Clemson coach is his own fiercest competitor

Pictured are Joni and Judy Hayes at the game. (Contributed)

Pictured are Joni and Judy Hayes at the game. (Contributed)

By Connie Nolen / Community Columnist

“Everyone was so happy. It was a great college football atmosphere,” Judy Hayes said.

I’d called my mom to wish her a Happy New Year and she shared her experience from Clemson University’s Russell Athletic Bowl victory in Orlando.

“What an incredible win!” I said. “After all they went through as this year began, I was glad to see the year end on a joyful note.”

“Yes,” Hayes agreed. “There was plenty of happiness to share.”

I last saw Dabo and Kathleen Swinney in the spring at Kathleen’s sister’s funeral. Lisa Lamb was an exuberant spirit and the eldest sister in this close family.

I cheered with her at PHS and by the time the rest of her family came through high school, I was a teacher there.

Having a long history with both families, seeing them in such pain was difficult. Knowing they had some joy at the year’s end was soothing.

Reading that Clemson’s offensive coordinator had already departed for SMU and his starting quarterback suffered a knee injury in practice that required surgery, I could see why others were wondering how Clemson would fare before the game.

“Dabo believed the team was ready,” Hayes said. “He was right.”

In the pregame photo of Swinney and the team heading out of the tunnel, the coach is leading the way with the look of determination that he wore as a high school athlete.

Perhaps Swinney’s look seems the same because he always faces himself as his own fiercest competitor.

In the trophy presentation following the Clemson win, Dabo Swinney said, “Can’t wait till 2015! Let’s do it again!”

Swinney once told me that his favorite book was “The Go Giver.”

He liked the book’s principle that giving is more important than getting.

Swinney is a man who gives his all to his family and his team. To watch this Pelham alum, not only succeed, but also call for the next challenge with excitement is inspiring.

This year may we all commit to giving, improving ourselves and loving those around us—fiercely.