Watson’s new book reflects on his journey from growing up in Gainesville to becoming the starting quarterback for the Houston Texans
During football season, there is no place like Clemson. No other place that’s so wall-to-wall with alumni and fans. No other place where you can find anything — and I mean anything — in orange.
Orange campers festooned with Tiger Paws roll into town on Thursdays and Fridays; orange tents are set up pole-to-pole on Saturday mornings; orange grills are lit; and Clemson-themed drinks are mixed in parking lots and fields across the campus and the town. Orange-clad fans you’ve never met before will pull up a chair, add some drinks to the cooler, and watch the game with you outside the stadium. It’s a party like nowhere else.
When Madison Williams graduated in May with a graphic communications degree, she walked the red carpet while her classmates crossed the stage at Littlejohn Coliseum.
The Newbury, Massachusetts, native represented Clemson at the Cannes Film Festival in France, where her 5-minute documentary on a passionate Tiger football fan was screened alongside the work of the world’s most renowned filmmakers.
“It’s a dream come true, and I have the opportunities presented to me at Clemson and many of the talented people here to thank for it,” the College of Business graduate said.
Williams’ documentary, “136,” is a story about Bryson Carter of Anderson, who lost his sight as a student here but whose love for Clemson football has led him to attend 136 consecutive (now 150) games. She originally produced the documentary to compete in Campus Movie Fest at Clemson last February. Her work advanced to a national competition and eventually was selected to be screened as part of Cannes’ Short Film Corner.
“I have been blessed to have so many people who nurtured me on my journey to becoming a professional videographer,” Williams said. “There are too many to mention, but some of the most influential were people like Nik Conklin, Jeff Kallin and Jonathan Gantt in the athletic department; Craig Mahaffey and Jesse Godfrey in University Relations and Erica Walker, one of my graphic communications instructors.”
Inspiration for the documentary on Carter came from their chance meeting at the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. “Bryson and I shared a ride to the train station in Arizona, and he started talking about his passion for football,” Williams said. “He visualizes the game through the announcers’ commentary and the energy the fans paint in his mind. His story nearly brought me to tears.”
Telling stories comes naturally to Williams, but she had to work to develop her visual communication skills. “At a very early age, I wanted to be behind the lens,” she said. “I made music videos and filmed plays with my very patient sister. Then, in high school, I filmed the football team’s highlight reels and knew this was something I wanted as a lifelong pursuit.”
A year later, she was at Clemson studying graphic communications. Internships at Clemson and in Massachusetts primed her for a role on the Clemson Athletics social media team, where she cut her teeth as a visual communicator for the volleyball team. With the French Riviera experience a memory, Williams is looking forward.
“Right now, I’m looking for visual storytelling roles similar to what I do at Clemson,” she said. “Wherever I land, I know my education here, inside and outside the classroom, has put me in a great position to succeed. I’m very excited to see where my Clemson experience will take me next.”
December and January were fun-filled months for all Clemson fans, but for alumni from Florida and Arizona, there was even more excitement as they welcomed alumni and fans from all over the country. The Florida Clemson Clubs, IPTAY and the Alumni Association joined together to host a welcome event for more than 600 members of the Clemson Family at Ferg’s Depot in Orlando the night before the ACC Championship game.
The next morning, Tigers from all over the country volunteered to make a difference in the local community and beyond by volunteering for a “Clean the World” event in Orlando. Volunteers sorted soap and personal hygiene products that would be distributed to homeless shelters nationwide and developing countries in an effort to prevent hygiene-related deaths.
Later in the day, more than 1,500 gathered at the alumni tailgate outside of the stadium before heading in to cheer on the Tigers over Virginia Tech.
For the Fiesta Bowl in Glendale, Arizona, the Arizona Clemson Club, IPTAY and the Clemson Alumni Association hosted a pre-game gathering in Glendale’s Westgate Entertainment District for more than 1,200 Clemson alumni and fans who were gearing up to cheer on the Tigers against Ohio State.
While in Arizona, 75 Clemson family members volunteered alongside Ohio State alumni and fans at St. Mary’s Food Bank as a service project to help make a difference in Arizona during the Fiesta Bowl festivities.
