CLEMSON — Among the few remaining quiet hours before the offseason gives way to the regular season, Jeff Davis laughs off the weight of any outside motivations or distractions.
A proud member of Clemson’s Ring of Honor, Davis no longer impacts the football program with third-down tackles and locker room speeches. Clemson’s director of player personnel welcomes those who take the field Saturday into the comfort of his second-floor office at Memorial Stadium’s WestZone and counsels their mindset for moments like these.
Not that they should require much help, in Davis’ eyes.
“We know that we’re playing against one of the best teams in the nation. One of the best programs in the nation. The conference that everybody is talking and marveling about,” Davis said. “If you can’t get ready for them, if you haven’t prepared for this day before that day comes, then I think we better check your pulse.”
From dropping a magazine cover picturing quarterback Tajh Boyd in the trash can for emphasis in a team meeting, to the countless statements to media dialing down the noise, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s done all he can to insist expectations from the fans, the media and the college football landscape are actually relatively low.
Relatively low, compared to the hopes and dreams of players and coaches who have spent the past 242 days of the offseason hearing how great they are.
“Appreciate people having high expectations for us,” Swinney said to open his remarks at ACC Media Days last month. “But I can assure you they’re not any higher than what we have for ourselves.”
Sure, a few pundits here and there say Florida State defends its ACC crown. But the overwhelming majority of those with a voice — media members, the Twitterverse, et cetera — say Clemson’s the team to beat.
However, those ACC goals are deferred for a couple more weeks. Georgia beckons, Clemson awaits, and much of the nation watches two programs knocking on the door of national prominence try to rip its hinges off against one another as they dust off an old rivalry Saturday night in Death Valley.
Season-opening games, especially marquee matchups, take on a life of their own because there’s so much summertime to talk about them. However, to Davis, it’s just that: talk.
“When they blow that whistle on Saturday night, (those people) are gonna be in the stands,” Davis said. “There’s only going to be 11 that play between the lines. Whatever’s in those 11, that’s what’s going to come out.”
Swinney joked in his final press conference of the 2013 preseason he’d lock his players in a WiFi-less basement if he had to, if it meant blocking out the blinding spotlight.
In all seriousness, however, Clemson coaches are pleased with how the Tigers have approached the attention.
“There is hype around the game, but not in this building,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Unless you’re part of the cheerleading crew.”
Of course, it’s impossible for the moment not to seep into the psyches of young, excitable college football players who openly talk about dreaming of these games as little kids.
A team captain of the national championship-winning Tigers in 1981, Davis believes success comes not necessarily from victory or defeat, but the constant journey to marry ‘I will’ with ‘I did.’
“That’s what these types of games are about,” Davis said. “I’ve put the work in. The opportunity has presented itself. I want to seize the moment. And I want to seize it because of all the days I worked in that weight room, all the days I went out there and did skills and drills when I didn’t want to. When I was in class with a headache. When I didn’t want to go to class. Seize it all.”
The pep talker leans back in his chair. He’s done. No, not quite.
“No pressure,” Jeff Davis concludes, with a hearty laugh.
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