COLUMBIA — He knew what transferring to an in-state rival would mean. He also knew it was his best shot at reaching his ultimate goal.
Tavien Feaster wants to play in the NFL next year, and he wasn’t going to get a great chance to show how his budding NFL skills sitting on the bench in Clemson. He decided to transfer for a final year of being the showcase running back he once was for the Tigers, and South Carolina was the most logical, comfortable spot.
Yes, the rivalry means something to him. No, he doesn’t yet know the words to USC’s fight song. Yes, he cleared three years’ worth of orange gear out of his closet and dresser (but his national championship rings are safely tucked away, where they will remain throughout this season).
No, he doesn’t regret choosing Clemson out of Spartanburg High then or any of his experiences since.
“No hesitation, because this is the best thing for Tavien. It’s Tavien’s decision, it’s Tavien’s life, and the only person that’s got to live with it is Tavien,” he said. “I believe I’m a genuine person. I believe I treat everybody with respect. If they don’t really like my decision, I just ask that they respect my decision.”
He’s heard from all sides, but Feaster knew that was going to happen. It’s rivalry, and it’s the state of the game now, where transferring might as well be listed as a course major.
Former Clemson defensive lineman Josh Belk transferred to USC, where he quit after one season. Former Clemson starting quarterback Kelly Bryant transferred to Missouri for the same reason Feaster left for USC — to play and prove his worth to NFL scouts.
So Feaster transferred to the other major college in the state, the one that will play against the best competition in the country this season (including Bryant at Missouri and many of his buddies still at Clemson). To a spot where he'll be taking handoffs from the same Jake Bentley who once defeated Feaster and Spartanburg in a 7-on-7 camp.
“They beat us, but they cheated … ” he said with a laugh.
Potential problems were vast. USC and Virginia Tech were Feaster's final two candidates, and while the Hokies offered an easier schedule (for presumed better rushing numbers) and none of the rivalry angle (Clemson doesn’t play Tech this season), USC felt better to him.
Feaster chose hearing about the rivalry deal all season and potentially alienating his new teammates over a smoother experience. While logic says the Gamecocks, without a strong running game for three years now, didn’t sign Feaster to have him sit on the bench, he arrived ignorant of any outside chatter.
Which is why when directly asked if he considers himself the No. 1 running back, he was answering before the question was finished.
“No sir, I don’t. That’s not my decision,” he said. “Those guys are great, they bring the juice every day. You get what you earn.”
Feaster was a day late for camp due to paperwork being processed, missed another day to walk in his graduation ceremony at Clemson and then had to deal with an infected tooth. But the chemistry with Rico Dowdle, Mon Denson and the rest of USC’s backs has been good, and all are following the lead of first-year running backs coach Thomas Brown.
“I think we needed more guys in the room to compete, that could play at a high level. He can definitely do that,” Brown said. “He played a bunch of ball at the other school, and a great receiver out the backfield, great hands. So we’ll see what he can do.”
Feaster’s been learning terminology, a new playbook and taking care of his past life. He and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney chatted when he graduated, Swinney congratulating and wishing him well, and Feaster returned to his new adventure.
Clemson great C.J. Spiller agreed to unretire his No. 28 when Feaster requested it, but Feaster won’t wear 28 at USC, despite it being available. He’ll wear No. 4, his middle school number.
He's adjusting to his new surroundings but admits there is one thing about Columbia he is struggling with.
“The humidity,” Feaster said. “It’s crazy. In Spartanburg, it gets hot there, but it don’t get that humid.”
The familiarity angles will be replayed several times when the Gamecocks play Missouri and Clemson, but Feaster is only ready to help his new team and continue his old path. The speed bump he hit was fixed by a change in uniform.
“The first time I put it on was a photoshoot,” he said. “I took a deep breath, looked down and said, ‘I’m here. Let’s go, let’s do it.’”