Jackson Carman was the highest-rated player in the state of Ohio and the No. 17 player in the nation, one of Ohio State's top targets and long thought a strong Buckeye lean. But during the early signing period in 2017, Carman signed with Clemson, instead.
Almost exactly two years later, Carman is preparing to play against the hometown team he spurned as his Tigers are set for a College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Ohio State. It's a storyline Carman saw coming all along.
"I feel like it's fated," Carman told Greenville News. "I just had a feeling whenever I came that we were definitely going to play them at some time."
With his Ohio roots and his rollercoaster recruitment by both schools, it's obvious this is more than just another game for Carman. He's not denying that, but he's also working to keep his emotions in check.
"I have a lot of friends on the team, a lot of people who mean a lot to me, so I'm excited to be able to see them and compete against them," Carman said. "I'm just trying to look at it as the next game I have to prepare for and not be too emotional."
Carman's coach understands what it's like when old attachments and allegiances conflict with current goals. Dabo Swinney played wide receiver at Alabama before spending seven years on the Crimson Tide coaching staff. Since then, he's battled his alma mater multiple times in the College Football Playoff.
“I feel like it's fated. I just had a feeling whenever I came that we were definitely going to play them at some time.”– Jackson Carman on his matchup with Ohio State
"Oh, man. Jackson Carman is super excited," Swinney said in a press conference shortly after landing in Arizona for the Fiesta Bowl. "It's kind of neat experience when you go against your school – hometown school. It's a neat experience. I've experienced it in a different way as a coach, obviously going against Alabama. But I think at the end of the day, when the game kicks off, it's just about the game."
Emotions aside, the on-field portion of the matchup will be Carman's biggest challenge yet. In his first season as a starter, he'll be tasked with blocking arguably the most dominant player in the country as he lines up opposite of Chase Young.
Carman called Young an "amazing player" and said he's been watching him play even before he got to college, but he believes he'll be prepared for Saturday's matchup.
“If you just run at him and try to throw a super hard punch at him, he's going to take your hands and be gone,” Carman said. “You've got to sit back and play patient with him. Let him come to you, and then try to take up as much space as possible when he gets to you.”
Carman hasn't faced any defensive end of Young's caliber this season, but he believes practices against Clemson's defensive line this year and last year have helped prepare him for what he'll face on Saturday.
“I went against the No. 4 overall draft pick every day last year,” Carman said, referring to former Clemson All-American Clelin Ferrell, who now starts for the Oakland Raiders. “I go against future first-round picks here every day, so I've just got to go do my job.”