State, The (Columbia, SC)
A COMMUNITY'S HERO
was playing basketball one day when a fellow member of Shandon Baptist Church called out to him.
Brad Scott, then the football coach at USC, told the tall,
broad-shouldered teen-ager that he needed to forget that round ball and
start working out with the pigskin. "Coach," McClinton
said, "I am never playing football."
, who now plays tight end for Scott at Clemson, loved basketball and thought football was too violent for his tastes. Besides, McClinton
knew better than to dream that he could create a future for himself by strapping on a helmet and shoulder pads.
was a boy, he would summon his grandmother to a window in their home in
the Waits Road community of Columbia to show the drug trafficking that
was taking place on their street.
Todd that he didn't need any of that, and the boy steered clear of the
drugs and alcohol. At the same time, Todd figured he would be fortunate
if he could graduate from high school, get a job and hang around the
neighborhood with his family and friends.
It was a modest vision, but a realistic one for surroundings that shatter aspirations of those who dream.
"I wasn't a big dreamer when I was growing up," McClinton
said. "I guess this is a dream that was waiting to come true, and it just did."
The dream for McClinton
is to use football to aid his pursuit of a college degree, which is a
rare prize for those who grow up in his neighborhood. If he continues
to develop on the field, perhaps he even will play in the National
Football League and make millions of dollars.
personal success is just part of the dream. Those in his community hope
that the well-mannered, devoted member of the Fellowship of Christian
Athletes will show them the way to success after he finds it himself.
At Heartworks Ministry, which McClinton
and his family helped build in the neighborhood, the player is a hero
to a generation of children who long to escape the poverty and
oppression that McClinton
He is their hope. If he succeeds, the little ones in his neighborhood
will know it is OK to have big dreams, because dreams can come true.
"All the little ones in the community want to be like Todd, so we want
Todd to be the very best he can be so that others will follow," said
Sandee Hensley, the founder and director of Heartworks Ministries.
A special teacher. When McClinton
was born, on Dec. 28, 1980, there was no reason to suspect he would
become the athletic pride of the neighborhood. The full-term baby born
to Yvonne Washington weighed just 5 pounds, 8 ounces. But before long,
it was obvious that this was a special child.
Virtually everybody who met McClinton
was impressed by his remarkable size.
"People used to ask me if I fed him fertilizer," Washington said, laughing.
was 4, a coach from Europe named Linda Davis introduced him to soccer,
a sport he played for seven years. While playing forward and goalie, McClinton
developed foot speed and dexterity that were unusual for a child of his stature.
But outside of athletics, life wasn't easy for McClinton
. His father, James Taylor, died in 1992, when McClinton
was an 11-year-old fifth-grader, leaving the boy yearning for a male
role model even as his grandmother and mother provided for him.
"We had hard times," McClinton
said. "My dad passed away and I had to stay with my grandma for a long
time. Now I am staying with my grandma, and my brothers and sisters are
staying with my mom. My grandma and my mom worked hard to take care of
all four children."
grandmother, raised four girls of her own as a single mother and
provided constant support for Washington as well as for Todd and his
two brothers and sister.
Despite the difficult circumstances, Todd was a joy every day. Todd
helped his grandmother, who suffered from diabetes and other ailments,
with the laundry and the yard work, and the family managed to make ends
And when McClinton
entered eighth grade, he crossed paths with a teacher at W.A. Perry Middle School who recognized that he was something special.
"Sandee Hensley came into his life," Deloris McClinton
said, "and things started changing for him."
Hensley said she was viewed with suspicion at first by some of the
students at W.A. Perry because she was an outsider, a white woman from
the mountains of western North Carolina at a school with mostly black
teachers and students.
was one of the few students who immediately welcomed
Hensley. He stayed after school to help her clean up. He sat with
Hensley at lunch when nobody else would.
"He was just precious," Hensley said.
They developed a friendship that has lasted to this day. Hensley was
tutoring members of the USC football team for Scott, and she took McClinton
and some of his friends to practice and to games.
