It has taken some Clemson players longer than others to find out how important the rivalry with South Carolina is, but throughout their lives and football careers they have come to understand why the Battle of the Palmetto State means so much.
Most in-state players picked between USC and Clemson at an early age. Tigers linebacker Ben Boulware of Anderson remembers arguing with Gamecocks friends as early as elementary school.
“One of my best friends growing up is a South Carolina fan. He’s a senior at South Carolina, still one of my good buddies. Definitely as kids our families would trash talk,” Boulware said. “It’s all in good fun, but it was definitely probably more heated growing up as kids. We probably got in some fights as little middle schoolers, but it’s all in good fun.”
Fellow in-state linebacker Kendall Joseph of Belton and BHP High followed NFL football more closely than college growing up, but once he arrived at Clemson he quickly developed a strong dislike of South Carolina.
“You naturally just get a hatred in your heart. You might not have that hatred before you get here, but when you get here that hatred naturally seeps in,” he said.
Joseph compared the rivalry to that of BHP and Daniel. He enjoys the back-and-forth with Tigers coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who both have kids playing football at Daniel.
“I hate seeing Coach Swinney walk around with his game stuff on and Coach Venables. It makes me sick,” he said. “I’m serious. I don’t like Daniel.”
Joseph added that some of his hatred of South Carolina stems from the Gamecocks winning five straight in the series from 2009-13.
“We’re still feeling that five-peat they had. We’ve got a little two-peat, but we’re still feeling what they did against us,” he said. “I was watching film of South Carolina (this week) and I just got mad watching them. I just don’t like them. That’s the kind of attitude you have to have.”
Most of the out-of-state players on Clemson’s roster were aware of the rivalry in high school but were not able to grasp the importance of it until arriving at Clemson.
Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson, who grew up in Georgia and followed the UGA-Florida rivalry as a fan of the Gators as a kid, remembers hearing from Clemson fans all week in 2014 leading up to the game against the Gamecocks.
“I didn’t feel the tension and the hate between each other, especially during the week, until my freshman year,” he said. “All games are pretty big, but this game just has a little extra juice to it just because it’s the in-state rivalry and the state championship. There’s just so much attention between the two teams and the two universities.”