SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – Had Kane Patterson stuck with his original commitment, he could be playing on the opposite side of Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl.
A true freshman linebacker for Clemson, Patterson originally committed to Ohio State in the summer of 2018, but decommitted from the Buckeyes less than two months later – and just days after Urban Meyer was suspended for the first three games of the 2018 season. With uncertainty looming over Meyer’s future at Ohio State, Patterson ultimately decided to become a Tiger instead. Patterson hadn’t been recruited by Ryan Day, who ultimately succeeded Meyer as Ohio State’s head coach, and quickly built a bond with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and defensive coordinator Brent Venables after receiving an offer from the Tigers.
“I really liked Ohio State,” Patterson said Thursday at Fiesta Bowl media day. “I didn’t know Coach Day as much, he didn’t recruit me as much, but I was more recruited by Coach Meyer and (linebackers coach Bill) Davis, and I was a huge fan of them and the culture Ohio State had. And then just kind of when that went down, it kind of led to me just taking a step back, just ‘cause I didn’t know what was gonna happen with the whole coaching change and stuff.
“I was always a big fan of Clemson, too. I was a huge fan of Coach Swinney and Coach Venables and what they did too, and the culture is special there. So when all that happened, it just made me take a step back. I’ve always loved Clemson from the beginning, and then they offered me. I just knew that was the right spot for me.”
Patterson has no regrets about his decision now. He’s played mostly only on special teams in his first year with the Tigers, but feels like he’s already learned a lot since arriving in South Carolina.
“It’s been awesome,” Patterson said. “Just getting to be around Coach Swinney and Coach Venables more and just learning from them, Coach V’s just the best in the game. Just what he’s taught me, just technique-wise and just about the game and then also about life, I can’t imagine playing for a coach just as good as him.”
It has crossed his mind this week, though, that he came close to playing for the team he’ll instead be trying to defeat in the College Football Playoff semifinals on Saturday.
“Thinking that I could have been on the other end of this game, that’s really crazy to think about,” Patterson said.
Patterson isn’t the only Tiger who was recruited by the Buckeyes before ultimately choosing to take his talents to Clemson. Another Tiger freshman who was recruited by Ohio State before choosing to play for Clemson was Tyler Davis, who is now a starting defensive tackle and already arguably the Tigers’ best defensive lineman.
Even though he didn’t choose to become a Buckeye, Davis reflected fondly on his experience recruited by Ohio State, and specifically Buckeyes defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
“I just felt like Clemson was that place for me, but he’s a great coach – actually, a legendary coach, one of the best in the business – and I really enjoyed being a part of their recruiting process,” Davis said.
The other Clemson lineman from Ohio
While Clemson left tackle Jackson Carman’s decision to spurn his home-state school has been well-documented, he isn’t the Tigers’ only player from Ohio – or for that matter, even their only offensive lineman from Southwest Ohio.
Matt Bockhorst, a four-star recruit out of Cincinnati’s St. Xavier High School, wasn’t pursued by the Buckeyes as heavily as Carman, but he did visit Ohio State as a recruit. He didn’t grow up as an Ohio State fan – his dad played for the University of Cincinnati, so he grew up rooting for the Bearcats – but the opportunity to play against the Buckeyes is still one that he’s hoped for ever since he arrived at Clemson.
“The last time they played, I was not on the team yet, so I’m excited,” said Bockhorst, a redshirt sophomore. “There’s certainly some bragging rights on the line, I would say. Family and friends back home that are all big Buckeyes fans. But I would say blood is thicker than water, so hopefully they’ll be rooting for the Tigers.”
Bockhorst also has a connection to the Buckeyes through fifth-year Ohio State linebacker Justin Hilliard, who was previously teammates with Bockhorst at St. Xavier High School and who Bockhorst said he has stayed in touch with despite going to Clemson.
“There’s no hard feelings or anything,” Bockhorst said of his friendship with Hilliard.
Bockhorst won’t be in the starting lineup for the Tigers on Saturday – he’s currently the backup to starting left guard John Simpson – but Swinney is excited about his development and future.
“When John Simpson gets out of here, he's going to step in and fill that void pretty quickly,” Swinney said. “That's a strong comment because John Simpson is an All-American player, but Bock is a great player in his own right.”
Two Jeffs in the same situation
Much like Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott is also simultaneously preparing for the Fiesta Bowl and preparing to become a head coach elsewhere. After the Tigers’ season comes to an end, either Saturday or in the College Football Playoff national championship game, Scott will leave Clemson to become the head coach at South Florida.
Unlike Hafley, who returned to Columbus immediately following his introductory press conference at Boston College and has been almost solely focused on his job at Ohio State ever since, Scott has been balancing his two jobs more actively. Scott spent more than a week working for South Florida between the ACC Championship Game and the early signing period earlier this month, and has also announced several hires for his coaching staff over the past couple weeks.
Like Hafley, though, Scott says his focus this week on his work with Clemson and trying to win the Fiesta Bowl, and he will stay at Clemson for the subsequent two weeks and lock in on trying to help the Tigers win a national championship if they defeat the Buckeyes on Saturday. He’s had to make some early-morning and evening phone calls on behalf of USF, and said he has spent about 30 minutes each night watching some film of recruits, but he’s tried to stay fully focused on Clemson during practices, meetings and other team events.
“What we tell our players is really to kind of be locked in on what you’re doing at that moment, and the fact that I had nine days to go down to Tampa and kind of get a lot of things going allowed me to be in a position where now whenever I got up here, to have very little distractions,” Scott said. “And for me, I want to enjoy this. I’m enjoying every day, I’m enjoying every practice, every meeting with my guys, because I know it’s going to be one of the last ones. Where normally, you don’t know that, and then you find out and you leave, but to know that this is your last opportunity with these guys allows you to just kind of soak it all in, enjoy it and want to go out on top.”
Dabo meets Day
Since they are coaching against each other in the first time, Swinney didn’t know Day well going into this week, but he said he had the opportunity to spend some time with Day on Wednesday night and that the two head coaches hit it off.
“We got a chance to spend a little time last night with the Ohio State staff and Coach Day and really enjoyed that,” Swinney said. “Just a genuine guy.”
Day expressed his respect for Swinney on Thursday, as well, when he asked about the Tigers’ coach and his 28-game winning streak.
“It is hard to win 28 games against air,” Day said. “I don't know how you do that. I think it goes to show you the stability he's had in his staff there and their ability to stay focused throughout that time, because all it takes is a couple of times. The ball bounces one way or the other, and you lose a game. The consistency has been there. And nothing but respect for what they've done during this run.”