CLEMSON — Campbell Vickery sprinted back to her father Saturday morning at Clemson so giddy with excitement that her voice started to squeal.
“I’m shaking right now!” the 16-year-old Clemson fan from Greenwood told her dad as she and her high school pal, Jasmine Witt, made their way back from Clemson’s pregame Tiger Walk to their spot in the tailgating area.
Vickery’s dad grinned.
“I just touched Trevor Lawrence!” she continued.
“He’s so cool.”
And she gushed the rest of the afternoon.
Getting to high-five Clemson's freshman quarterback was worth traveling the 90 minutes to Clemson for Vickery. Even with the state of South Carolina facing uncertainties regarding what was left of Hurricane Florence.
She wasn’t alone.
Though the scene in Clemson’s parking lot suggested otherwise a couple of hours before kickoff — the normally rocking tailgating atmosphere resembled more of a ghost town — Clemson fans didn’t seem too concerned about the weather by the time kickoff rolled around for the Tigers' game against Georgia Southern.
Starting at noon instead of the regularly-scheduled time of 3:30 p.m., Clemson’s football team ran down the hill at Death Valley and took the field in front of 79,844 fans who either were not concerned about the storm or who decided that attending the game was worth any potential risks.
Clemson officials monitored the storm all week and were told the Upstate would not be impacted much, other than with heavy rain Sunday, so the Tigers pressed on. Still, Clemson took heat for not canceling the game when plenty of other schools around the Carolinas did.
But the fans didn’t care.
By 10 a.m., one family with relatives from Greenville, Columbia and Pittsburgh already had their entire spread set up for tailgating.
Myles Elliott, a former MUSC student who is now a dentist in Columbia, sat on the back of a white pickup truck with a buffet of barbecue, green beans, macaroni and cheese, two types of chips and a cooler full of water in front of him.
“We were here two years ago for Notre Dame,” he said of the 2015 game at Clemson that was played in monsoon-like conditions. “To get Tiger fans to not come, it’d probably take a lot.”
Even a group of Georgia Southern fans made the trip, with Kim Fulcher driving through the night from outside of Savannah, Ga., with her husband in order to deliver the saxophone their son forgot and needed for the Eagles’ band performance. The couple arrived in Clemson at 4:30 a.m. and slept three hours before hitting the game.
There, they met droves of fans just like Vickery and Elliott, who were not going to miss this Week 3 matchup for anything. Winds picked up in the third quarter and the stands thinned out with the Tigers winning big on their way to a 38-7 victory, but the efforts did not go unnoticed, as Clemson coach Dabo Swinney pointed out in his postgame press conference.
"I told our players after the game just how fortunate we are to be at a place like Clemson. I didn’t really know. To be quite honest with you, I thought we’d probably have a pretty average crowd for Clemson standards today. Just a pretty chaotic week," Swinney said. "There’s still a tremendous amount of devastation that a lot of people are dealing with. Floods, people losing homes and some people have lost their lives, and cars, and just total disruption in their lives.
"But I told our guys today that hopefully we can maybe take somebody’s mind off of what they’re dealing with, their reality a little bit. So be mindful of how we play."