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August 30, 2013

The Classic City-Clemson Connection

Beginning with QB Homer Jordan in 1979 (vs. Georgia in 1981), at times as many
as four Athens natives appeared on Clemson's roster annually through 1990.
Earlier this week, I discussed with a friend, who like me is a native of Athens in his late-30s, our upcoming treks to Clemson for Saturday's game.  During the conversation, he asked, "You remember, when we were kids, when it seemed like half of Clemson's roster was from Athens?"
I certainly did remember back in the 1980s during the heyday of the bitter Georgia-Clemson rivalry, when a number of high school prospects from either Cedar Shoals or Clarke Central would leave Athens and make the hour and a half journey to Tigertown to play football.  The names rolled off my tongue: Homer Jordan, Norman Haynes, Chris Morocco...  Well, I could only recall three Athenians-turned-Tigers off the top of my head, but I was sure there had been many more.
I examined 70 seasons of Clemson football rosters dating back to the mid-1940s and discovered that until Danny Ford became the Tigers' head coach in the late-70s, just two Athenians appeared on a Clemson roster, or the same number of players hailing from the town of Clemson that would play for Georgia during the same period.  However, while Ford was at the helm from 1979 to 1989 and beginning with Cedar Shoals' Jordan, Clemson had at least one Athens native on its roster every year, and some times as many as four. 
"I picked Clemson over Georgia, Tennessee, and a few other schools because of several reasons," Jordan informed me during an interview this week.  "For one, if I was to play under Coach Ford, I knew for a fact I would get a chance to play at quarterback." 
One could understand Jordan's reservation towards signing with other schools.  From 1975 through 1982, five different Cedar Shoals quarterbacks received All-State recognition, but all of them, except one, would begin their college varsity careers at a position other than under center.  The one exception also added that it simply "felt good" deciding to play for Ford and Clemson.  
Along with Jordan, the other Athenians who must have also "felt good" to leave for oranger pastures:
Homer Jordan, QB (Cedar Shoals): signed 1979; lettered 1980-1982; All-ACC in 1981 and quarterbacked Tigers to national championship
Tyrone Davis, CB (Cedar Shoals): signed 1980; lettered 1982-1984; 3rd-round pick of N.Y. Giants in '85 Draft
Norman Haynes, DB-LB (Cedar Shoals): signed 1984; lettered 1985-1987; led Tigers in tackles as a sophomore in 1986
Chris Morocco, QB (Clarke Central): signed 1985; lettered 1986-1989; named offensive MVP of 10-win Tigers team in 1989 
Bruce Taylor, QB-DB-WR (Cedar Shoals): signed 1986; lettered 1990; caught one pass during Tiger career 
Doug Brewster, LB (Clarke Central): signed 1987; lettered 1987-1990; earned All-ACC honors as both a junior and senior
Was signing six players over nine years from two large high schools in a city just 70 miles away from Clemson actually that big of a deal, or that big of a steal for Clemson from our Classic City?  Perhaps it wasn't the number of Athens boys to sign with the hated rival, but the impact the Athenians made collectively as Tigers, and against our Bulldogs, that made it seem "like half of Clemson's roster was from Athens" during the Ford era.
For some Georgia fans who can remember back then, we're quick to point out Homer's homecomings in 1980 and 1982, when the native Athenian threw a combined five interceptions (no touchdown passes) in two Bulldog victories.  However, few regular-season setbacks have been as hard to endure as the game in the middle – the Jordan-led 13-3 upset in 1981 at Clemson only to later witness the same quarterback guide the Tigers to a national title.
Athens' Norman Haynes (bottom left)
confronts UGA's James Jackson
After tallying just six tackles as a redshirt linebacker in 1985, Norman Haynes had his collegiate "coming out" in his return to Athens, recording a game-high 14 tackles in a 31-28 upset over the Bulldogs in 1986.  By the next season, according to Clemson's sports information department, Haynes was "another in a list of fine all-around athletes to come to Clemson from Athens, GA."  Then, there was Chris Morocco, son of Georgia legend Zippy Morocco, who had grown up close with the family of Coach Dooley.  Originally, Morocco actually wanted to stay in Athens, according to his father in an interview I conducted fairly recently. 
"In 1985, Georgia already had a bunch of quarterbacks, and only had one scholarship to give at the position," Zippy said.  "They decided to give it to a kid from Cairo (Joey Hester) because he could also punt (Hester was a Parade All-American punter), so Chris went to Clemson."  Four years later, Hester finished his Bulldog career with a punting average of less than 39 yards and having never thrown a single pass, whereas Morocco was named the South Carolina Player-of-the-Year for his performance during the '89 season.
An Athens high schooler signed with the Tigers in both 1986 and 1987, resulting in four Athenians on each of Clemson's 1987 and 1988 rosters.  In comparison, of Georgia's 128 total players (roster spots + signees + walk-ons) in 1988, remarkably, the exact same number as Clemson four –  hailed from Athens.  Also, since Ford's departure from the Tigers nearly a quarter-century ago, just one Athenian has appeared on a Clemson roster, and he – punter Wynn Kopp – was a transfer from UGA, not a Tiger signee.
"Clemson got a good number of guys from Athens during the 1980s because Coach Ford heavily recruited both the states of Georgia and North Carolina," said William DeVane, a teammate of Jordan's at Clemson and the Tigers' starting defensive guard on the 1981 championship squad.  "That wasn't necessarily the case at Clemson before Ford became head coach."  
DeVane's Athens-Clemson "connection" is a little different, and somewhat in reverse, than the aforementioned players: two decades after playing for the Tigers, he was the head football coach at Clarke Central from 2002 through 2005.  "Some of my assistant coaches at Clarke Central were always trying to get me to go to a Georgia game at Sanford Stadium.  I finally went, but as a big Clemson fan, I didn't really like it.  I was like, man, get me out of here!"  Although no longer an Athens resident, DeVane has remained in the state but closer to Clemson as the current head football coach at Hart County High School.
While attending Clemson, Jordan often returned to his hometown (do you blame him?).  John Lastinger, Georgia's starting quarterback in 1982-1983, once jokingly told me that he saw Jordan so much in McWhorter Hall (UGA's athletic dorm), "it was like Homer was part of our team."
"I came home to Athens quite a bit," said Jordan.  "A couple of my best friends were [Cedar Shoals teammate and UGA wide receiver] Amp Arnold he's now my brother-in-law – and [Cedar Shoals teammate and UGA defensive lineman] Jimmy Payne."
After four seasons in the CFL during the mid-1980s, Jordan came home to Athens where he has remained ever since.  Today, he will temporarily leave town and return to Clemson to serve as one of the Tigers' honorary captains for tomorrow's game.  But, first he will make a stop in Hartwell for tonight's high school contest between DeVane's Hart County team and Cedar Shoals.

