McDONOUGH, Ga. — Clemson Family, there’s something you should know about your newest football commit, Chandler Reeves.
Football comes last.
Now don’t take that as a slight to the importance of the sport — particularly on the collegiate level in Clemson, SC. It’s also not a slight to the vast tradition of Tiger football.
He’s very well-versed. To the point where he believes the past tradition has served as a foundational stepping stone to what he believes are even greater days coming.
“Coach (Dabo) Swinney and that culture he’s created at Clemson, it’s a huge organization and it has the potential to be the best in the nation,” Reeves said. “We have a chance to win a national championship in the next four or five years.”
And while that thought no doubt has you diehard Clemson fans salivating, it’s not the part of the Clemson experience that necessarily has Reeves drooling.
The Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (McDonough, Ga.) offensive tackle made his collegiate choice this past weekend, announcing to the Twittersphere that he would pick Death Valley (Clemson) over The Flats (Georgia Tech).
And Clemson Family, here’s what you’re getting:
A 6-foot-6, 270 pound rangy tackle with good hands, quick feet and an intensity that belies his mannerable, boy-next-door appearance.
You’re getting a guy who’s quickly become one of the most sought-after high school players in the four-county Southern Crescent area of South Metro Atlanta.
You’re getting a guy who has the cerebral girth to match his ample physical abilities.
And as good as that sounds, here’s what you should really be excited about, Clemson Family.
“When it came down to my recruiting process, there were three main things I was looking for in making my choice,” Reeves said Monday night. “Football is third, because I felt like if I could find a place where I could serve God and grow in my faith as a Christian and where I could thrive academically, the football part would take care of itself.”
Reeves said he’s found that place at Clemson.
And it’s Swinney and his faith — the coach was the 2014 Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year — that swayed him, but not from an idolizing standpoint. Even though the eighth-year Clemson coach has strong convictions about exemplifying the life of Jesus Christ even as he runs a blue-blooded, state-funded college football program, Reeves said the impressive thing about his future college is that even in the God-stuff, it isn’t just about the guy in charge.
“It’s not really Coach Swinney’s culture,” Reeves said. “But it’s God’s culture that he’s establishing there with the team. And the University stands behind him. Coach Swinney is probably one of the biggest Christian figures in college football, but it’s not just about him. It’s not just one guy with a belief. That’s the good thing.”
To be sure, the football at Clemson has also been pretty good since Swinney took the reigns after Tommy Bowden’s resignation six games into the 2008 season. Swinney’s compiled a 61-26 overall record with a 4-3 mark in bowl games and a 2011 ACC Championship to boot.
Several of his players have gone on to NFL careers, and at least two of his past teams have started the season as dark horse national championship contenders.
None of that is lost on Reeves. And his assertion that football comes third to God and the classroom is not the talk of a guy who’s just “happy to be here.” Reeves is a bonafide football player, coming from bonafide football stock. His brother Christian played three years at Virginia Tech after his time at ELCA.
Reeves himself was one of the leaders who helped galvanize an 0-6 ELCA team that played a brutal schedule against some of the best squads in Georgia, featuring some of the state’s top defensive line talent, regardless of classification, and helped will them to seven straight wins and an unlikely Class A championship game appearance.
But the fact that Reeves sees Clemson as more of a mission field than just a football factory is refreshing to me personally as a Christian, but it should be to anyone, regardless of your faith persuasion.
Why? Because we have enough prima donnas in all levels of big time athletics to go around. We have enough guys with considerable talent but questionable integrity. By now, we should have had our fill of guys who come to a school looking for what it can do for them rather than how they can leave their mark on it.
Reeves represents the antithesis of the me-first mentality that too often permeates the game of college football. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t want tangible success.
He wants to win another state championship at ELCA. He wants to win a national title at Clemson. He, no doubt, may have some aspirations of playing the game at the highest level in the NFL.
But before all that, he sees the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life. Whereas many use football as their way out or their way up, Reeves wants this God-given talent platform to be used as a way in — a way to get Christ’s love into the hearts of people who may need it most.
“We all have our different talents,” Reeves said. “God placed those talents in us for a reason. Wherever we are in our lives, I believe God has willed it and created an avenue to share the Gospel in whatever we’re doing. Sure, it’s a blessing to do what I love to do every day in football. But if I can use that opportunity to just shine the light of Jesus Christ on one person throughout my time at Clemson, I know it’ll be all worthwhile.
“If I work hard at using the gifts God has given me on the field, and doing what I love every day, and surround myself with opportunities to share Christ, then, bam. It’s a mission field, and it’s what God has called me to do.”
This mindset gives him a heightened sense of focus — a greater, more comprehensive life purpose that actually works to fuel the immediate purpose of accomplishing greatness on the football field.
Reeves doesn’t profess to be a “do-gooder,” or a “choir boy.” He simply believes that as important as football is, there are things more important — like the eternal condition of one’s soul. And football itself is simply a tool that he can use to help change someone’s life.
He says Clemson reminds him a lot of ELCA and Jonathan Gess, his high school football coach. He calls his Charger football teammates an “extended prayer group,” that doesn’t just gather to pray for big games and improved health for injured players, but also for personal concerns. For family struggles. For national and world issues. For people to find out the truth of who God is.
For things that have everything and nothing to do with football, all at the same time.
“In that way we’re more than a football team,” Reeves said. “Coach Gess always says that first and foremost, our program’s goal is to build men for Jesus Christ. After that, we’re going to get to work on the football field and strive for success. Whether that’s a championship, or 10 kids getting saved on our football team. Coach Gess will tell you that he’d rather lose 10 games and have 10 kids find the love of Jesus Christ during a season. And he’s not just one who spews out these words with no results. I’ve seen Coach Gess live it 365 days a year, every year I’ve been here.”
And while some give their faith the assist for their athletic prowess, Reeves sees it a little bit differently. He credits football for a greater understanding of what it takes to live a disciplined Christian life, even at a young age.
“It’s a daily grind, both football and being a Christian,” Reeves say. “Football isn’t easy, and being a Christian isn’t easy. With football, every day you’re gonna hear that alarm clock and you’re not going to want to get up. But you make yourself do it anyway because of where you want to be. It’s the same with your faith. Some days you’re not gonna want to do that devotion, or have that prayer. But you push through and do it anyway, because you know God’s going to bless you for that.”
Reeves will tell you that he’s blessed to be a part of the Clemson Family. I believe the Clemson Family is blessed to have Reeves as well.
Gabriel Stovall is the founding editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. Got a story or column idea? He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’re on Twitter, follow him @GabrielStovall1, or follow our page @crescent_buzz. Also find us on Instagram @screscent_buzz.