TAMPA, Fla. — Before the season, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney created a “vision board,” asking each player to write what he had to do to help get the Tigers back to the national championship game.
Pat Godfrey, a walk-on offensive lineman from Greenlawn who redshirted last year when Clemson lost to Alabama, knew he had a role in that drive to get to what would end up being Monday night’s rematch.
“His was to lead the scout team to be the best scout team in the country,” senior center Jay Guillermo said. “Guys kind of looked at it like ‘Awwww,’ but that’s how Patrick is. He takes his role and he runs with it. One of the hardest workers we have on our football team. The guy loves it.”
Clemson has played for the national title twice in Godfrey’s two years, so there’s lots to love. He had small-school options coming out of Harborfields High School, but sought to get far from Long Island to where passionate college football means 81,500 fans at home games.
“It’s incredible. Growing up on Long Island, nobody really gets the opportunity to play big-time football,” said the 19-year-old Godfrey, who is 6-2 and 270 pounds. “There’s just a handful of guys playing FBS ball. I feel so blessed that I was led down here. I don’t even know how it happened. I just felt an attraction to come to Clemson. It’s worked out great.”
Godfrey’s role this year has been largely behind the scenes — he is proud to have gotten on the field in wins against Syracuse, South Carolina State and the team’s annual rivalry game against South Carolina.
“That’s more than I could have ever expected or asked for,” said Godfrey, who can back up multiple positions on the line but is most likely a center. “It’s amazing.”
For now, he’s busy simulating Alabama’s offensive line in practice on the scout team, helping prepare Clemson’s defense for the daunting challenge of facing an undefeated national champion on college football’s biggest platform Monday.
“Down the road, he’s going to help us,” Guillermo said. “He’s always willing to learn. Patrick Godfrey’s going to help us in some way. He’s not going out and starting Monday, but what he does today when we practice matters, and he knows that.”
Clemson is steeped in tradition — players have the “Tiger Walk” into the stadium through thousands of fans before home games, then the team later runs down the hill onto the field and touches “Howard’s Rock” on the way for good luck. Only a handful of players are from north of Virginia, but one trip to Memorial Stadium was all it took to understand how the South reveres its college football.
“I don’t think my family was able to appreciate it until they came down for a game,” he said. “The first game my mom [Jennifer] came down for was Florida State, my redshirt year. She actually started crying. Watching us run down the hill, when she saw me after the game, she had no idea what it was really like. It blew her mind, and she was so proud.”
Godfrey didn’t need the national championship game to remind him of Clemson’s fan base — he saw that on the drive to the airport on Friday afternoon.
“It’s about an hour’s ride, and basically every single overpass the entire highway there, there are fans staked out, probably waited a half-hour just to see us drive by and wave to us,” he said. “That makes you feel so special. These people live for it, year-round.”