Speaking of the Hart County-Cedar Shoals game, DeVane asked me, "Do you know what quarterback we will be facing Friday night – the quarterback for Cedar Shoals?"  I admittedly did not.  "Darius Jordan – Homer's son.  Now, isn't that crazy?" the coach blurted with a laugh.

In turn, I asked Homer about his son facing the team coached by his old Clemson teammate, before the Jordan family drove another 35 miles the next day to watch the Georgia-Clemson game.  "I'm proud of Darius," he simply said.  "This will be his third season as Cedar Shoals' starting quarterback."

What about him playing at the next level?  Is it possible the son of Homer Jordan, just like his father had done 35 years before, would leave the Classic City to attend Clemson? 

"Darius isn't going to reestablish the trend of Athens players leaving for Tigertown, now, is he?"  I jokingly asked.  Homer first just laughed, and then would only say, "He's gotten letters from a few interested schools..." 


Anonymous said...

I attended Cedar Shoals during the mid to late 70s with Homer and there was a guy a year older than Homer who was actually the first player from Athens in a while to sign with Clemson--Gary Avants. Avants was a really good running back who signed under Pell in 1978. However, he didn't last long with the Tigers and is probably the reason why he never appeared on a roster. Word was he couldn't hack it in training camp at Clemson. - Scott

Anthony Bartlett said...

Coach John Waters at Ceder Shoals in Athens put out some great players.

Unknown said...

Is that right? I remember sitting in Gary's office for some reason when I was at law school at UGA circa 1990, and he told me had gone to Clemson but didn't say he played football there. I guess it makes sense.