MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.
Greenlawn’s Pat Godfrey won’t play for No. 1 Clemson in its Orange Bowl matchup with Oklahoma on Thursday to determine which one advances to the College Football Playoff title game. But the redshirt freshman offensive lineman wouldn’t trade his place on the Tigers’ sideline for anything.
The Harborfields High grad was offered a preferred walk-on spot at Stony Brook and had a couple of other opportunities to play for schools at the FCS level in the north. But his decision to immerse himself in the football culture of the Deep South in Clemson, South Carolina, was tantamount to taking part in an exchange student program to learn how others live in the wide world of sports.
“For me, it was always my dream to come down south and play at a big-time football school,” Godfrey said Tuesday during media day festivities at Sun Life Stadium. “I came down here and tried out and made the team. This has been a dream come true.”
Scan the Tigers’ 99-man roster, and there are only three players who come from farther north than Maryland. One is holder Seth Ryan, son of former Jets coach Rex Ryan, who lists his hometown as Summit, New Jersey. The other is freshman defensive tackle Christian Wilkins, from Springfield, Massachusetts, who played at a prep school in Connecticut.
“Unless you count Maryland, we’re the only ones from the north,” Godfrey said with a smile. “Us northerners get called ‘Yankees’ a lot down here, so we have to stick together.”
The whole experience has been better than fantasy camp for Godfrey because it’s real. Although he is 6-3, the 260-pound Godfrey is 20 pounds lighter than any offensive lineman on Clemson’s depth chart. But he is strong and is working hard to position himself for a scholarship at some point over his next four seasons of eligibility.
The competition level was tough at first, but Godfrey said: “I was ready for it. If a guy is bigger than me, I’m not going to get intimidated. It’s difficult being up against the best in the country, but I got used to it. That’s the Long Island way. No fear.”
No less than Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield said Clemson’s front seven will be the best the Sooners have faced this season, including defensive end Shaq Lawson, who has 9 1⁄2 sacks and 22 1⁄2 tackles for losses. Playing for the scout team, Godfrey gets to go against the Tigers’ No. 1 defense every day in practice.
“You learn to master your craft when you’re going against guys who are going to be in the NFL in a year or two,” Godfrey said. “Shaq Lawson is really tough to block because he has a great combo of size and speed. But the guy that stands out for me is Christian Wilkins. He’s 6-4, 315 pounds and fast and can dunk a basketball. In my opinion, he’s the best athlete we’ve got on the whole team.”
Godfrey has nothing but praise for Stony Brook’s football program. He made friends with Longwood running back Isaiah White when they played for Long Island in the Boomer Esiason Empire Challenge all-star game, and former Northport tight end Pete Kennedy is a friend who plays for the Seawolves. Godfrey noted that former SBU offensive lineman Cody Precht, who was a senior captain in 2014, was “kind of like a legend” at Harborfields ahead of him.
“What Stony Brook has going is really great,” Godfrey said. “But I dreamt of playing in front of 80,000, not 10,000. That was the appeal for me.”
As much as Stony Brook would like to nurture Long Island’s football culture, there simply is no comparison to places where college football is king.
“Once you get down here, it’s amazing,” Godfrey said. “People live and die for their Clemson Tigers. It’s so cool to be part of that culture.
“I had no idea what I was walking into, but I gave it a shot, and it’s worked out great.”