When Hensley went on trips, she would bring along McClinton
and a friend. She treated McClinton
to dinner at restaurants, cooked tacos or Shake 'N Bake chicken and
chocolate chip cookies for him and played Uno and Dominoes with him.
Todd's grandmother and mother also became close with Hensley. Despite
their vastly different worlds, their similar beliefs in matters of
religious faith and morals allowed them to develop an important and
mutually beneficial relationship.
Hensley wanted to help people in the McClintons' neighborhood, but she
wasn't trusted because she was an outsider. The acceptance of Hensley
and his family made Hensley welcome to do work in the inner city.
"Sandee is a great person," McClinton
said. "She always has helped me and my family."
In turn, McClinton
and his family helped Hensley. Two and a half years ago, Hensley
decided to begin Heartworks Ministry, a Christian community center
affiliated with Shandon Baptist Church.
, his mother and grandmother, siblings, cousins and
friends helped Hensley remodel an old, empty house. For four months,
they refinished floors, repaired walls, painted and fixed the front
When the job was done, McClinton
children in the neighborhood had a place to go for help with their
homework and for Bible lessons. It turned out to be a valuable resource
, who suddenly, unexpectedly found himself in a madcap academic rush to qualify for a football scholarship at Clemson.
Falling in love with football. The boy who told Scott he never would
play football uttered those same words to C.A. Johnson High School
coach Victor Floyd.
Floyd's response was to grab McClinton
by the arm, take him to the cafeteria and force him to sign up for the
team. Football is a violent sport that is against the nature of the
mild-mannered, soft-spoken McClinton
, but he reluctantly joined the team for six games in his junior season.
First, though, McClinton
had to convince his mother that this was a good idea.
"She didn't want me to play at first," McClinton
said, "but I said, 'Mom, I'm a big boy.' "
The gentle giant played everywhere for C.A. Johnson. He was a running
back, quarterback, wide receiver, kick returner and a tight end over
the course of one and a half seasons with the Hornets.
He helped C.A. Johnson break a 34-game losing streak with a 26-0 victory over Keenan High School in 1999.
fared well in basketball against such well-known local
talent as Edward Scott, Aaron Lucas, Jerome Harper and Rolando Howell.
But the colleges that were interested in McClinton
for basketball were smaller names such as Montreat, Presbyterian, UNC Asheville and the College of Charleston.
"I had hoop dreams, but they didn't come true," McClinton
His dreams had a chance in football. At a clinic in February, Floyd
told Scott that C.A. Johnson had a tight end prospect that Scott had to
see. Scott wrote the name "Todd McClinton
" in a book he keeps, and he thought the name sounded familiar.
He didn't make the connection with the boy he had met at Shandon Baptist Church until McClinton
approached him at football camp in the summer of 1999. "Don't you remember me?" McClinton
The boy who never was going to play football had changed his mind and instantly became a high-profile recruit. McClinton
was the nation's top tight end prospect according to Border Wars and
Rivals 100, and he chose Clemson over Auburn, Miami, Georgia, South
Carolina and Tennessee.
Choosing a school was the easy part of the recruiting process for McClinton
. Qualifying for his scholarship was much more difficult.
Put to the test. Although McClinton
had a decent core grade-point average by the end of his senior year of
high school, achieving a qualifying standardized test score was
difficult. He took the ACT without preparing for it at all and received
a score he said was very low.
a rigorous program of study and tutoring in an effort to raise his
score. He had tutors in math, English, sociology and science, and he
worked with them every day for weeks.
"I studied hard," McClinton
said. "Coach made sure I worked on my books before I even played
football. Sometimes I even missed practice to stay and work to improve
my test score."
took that test, he knew he had achieved a qualifying ACT score. When the results came back, he was indeed a full qualifier.
The dream had come true. McClinton
went to Clemson in July for voluntary summer workouts and immediately became a favorite of his new teammates.
Scott called Hensley to tell her that players were raving about McClinton
's ability to catch the ball. McClinton
returned to Columbia to spend the final week of the summer with his family before he was due to report to camp.
