When it was time for a laugh, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney showed he can spin a good yarn with the best.
But when it was time to talk football, Swinney sounded like a preacher delivering a Sunday-morning sermon.
Swinney was in Rock Hill on Friday as the first “speaking engagement” for the recently formed Trojans Touchdown Club, started to help support Northwestern's football program. Clemson opens the season next Saturday at home against Middle Tennessee.
After shaking a few hands, signing autographs and posing with fans for photos, Swinney was rushed to an awaiting plane to attend a 2 p.m. meeting in Clemson before holding practice.
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“I accepted this invitation for several reasons, but first because of Moose (Northwestern football coach Jimmy Wallace),” Swinney said. “They don't get any better. I remember one night he sat in my office and we talked football to 12:30 in the morning and that's something both of us enjoy doing. He's the kind of people you want to have young kids around.
“Isn't it fitting that I'm here today? I've experienced a lot of exciting firsts this year, running my first spring practice, beginning my first full season as a head coach. This is the first event for your Trojans Touchdown Club and I get to be here with you. And I'm in the home of last year's punter, Jimmy Maners, who played at Northwestern. He's quite a character. He came on strong for us last season.”
The program was held in downtown Rock Hill at the City Club. The goal was to sell 250 tickets at $25 each to cover expenses. The dining hall was packed.
“We started this club to help support the football team in addition to what our booster club, one of the best around, does,” TTC president Merritt King said. “This has been two years in the making and we have 50 members in just two weeks. We will hold meetings and events to raise money, but this was not one of them. This was the first of many speaking engagements we have planned.”
What better way to kick off than with Swinney commandeering the room? He was promoted to head coach last year after Tommy Bowden stepped down. The interim label was removed after the led the Tigers to a strong finish that ended with a loss to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl.
Swinney gave a rundown of each unit, saying the strengths of this year's team are the offensive and defensive lines. He talked about Kyle Parker winning the starting quarterback job based his preseason performance, but said former Byrnes standout Willy Korn will play.
“Kyle earned the right to start, and it was a good competition,” Swinney said, “but we haven't played a game this year. When we do there will be 11 of us and 11 of them, 22 players on the field and 86,000 in the stands. And we had a good recruiting year that includes 12 players we call our Dandy Dozen. Most will be redshirted.
“What we want to do is make sure we do the little things. We want to get our swagger back and to do that we've asked for three basic things: Effort in everything our players do; intensity, which will allow us to stay focused, and aggressiveness. Notice I didn't mention talent.”
Swinney said freshman defensive back Jonathan Meeks, a former Rock Hill Bearcats standout, has progressed well and will play this season.