Even with the big stage of the Orange Bowl – one of college football’s top five season finales – looming ahead of him, Silver Bluff grad and Clemson defensive back Cordrea Tankersley is showing no signs of anxiety.
“Words can’t explain how ready we are,” the Tiger freshman said. “I’m too excited.”
After a semester at Hargrave Military Academy in Virginia, a prep school, Tankersley came in and has found a home on the special teams unit for the Tigers, for the most part. He said the situation has been ideal, playing on a team with so much experience under the bright lights of big games. This marks the second time in three seasons Clemson has played in the Orange Bowl, with high-profile matchups with Florida State, South Carolina, Georgia and LSU scattered in between. This time, the No. 12 Tigers will be playing No. 7 Ohio State, a team that was in line for a national title berth until a loss to Michigan State in the Big 10 championship game on Dec. 7.
That means young players like Tankersley are getting “spoiled” with the opportunity of a major bowl trip early on.
“Being on this team, it’s a prestigious team,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to go on and make the BCS.”
The feeling is made even sweeter because Tankersley admitted he worried that he might not ever play in Death Valley. After committing as a Tiger his senior year in high school, academics forced the Bulldog three-sport standout to spend a semester at Hargrave. Tankersley also didn’t qualify in time to join fellow Hargrave product Shaq Lawson in January.
As a result, the lead-up to this season’s opener against Georgia, with the team riding the bus to touch Howard’s Rock and run down the famed hill into Death Valley, was an emotional time for Tankersley.
“My highlight moment was running down the hill for the first time. ... The moment we turned the corner, I burst into tears,” Tankersley said, pointing out the doubts he had about ever getting into Clemson. “All that was running through my mind.”
Tankersley didn’t stop at just getting to Clemson. Playing in 11 of the Tigers’ 12 games so far this season, he has 13 tackles – including a team-high nine special teams tackles as part of a unit Tankersley said head coach Dabo Swinney has stressed as important. The freshman also helped ensure punt returner Adam Humphries corral a fumbled punt in the first quarter of the Tigers’ 40-27 win at Maryland on Oct. 26.
“In everything, I try to use my instincts,” Tankersley said. “When it happened, I was there. ... And coach Swinney said something about how big a play that was.”
If his play on special teams leads to additional role in the defensive backfield for the Jan. 3 game against the Buckeyes, Tankersley will be ready. Also a baseball player and track star at Silver Bluff, Tankersley was a standout quarterback while playing safety for the Bulldogs.
“It helped a lot because I’m more in shape than most people are,” Tankersley said of playing both ways. “It’s to the point that when we go on offense, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m supposed to be out there.’”
Tankersley was also quick to note that he’s “still got it” if the Tigers were to need him on the other side of the ball. While that isn’t likely, the freshman said he had been seeing increased practice time and feels good about any opportunity he might get in Miami.
“I’ve been getting a lot of reps,” he said. “Whenever they call me, I’m ready. ... Whenever they call my name, I’ll be there.”
Regardless of what role he plays in the Tigers’ gameplan for the Orange Bowl, he said he’s aware of a two-fold purpose of the trip. While he plans to enjoy what would’ve been a dream destination for any of the Clemson teams between the 1981 national championship squad and the 2011 ACC champion Tigers, he knows there is a game to be won and preparations to be made.
“I’m just looking forward to a good time,” he said. “It’s a business trip first ... but we still want to have a good time.”
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
At a glance
Area players in bowl games
Player College Bowl
• Josh Brown Marshall Military Bowl
(Marshall beat Maryland 31-20.)
• DeMarcus Lawrence Boise State Hawaii Bowl
(Oregon State beat Boise State 38-23. Lawrence had five tackles, one for loss.)
• Coleman Harley South Carolina Capital One Bowl
(Game set for Jan. 1 vs. Wisconsin.)
• Kendric Salley South Carolina Capital One Bowl
(Game set for Jan. 1 vs. Wisconsin.)
• Cordrea Tankerskley Clemson Orange Bowl
(Game set for Jan. 3 vs. Ohio State.)