His head was in the clouds because he was about to join new friends
with the opportunity to play in front of 80,000 people at Death Valley.
But on Aug. 2, his dreams came crashing down to earth.
While Hensley and Deloris McClinton
packed dishes and towels for McClinton
to take to school, the family learned that his test score had been
invalidated. His score had jumped so much on his second test that it
was called into question.
He couldn't report to Clemson with his teammates. He had to take the
ACT over again. And if he didn't post a qualifying score, he wouldn't
receive a scholarship.
"He went back in his room and stayed back there," Deloris McClinton
said. "And then when he came back out he said 'Momma, it's going to be all right. I'm going to get it.' "
Frustration, then triumph. If McClinton
had never dared to dream, he never would have faced this test of his character and determination.
The suspicion that he cheated on his test hurt the most. McClinton
is a devout Christian who has avoided trouble all his life in a tempting environment.
And he wants people to know that he didn't cheat on the ACT.
"I was scared sometimes," McClinton
said. "I couldn't believe that I earned a scholarship to this school,
and then some people would say I would cheat on my test to get in here."
The next five weeks were among the most difficult times McClinton
and his family have ever endured. There was an outcry among Clemson fans who were furious that McClinton
's credentials had been challenged.
Federal student privacy laws prevented school officials from disclosing the nature of McClinton
's academic snafu, so reporters called at all hours of the day and night trying to get information from the family.
Each caller received no comment from McClinton
, his mother or his grandmother.
"They got on my nerves," Deloris McClinton
said. "They really got on my nerves. Two or three o'clock in the morning, they would call and wake us up."
was even more frustrated after he went to re-take the
test, but was turned away because he didn't bring the proper
identification. Finally, he retook the test at Midlands Tech, but it
seemed to take an eternity to get it graded.
The family was frustrated, and Hensley's blood was boiling. She said
Clemson President James Barker did everything he could to help, and
Bowden increased the public pressure with comments to reporters on Fan
on the team, Bowden said, Clemson would be able to develop an entire
new phase of its offense using the tight end in the middle of the
field. Without McClinton
, he said, the fans would have to be patient.
This, of course, made the fans even more impatient.
"It was a month of distress, that's for sure," Hensley said.
Finally, the test score arrived on Sept. 6. McClinton
hadn't performed well enough to be a full qualifier, but he was a
partial qualifier. He could report to Clemson and play three seasons
but would have to sit out the 2000 season.
School officials rushed into action to get the ACC faculty academic
chairs to approve a special exception for Clemson to the league rule
that allows only one partial qualifier in any sport. The Tigers already
had a partial qualifier in the class with running back Terrance Huey,
and needed McClinton
to be a second.
The exception was approved, and McClinton
was allowed to enroll at Clemson. Sitting out the season wasn't easy,
but he felt good because he had proven himself by achieving a score
good enough to get him into school under incredible pressure.
"The thing that speaks volumes for Todd," Scott said, "is that he took
his test under difficult circumstances, one on one in a strange
environment, and he did that and performed well enough to still receive
his scholarship without a chance to study or prepare."
Full of potential. The dream came to fruition in bold, brilliant orange
for just a moment Wednesday afternoon under a gray sky as a cool breeze
blew off Lake Hartwell.
, who wears size 18 shoes and has hands the size of
oven mitts, peeled off the line of scrimmage to catch a pass late in a
scrimmage on a practice field near Jervey Athletic Center.
John Leake, a promising sophomore linebacker, delivered what should have been a crushing blow after McClinton
caught the ball and took two steps forward. But the 210-pound Leake
simply bounced off the midsection of the 6-foot-6, 260-pound McClinton
and crumpled to the ground as the tight end continued to run free.
While the players on the offense hooted their approval, defensive coaches screamed at Leake for failing to make the tackle.
It was just a glimpse of what fans and coaches hope McClinton
will do regularly for Clemson in the future.
"People say I've got good hands and good feet," McClinton
said. "I think I do. I can run. I can catch. My weakness is blocking. I
didn't block in high school. The ball came to me most of the time."
