Clemson

Dabo Swinney, the Clemson Tigers and a championship destiny

COURTESY OF RACHEL BARIBEAU
COURTESY OF RACHEL BARIBEAU

Destiny: The predetermined, usually inevitable or irresistible, course of events. (Dictionary.com)

Fourteen days before Clemson met Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, I was invited to speak to the team. I had had no idea that what I thought was a chance meeting years before would lead me right to the football meeting room at Clemson.

When I left the facility that day, I knew, deep down, this team was destined for greatness. I knew it was bound for the mountaintop — the College Football Playoff championship game in Tampa. I knew they were going to stake a Clemson flag at the summit.

Unbeknownst to many, Clemson already had been to one mountaintop. Two years and eight months before, the Tigers’ logo, emblazoned on hats and shirts, flew proudly atop Mt. Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest freestanding mountain, at 19,341 feet.

RELATED: HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ to feature Kevin Turner’s battle with ALS

Talk about foreshadowing.

Clemson’s first mountaintop

Kevin Turner, a former Alabama fullback and recipient of the hallowed Ed Block Courage Award in the NFL, walked into my radio studio in 2011, not long after he was diagnosed with ALS. When our interview ended  I realized my life would never be the same. Some people instantly do that to you. Turner’s goodness, his bravery, his sense of humor were palpable.

He was living with ALS, but while he had ALS, ALS never had him.

Fast forward two years later, and nine people, myself included, were attempting to summit Kilimanjaro for Turner and ALS awareness. We made it up that mountain with the help of Dabo Swinney.

Swinney was a teammate of Turner’s at Alabama. A scrawny walk-on who never forgot his friend, Swinney made motivational videos for us to keep our spirits raised as we prepared to trek up that mountain in a blizzard. As a token of appreciation, we carried Clemson gear to the summit for photos.

When I prepared to speak to the Clemson football team last month, there was one person I had to see before taking the microphone: Nolan Turner, Kevin’s son. Nolan is a freshman defensive back at Clemson who now plays for his father’s teammate; how the circle is unbroken.

I hugged him and told him how much his father had changed my life in such a small amount of time. I told him that I live to make Jesus and his father proud. I gave him one last meaningful hug before walking in to address the team.

What I still find to be the most miraculous part of my speech to the team is that Swinney never asked me for my notes. Not an outline, not one bullet point. He was operating on faith, his calling card.

Faith that my reputation for having an affect on young players was true, faith that I was worth the leap, faith that my words would ring true in his players’ minds and hearts long after my visit.

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