Clemson football alum Clelin Ferrell had just finished his shift at an autograph session Saturday. But on his way out, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Ferrell stopped and sat on the floor next to a man, who was carrying an Army backpack, according to a witness who snapped a now-viral picture of the ensuing exchange.
Spartanburg resident Josh Gibson was at Saturday’s autograph session at Greenville’s Haywood Mall, which featured a smattering of players from Clemson’s national championship team signing autographs in different time slots throughout the day.
Ferrell had reached the end of his time slot and was on his way out when he spotted a fan wearing a Clemson “Ring Season” shirt sitting on the floor, and in front of him a camouflage backpack bearing the U.S. Army logo, according to Gibson.
“He didn’t have an agent, he didn’t have anybody with him,” Gibson said of Ferrell. “He just went over, sat down and started talking with the guy.”
They were in earshot of fans still waiting in line for autographs who could hear parts of the conversation, Gibson said.
Ferrell asked the man about his story and if he was a veteran, Gibson said. Then he handed the man a purple Clemson jersey bearing Ferrell’s name and number, 99.
“Clelin told the guy, ‘These are the jerseys we wear on Military Appreciation Day once a year to honor our veterans,” Gibson said. “He wrote several inscriptions on the shirt on the numbers.”
The unidentified man had paid to stand in line and get another item signed, Gibson said. “Clelin just took it a step further.”
“He even tried to kind of sneak away from the moment, but it was already too late,” Gibson said, adding that as Ferrell stood up, the crowd started applauding.
Gibson took a photo of the exchange, which shows Ferrell shaking hands with the man and has been shared nearly 4,000 times as of Monday afternoon.
Ferrell, who recorded 11.5 sacks during the Tigers national title-winning season, told reporters at the NFL combine recently that his mother and father both were in the military.
“My mom, she served in Desert Storm. My father was in Vietnam; he passed away when I was 13,” Ferrell said. “And that was really, really big for me because they loved the aspect of just integrity. They always demanded that I did the right things, went about my business the right way and did it in a manner where it was respectful.
“They were really big on not hanging around the wrong people,” he continued. “They always talked to me about making sure that I keep the right company. So it was just a lot of different things that they drew from the military and brought into my life.”
Reporter Josh Kendall contributed.