This is why McClinton
dream still has one hurdle to clear before it becomes reality. Bowden's
comments in the fall led Clemson fans to believe that McClinton
might be an All-America candidate immediately.
Nothing could be further from the truth. McClinton
played only a year and a half of high school football, most of it at positions other than tight end.
also still is working on learning the playbook. After
quarterback Woodrow Dantzler called out "Rio" to signal a formation to
the offense during a drill Monday, McClinton
lined up outside the wrong tackle.
Dantzler quickly stopped McClinton
and directed him to the right place.
"I think the fans sometimes think that because a guy is a top recruit
and five people who have never seen him play put him on their
All-America lists, he is supposed to come out and save the program,"
Scott said. "That kind of pressure on a young man is not always fair,
because they've got to get there and learn the system."
is learning quickly. After fervent prayer before his
first final exams in the fall semester, he achieved a 2.96 grade-point
average that has his coaches and his family bursting with pride as they
prepare to watch him in today's spring game at Death Valley.
With his easy sense of humor, McClinton
has charmed people on campus who were skeptical of his character and
academic ability before he arrived. In Scott, he has found the father
figure that has been lacking in his life.
"He calls me 'son' sometimes, and I call him 'Daddy Brad' sometimes," McClinton
said. "He likes it most of the time."
While the boy who was never going to play football uses the game to
live a dream, the children in his community are counting on him. His
mother and grandmother, Sandee Hensley, the coaches and his fans all
have high hopes for him.
The burden is almost too big for a young man to shoulder. But so far, Todd McClinton
has proven to be bigger than every test that has been placed before him.
"He's trying to do the best he can, and if he looks up for a minute and
sees the hugeness, he'll get swallowed up," Hensley said. "He's just
trying to survive, and he's doing a great job, and I'm so proud of him
I can hardly stand it."
CLEMSON SPRING GAME
3 p.m. today at Death Valley
* Tickets: Free. Enter at Gates 5, 9
* Info: 1-800-253-6766
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
At Clemson's spring football game
1. The point of attack
Clemson's offensive line dominated the last scrimmage despite the
absence of four starters. That was bad news for a defensive line that
has been depleted by injuries and suspensions, but coach Tommy Bowden
said it was partly due to a rigorous defensive workout the previous
There will be no such excuses today, and if the big guys on defense
can't hold their own, there will be plenty of concern heading into fall
2. Willie Simmons
Starting quarterback Woodrow Dantzler is out because of an injury, so
Simmons will have the spotlight to himself. Simmons has looked good and
made some spectacular plays this spring, but he also sometimes fails to
complete the high-percentage throws that should be easy for such a
3. Field goal unit
Place-kicker Aaron Hunt has improved after posting decent numbers
(8-for-13 on field goals) as a freshman. But Hunt's longest successful
kick last season was from 31 yards, and he still needs to prove he is
reliable from outside 35 yards.
4. Kevin Johnson
The likely starter at right cornerback despite little experience, this
sophomore will be the target of the offense for most of the scrimmage.
Part of that is because left cornerback Brian Mance has had a solid
spring. Part of it is because Johnson, though he has made his share of
stops this spring, also has been vulnerable to big plays.
5. Three key WRs
Kevin Youngblood, Jackie Robinson and Derrick Hamilton have made big
plays this spring. They also have dropped far too many passes. If their
catches don't outnumber their drops by at least five to one, the Tigers
will finish the spring happy that help is on the way with the nation's
top group of wideout recruits reporting to campus in the fall.
-Compiled by Ken Tysiac
1. Todd McClinton
had to be dragged to a sign-up
session for football at C.A. Johnson. Now he's showing loads of
potential as a tight end at Clemson. PHOTOS BY RICH GLICKSTEIN/THE STATE
once thought football ws too violent for him.
3. Todd McClinton
(getting a pat on the back from Clemson assistant Rick Stockstill)
thought basketball would be his best chance for success. 'I had hoop
dream, but they didn't come true,' says the soft-spoken tigjt end from
Columbia. PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH GLICKSTEIN/THE STATE