CLEMSON - One year ago Thursday night, the rumors - quickly confirmed as truth - spread on social media like wildfire.
Howard's Rock vandalized? Tarnished? How?
Even more incredibly, as it would be revealed a few weeks later, by a Clemson fan?
To the credit of Clemson investigators and officials, the hubbub lasted about a month. Three men were arrested for their involvement in the vandalism of Memorial Stadium's 48-year-old artifact. Micah Rogers, 18, was charged with the actual deed of chipping off about 15 percent of Howard's Rock.
Well before football season rolled around with a Death Valley showdown against visiting Georgia, most of the shock and fallout from the news of June 12, 2013, had subsided.
One year later, life moves on. In court, the case is expected to drag on into fall. On campus, Howard's Rock is guarded like it's the Hope Diamond.
In the hearts of Clemson fans, well, they should feel lucky. Not all ruined keepsakes make such a graceful comeback.
The legal side
Justice has been patient in this matter, which projects to age past the typical range of 12-18 months to resolve these types of general sessions cases in South Carolina.
W. Walter Wilkins, the solicitor handling the case, is hoping to schedule Rogers' trial in October.
"This case has gone on a little bit longer than I certainly would have liked," Wilkins told The Post and Courier, "but it's the unique nature of the case that has required us to complete our investigation so we can present and advocate a trial."
The original affidavit submitted by Clemson University Police Captain Eric Hendricks charged Rogers with a misdemeanor (trespassing and unlawful entry into enclosed places) and a felony (malicious injury to personal property valued between $2,000 and $10,000).
The latter provides the hangup. How does one place a price on a rock, as iconic as this one is?
"This is not your typical damaged property case," Wilkins said. "One of the elements we must prove is the value, over a certain amount of money, per the statute. That decides what court it's in, if it's a magistrate court or general sessions court, and it decides what the possible penalties are."
Once Rogers' trial concludes, the solicitor's office will turn its attention to the other two men arraigned last summer - Michael Rogers (Micah's father) and Alden James Gainey, then 17. Both were charged with felony counts of conspiracy and obstruction of justice.
Rogers' white 1993 Ford F-250 truck, caught on video in the days preceding his arrest, is adorned with a Clemson tag on the front a Tiger Paw sticker on the back window.
Wilkins has long been done searching for any further suspects - "we know everyone who was involved," he said. However, the stolen chunk of Howard's Rock is still missing.
"We followed any and all leads that were made available to us," Wilkins said. "Of course, Clemson would love the recovery of the portion of the rock, but that has not occurred."
Following the vandalism, Clemson officials spent two months formulating a plan to protect Howard's Rock in the future.
"We had gotten, I don't want to say lazy, but we just weren't really paying attention," said Van Hilderbrand, Clemson associate athletic director of event management. "Now we pay a little more attention on a day-to-day basis of what's going on in that stadium."
The new security measures were implemented in August. Two spotlights brighten Howard's Rock from dusk to dawn, plus a mounted camera points downward from the east end zone scoreboard directly at the pedestal, monitored by Clemson University police.
"They can see the rock 24/7," Hilderbrand said, "if they want to look at it."
When a passersby approaches the rock, he or she is informed by a voice-activated warning triggered by a motion detector, "you're now being videoed by the Clemson University Police Department."
A new Plexiglas cover is armed with sensors. If the rock is shaken or moved - but not touched - an alarm sounds in the police department, located just outside the stadium.
Finally, Memorial Stadium is no longer an open house when nobody's around. Previously, it was easy enough to walk the perimeter and find an unlocked gate. That random access is no more.
"We've got it well-protected, I think," Hilderbrand said.
Ask the folks down in Auburn about somebody messing with tradition.
Alabama fan Harvey Updyke poisoned the famed Toomer's Oaks after Auburn's football victory over the Crimson Tide in 2010. Three years later, the trees were deemed unsalvageable and chopped down, replaced by a wiring system so fans may still roll toilet paper after victories.
Clemson fared much better. At least 85 percent of its prized rock is preserved and the pregame ritual of players and coaches rubbing it on their way down The Hill lives on.
"We feel like Howard's Rock did prevail in this event," said Hilderbrand, a 1974 Clemson graduate. "We obviously did have to do some new things, new security measures, that type of thing, but unfortunately we see that happen a lot around the world these days."
Howard's Rock is under glass most the time, though it's uncovered for camps, recruits, gamedays and special occasions.
Someday, the vandalism will be remembered as a note in a history book, a story grandparents tell their grandkids, and luckily for Clemson fans, nothing more than that.
"It gave us a little wake-up call to be more attentive," Hilderbrand said, "but in the end, the rock is still there."
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