RALEIGH, N.C. – Talk about your Jumbo package.
Clemson offensive guard John Simpson is used to opening up holes for rushing touchdowns, not scoring them.
With four minutes and 30 seconds left in the second quarter and Clemson already leading but four touchdowns, Simpson lined up at running back with the end zone just a yard-and-a-half away.
The former Fort Dorchester High School offensive lineman showed some nimble feet and that he’s more than just a bruising blocker, plowing his way into the end zone on a 1-yard TD run to give the Tigers a five touchdown lead in Clemson’s 55-10 victory over North Carolina State Saturday night at Carter-Finley Stadium.
It was Simpson’s first touchdown – ever. Simpson had never scored a TD, not in youth football, not in middle school or high school.
“Yep, I’ve never scored a touchdown, so that’s big news,” said Simpson with a huge grin after the game. “First time in my life. You don’t get too many opportunities to run the ball when you’re an offensive lineman. When I scored, I was trying to keep my composure as much as I could, but I was going crazy inside.”
Simpson, a senior, was pressed into duty in the Tigers’ short-yardage package after defensive lineman Xavier Thomas was injured and missed the last three weeks.
“We’ve been waiting for the right situation to use (Simpson),” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “When we got the ball at about the 1-yard line we were going to put John out there. He probably can’t run it much further than that. It was awesome. He’s been playing football for a long, long time. He’s never scored a touchdown in his entire life. He’s always been the big guy, playing on the line, always too heavy to run the ball so that was a pretty cool moment.”
This isn’t the first time that Swinney has used unconventional ball carriers near the goal line. Former defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins commonly trotted onto the field for the Tigers’ short yardage “heavy” packages.
“It’s great that coach Swinney and our coaching staff rewards guys like John who work so hard,” said Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence. “It was awesome to be part of that moment for John. He’s certainly deserved a shot at scoring a touchdown.”
At 6-4 and 330 pounds, Simpson is not the heaviest player to ever score an offensive TD for the Tigers. That honor belongs to Dexter Lawrence, who weighed in at a hefty 343 pounds. Simpson said he considered tossing the ball into the stands after he scored, but thought better of it.
“I wanted to get a penalty, but I knew coach would get really mad if I did,” Simpson said. “I wanted to maybe throw ball to the fans, but coach Swinney would have lost his mind. He might killed me.”
Simpson is a long way off from catching running back Travis Etienne, who had three TDs against the Wolfpack and established a new school record with 54 touchdowns for his career, snapping the old mark of 51 set by C.J. Spiller. Etienne is now tied with Louisville’s Lamar Jackson for second place all-time in the ACC with 50 rushing TDs. Former Pittsburgh star James Conner holds mark with 52 rushing TDs.
Simpson hadn’t had a chance to see the replay of his TD. He said he was too busy savoring the moment with his teammates.
“I think they were happier than I was,” Simpson said.
Simpson wasn’t the only Charleston area player to make it into the end zone for the Tigers Saturday night. Former First Baptist High School star running back Michel Dukes scored on a 1-yard run for the Tigers with 11 seconds left in regulation.