I taught Derek during his 10th grade year. At that time, Derek was a budding superstar that already had offers from Wake Forest and Duke, and he was constantly receiving letters from every major college football program in the country. Derek was moderately intelligent, very well mannered, and very respectful of me.
But Derek knew he was special, and that was the beginning of his downfall.
Now, back to Derek and his Clemson connection. Tommy West recruited Derek very hard. In fact, Derek was won over by the former Clemson coach. Even though Derek was officially a Florida State fan, the distance to Tallahassee had Derek gun shy about pursuing FSU. If West would have survived the 1998 season without getting fired, there is no doubt in my mind that Derek would be in Clemson orange today. The firing of West in 1998 threw Derek's recruiting process up in the air.
New Clemson coach Tommy Bowden was not as smitten with Derek as was West, and the recruiting process cooled in Tigertown. Derek was not going to qualify, and Bowden all but told Derek that his future was not in Clemson. Hindsight may be 20/20, but you have to wonder if Bowden was looking through a crystal ball. Bowden has recruited partial qualifiers since then (see Todd McClinton), but he seemed to have very little interest in taking a chance on Derek. The official theory is that Bowden did not recruit Watson hard because he was not qualified, but the reality of it was Bowden was wary of Derek.
So, in the end, Derek chose USC over Tennessee. Most South Carolinians, whether Tigers or Gamecocks, were happy that the state's Mr. Football at least stayed within the borders of South Carolina. At the time, it seemed a great catch for the Gamecocks. Carolina fans hailed the signing of Watson as a monumental shift in the football program that would begin a reawakening of the Gamecocks. Seems they were half right. USC's fortunes have turned dramatically, despite the distractions Derek has brought.
It would be easy to flame Derek for his missteps. It is much harder to defend Derek for his behavior. And, I have heard his defenders line up in his defense one by one. Walking away from your team and returning home because of personal problems is no big deal, you say. Skipping photo day to attend a funeral that really wasn't is immature, you say. Wrecking a car is an accident, something that can't be avoided, even if it is 2:00 a.m. in the morning. That intramural referee was arrogant and unfairly called fouls against Derek because of who he was. That referee had that push to the ground coming for a long time. And hitting a woman in the arm is ok since she started it and was flailing away at poor old Derek who is only 210 pounds with 4.6 speed.
It is not Derek's fault. He is a product of the system and his own sad past.
Derek knows good and well what he is doing and how it is affecting the University of South Carolina. Derek knows good and well he should not strike a female, no matter what the circumstance. And Derek knows right from wrong.
Problem is, Derek can't avoid crossing the line between what is good and what is bad.
I liked Derek. But this game is getting tired.
Lou Holtz is slowly losing his reputation as a disciplinarian by pandering to Watson and his antics. Holtz disguises his pandering with the motto that Derek is doing more good than bad in Columbia. In most college football worlds, Derek would be long gone because of the embarrassment he has brought his school. In Clemson's world under Tommy Bowden, Derek would be long gone, no question about it. That does not make Bowden a better coach, or person, than Holtz. That is just the reality.
So why would Coach Holtz put his neck, and reputation, on the line for a guy from Williamston, South Carolina? Simple…very simple.
If and when Coach Holtz gives Derek the boot, Derek will quickly find trouble...serious trouble. In fact, Derek would be dead in six months if he were not playing football. Sounds drastic and overdramatic, but it is the truth. Derek would be dead, and the last sad chapter of a career unfulfilled would be written. I know it. You know it. Lou Holtz knows it.
And Tommy Bowden had enough common sense to know it back in the spring of 1999.
I hope for a good ending to this saga. I hope Derek is, deep down, as good a kid today as I knew him 4 years ago. And if I bump into Derek in Williamston at Palmetto High School's graduation this year, I'm sure he will greet me with a "How are you doing, Mr. Rhymer". You see, that is the Derek I knew. That is the Derek that I hope will one day be again.
But that is also the Derek that I am grateful never set foot on Clemson University's campus. Hindsight is truly 20/20. Especially when looking through a crystal ball.
You can reach Scott Rhymer at firstname.lastname@example.org.