins led the Tigers’ defense with 10.5 sacks.
“Oh, Hunter, you’re so lucky you caught that ball,” Trump joked.
After the White House visit, the team toured the U.S. Capitol, where they planned to meet with South Carolina Republican Rep. Jeff Duncan. Duncan, whose district includes Clemson, was thrilled to see his alma mater take home the championship.
He said the visit helped extend the Tigers’ celebration and will encourage the team’s members as they head into the fall football season.
“It’s awesome to have them,” said Duncan, who graduated from Clemson in 1988 and played on the team as a wide receiver from 1984-86. “(It’s) kind of a distraction from the whole Comey, Russia, Trump, Obamacare, tax reform – all that that’s going on. To have a little celebration is good.”