Volunteering in the community continued on through the national championship weekend. While in Tampa, the Clemson Alumni Association, Tampa Clemson Club and alumni, friends and fans from all over the country began the weekend by volunteering at Matthew 25 Saturday Hot Meal. At First Presbyterian Church of Tampa, more than 30 members of the Clemson family served hot meals provided by Metropolitan Ministries to the hungry and the homeless. Volunteers also worked in the Home Depot Clothing Closet distributing clothing items to those in need.
In addition to the service event, the Clemson Alumni Association hosted a pre-game tailgate for 2,600 fans outside Raymond James Stadium, in preparation for cheering the Tigers on to victory as 2016 National Champions.
Fans of Clemson Tigers football may recognize Tony Elliott. You’ll find him alongside Dabo Swinney on Saturdays in the fall, figuring out how to penetrate defenses and move the ball across the goal line.
Elliott serves as co-offensive coordinator and running backs coach, but his connection to the university runs all the way back to his days as a player and student in the College of Engineering and Science.
While playing wide receiver for the Tigers, Elliott managed a rare feat. He excelled in one of higher education’s most demanding sports and one of its most rigorous academic programs.
Elliott graduated with a degree in industrial engineering in 2002 with a team-high 3.55 GPA. He lettered four times, finishing with 34 receptions for 455 yards and two scores. A survey of Clemson players conducted by the Anderson Independent Mail in his senior year found that he was the team’s “most respected player.”
After graduation, Elliott worked for Michelin North America for two years. He later returned to coaching at South Carolina State and Furman University before coming home to Clemson.
Industrial engineering is a natural fit for football. Students learn to look at entire systems and processes involved, which are key skills on the field.
Cole Smith, the chair of the Department of Industrial Engineering, recently sat down with Elliott on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium to learn more about his formula for success.
The excerpts have been edited for brevity.
Smith: How did you manage being in one of the most difficult academic programs, while balancing time for one of its most demanding teams?
Elliott: First and foremost, I had tremendous support. I had tremendous support from the football side. Obviously, Vickery Hall provides resources to stay up to speed in the classroom. But then I also had great support from the industrial engineering department and the student body as well. You have to manage a lot. There are a lot of sacrifices that have to be made. When your buddies are going out and hanging out on a Thursday night and a Friday night, you’re in the library.
Smith: You had some good mentorship as a student but also professionally. How has that played a role growing up, and what would you recommend for other students currently in the program to look for in a mentor or mentoring program?
Elliott: Just as in football, in life you can’t do it by yourself. You’ve got to have people that you’re connected to who can help you through the tough times, who can give you advice to help you prepare for the future. The advice that I would give to students in the program now is surround yourself with other students within the program who are likeminded, who understand the importance of teamwork. That’s how I survived industrial engineering. If you want to be successful, we tell our guys all the time, ‘Sit in front of the class. Create a relationship with the professor and engage so that you can build that relationship.’ If you come upon a tough time, you’ll have somebody in your corner to help you.
Smith: So you never got to the point where you thought, ‘I’ve got to give up one or the other?’
Elliott: There were plenty of days when I thought, ‘Man, what am I doing?’ But my journey to get to Clemson was a little bit different, a little bit unique. I started at the Air Force Academy to play football, and then I decided to come Clemson and (at first) not play football. So when I decided to play football at Clemson, it put it in perspective. I understood that it was a privilege and that it was secondary to my education.
Smith: What lesson from industrial engineering sticks with you the most?
Elliott: The thing I learned from industrial engineering that I take every day is just the engineering, methodical thought process (that goes into) preparation. Football is all about preparation. I think a lot of people come in and they see me on Saturdays, but there are a lot of hours that go into preparing for Saturday. You just make sure you’re being effective and efficient with your time, that you have a strategy in place. And the strategy is going to change week to week.
Smith: You must be seeing a huge amount of increased attention on data and analytics and decision-making. How much have you seen that come in, especially in the use of technology, in college football?
Elliott: It’s changed tremendously. There are a lot of firms and companies that have come into play. They’re taking that data and using an engineering perspective to really, really break it down and make it detailed. And it helps us tremendously. You really want to be efficient and effective in your preparation, and now there are services that have created programs to where that information is automatically calculated.
Smith: How much of your success is due to talent, and how much is due to persistence and hard work?
