All Relative: Clemson coaches, sons share title legacy
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Amid the plans and preparations, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney caught himself daydreaming of the special moment he and sons Will and Drew could share Monday night.
The Swinney family has enjoyed national championships before. Another one, the coach acknowledged, when the second-ranked Tigers take on No. 1 Alabama in Santa Clara would be even more special with Will the Tigers’ sophomore holder and younger brother Drew as a freshman receiver.
“It’s just unique for me to be able to have this experience with my kids,” he said.
Although maybe not so unique at Clemson, where several coaches and players share family and championship ties.
Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables coaches first-year linebacker Jake Venables, his oldest son. Two years ago, Clemson linebackers J.D. and Judah Davis, the twin sons of Tigers 1981 national title team defensive leader Jeff Davis, helped Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 for the program’s first championship since their dad’s time.
Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott earned a national title ring from 2016 to match his father, Brad, who accomplished the same as Florida State offensive coordinator in 1993. Brad has worked with Clemson’s football program to help incoming recruits with paperwork and the process of enrolling.
Backup quarterback Ben Batson, who played the part of Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa on the scout team, is the son of Clemson’s longtime strength and conditioning coach. Ben’s brother, Michael, was a punter on the 2016 title team.
Tigers tight end J.C. Chalk is the grandson of ex-Alabama coach Gene Stallings, who was Swinney’s coach with the Crimson Tide when that team won the national title in 1992.
And Tigers sophomore receiver Amari Rodgers looks to match his father, Tee Martin, who won a national championship in 1998 as Tennessee’s quarterback.
“When we say Clemson is family, we mean it,” Will Swinney said.
And one steeped in titles.
J.D. Davis, a senior who started seven games the past two years, remembers how he and his brother, Judah, loved hearing about Clemson from their father, nicknamed “The Judge” for his decisive hits. Jeff, currently Clemson’s assistant athletic director for player relations, was an All-American and led the Tigers in tackles in 1981.
It was a legacy the Davis brothers wanted to continue and enhance.
“I can’t put into words what we felt two years ago” in beating Alabama, J.D. Davis said. “It’s a bond not many fathers and sons have.”
Jeff couldn’t be prouder of his sons’ hard work and how it has helped the program succeed. Watching his guys win surpassed his own happiness at winning a title 35 years earlier. “First of all, anytime your children can experience something you consider monumental in your life, I think any decent parent wants that,” the elder Davis said. “It’s just sheer joy.”
Will Swinney was right next to his father, mother Kathleen, and brothers Drew and Clay, as the family celebrated the title win in Tampa, Florida, two years back. Then he was an incoming commit eager to prove he was more than the coach’s son.
“This is something I’ve thought about since I first wanted to come to Clemson,” Will Swinney said.
J.D. Davis said things won’t change much in the family if Clemson beats Alabama — giving the sons two national titles to dad’s one.
“I’d just tell him thanks for everything you’ve done for us to get here,” he said. “There’ll be no trash talking ‘The Judge.’”
Brent Venables, who has led Clemson’s defense the past seven years , has enjoyed coaching his son, Jake, this season. Jake has two tackles with the plan to redshirt this season. The elder Venables has also thought about what a win Monday night would mean with his son on the team.
“It’s definitely going to be a different experience for him,” Brent Venables said. “And certainly, I’ve got an opportunity to appreciate that. Not talking about it a whole lot with him, but just enjoying the moment together.”