For a guy not born into the feud, Grady Jarrett has embraced the rivalry and developed a sharp distaste for losing to South Carolina.
A native of Georgia, he shares the pain from five consecutive whippings and relishes meting vengeance Saturday in Death Valley.
“You’ve got to live with the result of this game for the rest of the year,” said Jarrett, the keystone senior nose tackle for Clemson’s premier defense.
“Just being part of this program, man, this South Carolina-Clemson rivalry it’s going to follow you everywhere,” he said. “People who know you as a Clemson Tiger, everybody knows it’s the biggest rivalry in South Carolina. It follows you everywhere you go.”
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From a relatively underappreciated position Jarrett has developed a distinctive voice as a respected leader on the Clemson team, not just on defense.
As a player, he commands accountability. No doubt, USC center Clayton Stadnik and guards A.J. Cann and Will Sport want to find him quickly as they come to the line of scrimmage. In last year’s game, Jarrett was credited with 15 tackles, including two tackles for loss, and, generally, created havoc in the middle.
“I think, last year, he played one of the greatest games of his college career,” said senior safety Robert Smith, Jarrett’s friend and roommate. “Grady’s going to seize the moment.”
Jarrett is third in total tackles this season on a unit No. 1 nationally in total defense.
“No one outworks him, and that correlates to what he does on the field,” linebacker Tony Steward said. “Doing what he does makes it so much easier on the linebackers. It frees us to run around and make plays. It would be a whole lot harder if those guys weren’t soaking up blockers.”
In last year’s game, Clemson limited USC to 315 yards, limiting the Gamecocks between the tackles.
“We defended the run pretty well, but we didn’t create the kind of pressure that we needed up front, whether we’re blitzing guys or just rushing four,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “You’ve got to beat guys. You’ve got to win 1-on-1 matchups. Teams that have beaten them this year, that’s one thing that they have done.”
Jarrett was troubled by the result last year.
“It was tough, really tough, probably had one of the better games of my career,” he said. “I felt terrible after that game, to see the hurt in my teammates and my coaches as a family.”
Much of the focus this week has been on turnovers and how big a role they played in Clemson’s fifth consecutive loss. A reporter asked if the game was in Clemson’s head.
Nobody gets in my head,” Jarrett said.
Making plays comes naturally. A former championship wrestler from a long pedigree of successful athletes, Jarrett could continue his football career after Clemson. Listed generously at 6-foot-1 and 290 pounds, Jarrett projects as a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, according to a pair of scouting sites, a prototypical nose in a three-down front scheme and the No. 6 defensive tackle on the board.
All that is secondary to ending the streak, reclaiming bragging rights and easing a measure of disappointment this season.
“We need to bring the state championship back to Clemson,” Jarrett said. “The time is here to redeem ourselves.”