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Fans wait in line for seven-plus hours to spend time with Clemson football star Ben Boulware

February 19, 2017 GMT

Wake-up was at 5:30 a.m. so they could make the drive from Florence, snag some breakfast at Cracker Barrel along the way and be in line promptly at 9:36 a.m.

They wanted to be first. Ben Boulware was coming to North Charleston’s Fan Zone shop at 5 p.m. on Saturday to sign some autographs and take some photos — and the Legg family was not going to miss it.

“I didn’t know what the crowd was going to be like and I just wanted to guarantee my spot,” said Stacy, the matriarch of the family and a lifelong Clemson fan. “It’s Ben. I love his personality, I love the way he’s so outgoing, he’s such a real person. He just seems like a really, really genuinely nice guy and I just love him.”

Stacy, her two sons Nathan (12) and Tucker (15), her husband Eddie and her cousin Lynnsey Spence (19) were five of hundreds of fans who flocked to International Blvd. on Saturday afternoon for a chance to spend a few moments with Boulware — the fan-favorite Clemson linebacker and national championship defensive MVP.

Since the Tigers captured their second national title in program history on Jan. 9 when they beat Alabama, Boulware has pin-balled his way from South Carolina to Florida to Ohio to Florida and back to South Carolina for workouts, appearances and award ceremonies. He is training for the NFL Combine at EXOS, in Pensacola, Fla., with the likes of Clemson teammates Carlos Watkins and Jordan Leggett and LSU running back Leonard Fournette.

Everyday he and Fournette playfully jaw back and forth about who might win in a Clemson-LSU matchup, but Saturday, Boulware was happy to break loose from the grind of training and spend some time in the state that raised him. The 22-year-old is originally from Anderson and will be back at Fan Zone again Sunday morning from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. for another round of photos and autographs.

“It’s been a whirlwind. I’m super blessed and super grateful for the opportunity, so I’m just trying to maximize everything I can to be successful at the next level and I’m having fun with it, too,” Boulware said of everything that has happened since the title game.

“That’s why I’m coming down here to meet these fans, sticking to my roots. I love the South Carolina people, so that’s why I’m coming down here.”

When he first arrived at The Fan Zone, Boulware immediately was whisked away to fulfill some media obligations and meet some fans in private. Perched on one of the shelves at Fan Zone was a Clemson helmet signed by former South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw after the Gamecocks had defeated Clemson in the annual rivalry five years in a row.

“This is our state! ... 5,” Shaw wrote at the time.

Asked by the store to counter with his own response on a South Carolina helmet, Boulware acknowledged how much he respected Shaw, but then quipped back with a zippy response message.

“This is our state/country,” Boulware wrote. “2016-17 National Champions!”

And on the other side: 56-7 — referencing this year’s lopsided score when the two teams squared off.

Moments later the doors finally flung open for the public and after seven-and-a-half hours of waiting, Stacy’s face lit up, when she finally locked eyes with Boulware, who had been notified about how long her family waited in line for him.

She asked for a picture, Nathan and Tucker each had their hats signed and Tucker became the envy of his Snapchat friends when he posed for a selfie with Boulware.

Then Stacy pinched Boulware by the cheeks and told him how much he meant to her family as she gathered her freshly-signed belongings.

“Thank you Ben,” she said on her way out the door, her excitement palpable. “I’ll be following you wherever you go, buddy.”