Tee Stands Alone

Zach Lentz

CHARLOTTE — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney warned many around the nation that they were sleeping on wide receiver Tee Higgins.

But it was wide receivers coach Jeff Scott that gave Higgins the best advice heading into his junior season — be yourself.

"“I think that whenever we talk to the wideouts, I’m not trying to compare them to the guys that were here before them,” Scott said. “I want Tee Higgins to be the best version of Tee Higgins, I don’t want Tee Higgins to try and be DeAndre Hopkins or Mike Williams. I want him to worry about being the best version of himself. But within that, I am also always sharing the characteristics of the best of the best that have come through. And with us playing wide receivers, one of those is the guy that physically, mentally, can go and play.

“You look at the plays that Mike William’s made ... I remember him making those plays his redshirt junior season, he couldn’t always make those plays his sophomore year."

However Higgins may have not listened to the advice, as he went out Saturday night and put on a clinic in the ACC Championship game.

Higgins’ 182 yards receiving and three touchdown receptions (on nine catches) set new ACC Championship Game marks. Higgins, voted the game MVP, surpassed the previous receiving yardage mark of 143 yards set by Virginia Tech’s Danny Coale in 2010. 

"So just an incredible, special group of young people, and then this guy right here, we've had a lot of great wideouts come in here, and I think he had nine (catches) for 182 (yards), and the record, career-record 27 touchdowns in his career, and that ties (Hopkins) and Sammy (Watkins). Those guys were pretty good, so just pretty amazing," Swinney said.

"I told him I'm not giving him a game ball. The next touchdown he gets, he's going to get a game ball. He'll stand alone. So I'm just really proud of Tee and what he's done, and our offensive line and what Trevor — he was just — Trevor was unbelievable again. He's just been amazing really all year.

While Higgins understands the historical run that he is on, as, arguably, the greatest wide receiver in Clemson history, he also understands that he is a part of an elite group of receivers.

"First of all, it's a great accomplishment just to be up there with those top two guys, and for our receiving room, we just go out there and just play," Higgins said. "Don't worry about the stats. (If) One guy is doing good, we're going to congratulate him and just keep going.

"I just felt — it was just great. That second touchdown, I don't know why, but I just enjoyed that one the most, simply because I knew I was close to getting the record, but I never knew if I was going to go back in the game or not, so I just enjoyed it."

Swinney interjected, "I'll guarantee you his mama wasn't soaking it up. She was hooting and hollering and going crazy in the stands, I guarantee you. She was having a ball up there with his sister, I'm sure."

Swinney understood that Higgins had the potential for greatness when he was recruiting him in high school. But even though he saw the potential, Higgins put in the work required of himself to become a great player.

"Well, he was more of a basketball player when he got here. He was a great high school player, jump ball guy, run down the field, throw it to him," Swinney said. "He was Bony Maroney. He was about — he was probably 180 pounds, maybe, when he got here, and now he's about close to 215. So he's just worked his tail off and developed physically, had a lot to learn from a technical standpoint about the position and things like that. But he's just put the work in.

"But he's just really, really worked his tail off from a fundamental standpoint, a technique standpoint, physical standpoint, his knowledge of the game, and he's just become a very talented route runner. He's got some freaky ball skills. He can make any type of catch. He's got kind of DeAndre Hopkins type ball skills. He's got Mike Williams length. But he's got some explosiveness to him, as well."

His work-ethic, drive and determination have turned the scrawny 180-pound boy into a man that is a matchup problem for opposing defenses — and a joy to coach.

"He's a dynamic player, and just a super, super young man," Swinney said. "I mean, just an absolute joy to be around every single day. Never one problem ever. His mama, of course if you — his mom's name is Lady, and if you got around Lady, you know what I'm talking about. She don't play. She has done an amazing job raising him into the young man that he is, and I'm just honored that we were able to kind of take the baton from her and help develop him as a man as well as a player, and he's special.