CLEMSON — Tanner Muse's girlfriend won't be rooting for Clemson on Saturday. The Tigers' senior defensive back understands.
"She's got obligations," Muse said, smiling. "She's got to do her job."
Regan Hendrix, a South Carolina junior, and Muse have been dating for five months. But Hendrix has been a Gamecocks fan all her life and is a member of USC's dance team, the Carolina Girls. She'll be on the home team's sideline inside Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday when the Tigers play South Carolina, and she conceded she is excited to see Muse play.
But Hendrix didn't hesitate when asked of her ideal outcome.
"Definitely a Gamecocks win," she said.
Many Clemson and South Carolina fans share an unspoken tension, given the rivalry's long history; the schools' football teams first played in 1896. That Muse and Hendrix, who grew up in Lexington about 15 miles from Columbia, find themselves on opposite sides is hardly a source of discontent, though.
Hendrix did catch some flack from friends when word got out she was dating a Clemson football player and Tigers' games suddenly became appointment viewing. But she ensured her friends she wasn't rooting for Clemson — only its starting free safety.
Hendrix and Muse, one of the leaders of the Tigers' ACC-leading defense, first connected through social media. They decided to meet in person, and Greenville provided the backdrop for their first date. They went to an axe-throwing place and then gobbled up sushi.
"It's been history ever since," Hendrix said.
She's attended a couple of Clemson games this season. She said she gets "butterflies" when she watches Muse play.
"It's just an overwhelming joy to see your man out there doing so well," she said. "He's such a strong leader and a dynamic football player."
She's not alone in that sentiment. Muse has taken on more of a leadership role this year given the Tigers' mass exodus of veteran defensive linemen from last season's team.
Through 11 games, Muse leads the team in interceptions (four), is fifth in tackles (41) and is tied for fourth in sacks (two).
He had a particularly impactful performance Nov. 16 in the Tigers' 52-3 win over Wake Forest, before which he was honored as part of the program's senior day festivities. In the first half he recorded four sacks, an interception and a sack before resting over the final two quarters.
Muse's family had been looking forward to the South Carolina game, in part because his brother, Nick, a junior tight end, transferred to the Gamecocks before the start of this season.
Nick recently suffered a torn ligament in the ACL in his right knee, ending his season, but the intrastate rivalry was still a topic of conversation during a Muse family dinner this past weekend, Hendrix said.
"It's such a cute family rivalry," she said.
Muse's parents will be in attendance Saturday, with one in a South Carolina jersey and one in a Clemson jersey, sitting along the 50-yard line behind the Clemson bench.
His mother, Shannon, told Hendrix she wants to snap a photo of the couple with each in their respective uniforms.
That's fine by Hendrix, who, along with her teammates, will be stationed on the Gamecocks sideline. But during the game she plans to support her university.
"I'm going to cheer for the Gamecocks and hope that they pull out a win," she said. "I'm also super excited to see Tanner play."