Some days the football field is a retreat from life’s rigors, but Aug. 14, wasn’t one of those days for Pat Godfrey. It was a dog-day Monday afternoon that kept getting worse. Football wasn’t going well for the walk-on, non-scholarship center from Greenlawn who had made only a handful of snaps late in blowout games for Clemson, the 2016 national champion. He wasn’t enjoying the long, exhaustive summer camp, and, more troubling, he genuinely was worried about paying for the rest of his college education. Godfrey admitted he had been wondering for a while, “Maybe I should just pack up and go back to New York.”
Godfrey is glad he did not make a snap decision because after practice, at a team meeting he will never forget, Aug. 14 suddenly was no longer a bad day. During a segment Clemson coach Dabo Swinney refers to as “safe seat” — in which Swinney sits in front of the room and calls up select players for a probing, personal interview — Godfrey received a life-altering surprise.
“I’m sitting up there, and he tells the whole team how he got his scholarship at Alabama, about the power of resiliency and how as a walk-on you’ve really got to push and overcome those tough times,” Godfrey said this week. “He knew I was going through some tough times. Then he put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Pat, congratulations, you’re on full scholarship. You’ll never have to worry about paying for school again.’ I had probably a hundred guys swarm to me in the front of the room and I started hysterically crying. It was a crazy, roller-coaster day. I was really struggling, questioning everything I was doing, really nervous about the expensive MBA program and going through some tough stuff on the football field. Then came one of the best moments of my life.”
Clemson may be a big-time football factory, but Godfrey is not part of the Tigers’ assembly line of high school superstars with NFL dreams. The 6-2, 275-pound former Newsday All-Long Island selection at Harborfields is a finance major who arrived at the South Carolina school with nearly two years’ worth of advanced placement credits and last spring earned his undergraduate degree in only two years.
So in what normally would be his junior year, Godfrey is instead in the first year of the Clemson MBA program. He already has mastered the business of risk management. In high school, Godfrey was offered a full athletic scholarship to Division I-FCS Bryant and was recruited by several Ivy League schools, but eschewed the safe path.
“He wanted to go to Clemson. He wanted to take a shot at big-time college football,” said his father, Pat Godfrey Sr., “even though he was only getting a $15,000 academic scholarship to Clemson, which cost $40,000 a year. But how do you tell a kid not to try, not to dream?”
So his son followed his dream and went to a tryout for Clemson walk-ons. Only two of 50 candidates survived that ordeal, but Godfrey did not play in 2015 as a redshirt.
Last year, he was on the team, but not on the travel roster. He appeared briefly in three home games, including his first collegiate action late in a 59-0 victory against South Carolina State on Sept. 17, with his father and mother, Jennifer, among the 80,000 in the crowd.
“As the score kept going up and I’m thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to play,’ I was terrified,” said Godfrey, who took six snaps. “It was a special moment. My parents were in the crowd; I got to hug my mom, who was crying. It was a thrill.”
So was being in uniform and on the sidelines on Jan. 9, when the Tigers upset No. 1 Alabama, 35-31, to win the national championship against the team that beat them, 45-40, in the title game the year before.
“To not only win it all, but to beat Alabama who was kind of the Evil Empire and the top program in college football, you couldn’t have written it any better,” Godfrey said. “It was an incredible feeling. It didn’t seem possible in my mind that I could ever win a national championship until the final seconds ran out and it was, ‘Holy crap! We did it!’ ”
MORE PLAYING TIME
Godfrey’s journey has been pretty incredible, too. In last week’s season opener, he played the entire fourth quarter, taking 21 snaps in a 56-3 home victory over Kent State and making a key seal block on a touchdown run.
“The first series we drove down the field 94 yards for a touchdown. That was cool,” Godfrey said. “I’m usually nervous in front of the big crowd and I get out there and I realize that these guys aren’t the NFL freaks I’m used to going against. Three of our defensive linemen are projected to be NFL first-round picks so that makes practice pretty difficult. But that’s why when I get into games, I’m ready. Saturday is easy.”
But juggling big-time football with high-level academics is hard. “It’s a full-time job balancing the two,” Godfrey acknowledged. This was his itinerary last Wednesday:
“I woke up at 5:45, had a 6:30 workout, had to shower, get dressed and eat breakfast and be on the road by 8 to get to Greenville (about 30 miles from the main campus), where my MBA program is. Classes until noon, get back at 1, tape, dress and do football between 2 and 7. These are long days but I haven’t forgotten what I’m here for. Football is great but it’s really the education that I’m down here for. I’ve already got my undergrad degree, but now it’s crazy. Every day I go to class and I’m surrounded by a bunch of 25 to 40-year-olds in the MBA program. I’ll feel lucky when I also have that under my belt by the time I’m 21.”
No wonder his coach is impressed. “We are really proud of what Pat has accomplished in the classroom and on the field and he is deserving of a scholarship,” Swinney said. “His academic performance has been remarkable and he is the type of person who fits in with our culture. I look forward to seeing him progress.”
Godfrey said that he and one other backup center are in a tight duel behind Justin Falcinelli — a junior whom they expect will declare for the NFL Draft — with the winner likely to start next year. But this blue-collar athlete also has his eyes on a white-collar post-college career.
“I’m trying to decide between two very real options,” he said. “One is I can see myself working on Wall Street. It’s a competitive industry and that works well for me because I’m a super competitive guy. Another part of me is thinking that after I’m done with the MBA, I’d go to law school to become a sports agent. I love football and I don’t want to be separated from the game.”
A game that has given him very few bad days.
THE GODFREY FILE
Clemson center, No. 64
Born, March 30, 1997
Vitals: 6-2, 275
High school: Harborfields (2014 Newsday All-Long Island)