Swinney also understands that if you’re going to win a championship — or championships — a good place to start is the defensive line.
“We’ve built the program from the inside out,” Swinney said. “The quarterbacks and skill players get all the flash and pizzazz. But there’s no question about it: Our team and program have been built from the inside out in the trenches.”
The defending national champions (even though Swinney dismisses the notion that the Tigers are defending anything) reminded the college football world yet again on Saturday that their dominance up front defensively is as much a part of Clemson’s heritage as orange tiger paws, Howard’s Rock and running down the hill.
“The guys who came before me, they set the stage and laid the foundation — the Vic Beasleys, the DeShawn Williamses, the Grady Jarretts,” said Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s All-American centerpiece to a defensive line that spearheaded an 11-sack performance in the 14-6 win over Auburn, one off the Clemson school record for sacks.
“Those guys are part of our inspiration to work so hard. We know we have to do it right for the guys who came before us. Since Coach Swinney has been the head coach, we have a long list of guys who’ve come through Clemson and torn it up on the defensive line. It’s our job to live up to that and keep that tradition and legacy going.”
Only LSU (14) has had more defensive linemen taken in the last 10 NFL drafts than Clemson (13). In the last three NFL drafts alone, Clemson has had six defensive linemen selected. Last season, 11 former Clemson defensive linemen had jobs on NFL teams. This year, there were eight former Clemson defensive linemen on NFL opening-day rosters, albeit two have transitioned to outside linebacker in the pros.
“I wish people could see how we practice every day. If you don’t bring it, then your brother is going to challenge you,” said Clemson junior defensive end Austin Bryant, who tied a school record with four sacks against Auburn. “That’s how we do it here, and that’s how the standard has been set, getting talented guys here who want to work and want contribute to the team first, and then everything else will fall into place.”
Wilkins added: “If you’re not willing to compete here and want to take a day off in practice, you’re going to get exposed.”