CLEMSON - Senior tight end Michael Palmer played several games last season with one arm dangling to his side, the consequence of a deep bruise above his elbow.
Before getting stitches for a separate injury sustained before his concussion at Miami three weeks ago, he ran barefoot onto the field to celebrate Clemson's overtime victory with teammates wearing spiked shoes. Palmer seemingly incurs at least one crushing hit per game, in part because he refuses not to go airborne so often.
Whatever you want to call it - toughness, stubbornness, determination - Palmer pins it on being five years younger than his brother, Justin.
"He and his friends wouldn't invite me to come play sports with them, but my mom would make them," Palmer said. "Playing basketball or football in the yard with older guys will make you tougher. There's a lot to be said for that."
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There's a lot being said recently for Palmer. Clemson coaches insist the leadership qualities of he and senior lineman Thomas Austin have willed the Tigers to the verge of the ACC Atlantic Division title.
In that sense, it is perhaps fitting that Clemson can clinch the division against Virginia, the team that spurred the Tigers into offering Palmer a scholarship.
"There has been a lot of fuel to my fire about how many people told me I wasn't going to play, I was a fallback prospect," Palmer said. "And yet, I was a fallback prospect. I don't doubt or argue that.
"So many people said I'd never play and I might end up being a contributor my senior year. I'm human. Some people read that stuff and believe it. Other people read it and want to go out and prove them wrong. The latter was definitely part of what it has been about for me."
Palmer was the lowest ranked of the Tigers' 19 signees in 2006, a two-star project out of Liliburn, Ga. A lifelong Georgia Tech fan, Palmer was told by its staff that they hoped to convert tight end commitment Austin Barrick to a defensive player.
He thought he impressed Clemson's staff during a 7-on-7 camp the summer before his senior season, yet his recruiter - former defensive assistant Ron West - held off extending an offer despite staying in contact. Palmer's perceived skill level as well as the team's numbers at tight end were potential factors.
The disappointment over the big-time programs' lack of interest carried over into his senior season, and the thought of weighing several small-school basketball offers crossed Palmer's mind.
That December, Palmer received the promise of an offer from Virginia. Palmer was intrigued by the Cavaliers, but had so enjoyed his Clemson trips that he gave the Tigers an opportunity to match with an offer.
Competition prompted the staff to offer him two weeks later, Palmer said, ending his stressful recruitment.
"When you think back on it and see these guys with 50 offers on the table, I honestly thought I was going to be one of those guys, and I thought I deserved it," Palmer said. "But looking back on it, I didn't really have to consider anything. I had it down to two schools. It was a complete blessing in disguise to not have to worry about so many options. It's funny how things work out."
In addition to his blocking skills, he has emerged as redshirt freshman quarterback Kyle Parker's go-to target on pivotal downs.
Palmer is second on the team with 27 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns, the most receptions by a tight end since 1971.
"He'll be a better coach than I'll ever dream to be, that's what kind of mind he's got," offensive coordinator Billy Napier said. "It's all about anticipation. He knows everybody's job. He knows the quarterback's read, the defensive front, he knows protections. And one of the things, because he's been so smart, we've been able to expand his role. He's been all over the field. He has a high, high retention rate. He can remember plays we ran three years ago.
"Mentally (he's) just on a whole other level, and anybody will tell you that. He's a rarity. He'll make an NFL team because somebody will give him a chance and he'll go in there and be coaching everybody on the field before it's all said and done."
Before it's said and done, Palmer wishes to find out why schools did not push harder for his services.
"I actually want to know," Palmer said. "I don't think it's possible to get lower ratings than what I got coming out of high school."