Elliott: I’d like to say that I’ve been very blessed from an academic standpoint. Things, especially in the math world, early on came easy to me. But I would say it’s more hard work and, again, relationships with individuals who could help me along the way when I didn’t understand something. They could put it in a format that I could understand. So I think there is talent, but I would say that hard work will outwork talent. We tell guys all the time talent is one thing, but it’s the hard work and determination that takes that talent to the next level. We all have a certain amount of natural talent, but you can elevate your natural talent to a higher platform if you put that hard work and dedication to it.
Smith: So we’ve established that there’s nothing that you can’t do. Give us something surprising that you can do that people don’t about.
Elliott: I don’t know if it’s surprising, but I like to snowboard. I don’t have a whole lot of time, so I’m not very good at it. But I do enjoy snowboarding. There are several things I have to work at. But, ultimately, I think if you put your mind to it and you’re dedicated to putting in the hard work that you’ll be successful.
Robert P. “Bob” Mayberry Jr., who passed away in 2012 after a battle with cancer, was a member of Clemson’s much-touted 1981 National Championship football team. When his friends and family remember him, however, it’s not for his exploits on the field. They remember the way he went about helping other people. “Quietly and without the need for recognition,” is the way Kendall Alley ’83, M ’85, another member of that team, describes it.
So when Mayberry’s friends and family thought about how to honor his memory, they settled on a scholarship endowment that would provide partial scholarships to football trainers and/or managers. “We are confident it would have been Bob’s dream to honor those who work hard day in and day out with no expectation of recognition beyond that which accrues to the whole team,” said Mark Richardson ’83, a member of the committee that initiated the effort. Alley referred to the team managers and trainers as “the unsung individuals who are so important to the football team’s success.”
In the Clemson football equipment room, you can find one of those unsung heroes. Chris Egan operates under the same philosophy that characterized Bob Mayberry. He quietly goes about his job of cleaning helmets, organizing gear and toting bags of footballs on and off the field.
Egan’s life has not been easy. His family moved around 11 times before he was 12 years old, so his mother home-schooled six children. When he was 13, his father left, and his mother went to work outside the home, still managing to homeschool the kids. Chris dropped out of school at 14, working odd jobs to help support the family.
During what was supposed to be his senior year in high school, he took the ACT and spent a year at Greenville Tech; the next summer he worked at Camps Hope and Sertoma, based at Clemson’s Outdoor Lab. It was during that summer, working with special-needs adults and kids from underprivileged families, that he began to find his calling.
The next year, he transferred to Tri-County Tech, continuing to work at the Outdoor Lab. A chance meeting with Alphonso Smith, head of equipment for Clemson football, would prove beneficial. Egan applied to Clemson, knowing he would have to pay his way through loans and part-time work. He contacted Smith, who hired him for a position, one with long hours and not much recognition.
Being an equipment manager is not Egan’s only job. He lives and works at the Outdoor Lab as well. And he works with the ClemsonLIFE program, teaching classes for young adults with disabilities. During the summer, he is assistant director of the two camps at the Outdoor Lab. Along the way, he has finished his degree in history and begun a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on working with nonprofits.
When the scholarship committee came looking for recommendations, equipment manager Abe Reed answered without hesitation. During spring practice, Reed stopped Egan on the way out of practice, took the ball bags from him and told him he needed to talk with someone. Heart in his throat, not knowing what to expect, Egan went in to find Mark Richardson waiting for him. The two talked about the scholarship and about Mayberry, and Richardson had a chance to gauge the young man for himself before signing off on the selection.
For Chris Egan, what does a scholarship like this mean? Egan says his first reaction was “total shock.”
“In my family,” he says, “we’ve always worked very hard for everything. Hearing about that almost made me tear up — helping me get through the rest of school and pay off my loans.” For someone who sees his future as working with special-needs adults, it’s particularly meaningful. “It frees me up to do what I want to do, which doesn’t involve a lot of income. It’s pretty incredible.”
When asked what advice he’d share with other students, he pauses. “Paying for it on my own gave it extra meaning for me. Every class I took, every grade I got — it was all mine. I’d encourage students to do that — there needs to be some ownership with school and with work — realizing that you’re signing your name on everything you do, whether it’s sweeping the floor or doing a presentation for 200 people.”
Chris Egan signs his name on a lot these days. Without looking for any recognition or special attention. Just the kind of thinking Bob Mayberry would appreciate.