Buchholz Recalls "Greatest Feeling"

CLEMSON — When he approached the football in the final seconds of last year's game with South Carolina, Clemson kicker Mark Buchholz became nervous.

It was a weird time to be nervous, but when Buchholz saw the laces to the football were pointing left he knew it could mean disaster for his teammates and for Clemson's passionate fans.

The year before, Buchholz's predecessor, Jad Dean, had just missed a kick to the left in the closing seconds that would have forced the first overtime game in the 106-year old rivalry. Remembering how down everyone in Clemson was following Dean's miss, Buchholz was hoping history would not repeat itself as his ball left the ground and headed towards the uprights as time expired.

"When I hit it, I thought ‘hey I hit that good,' but when I looked up it started tailing left so I was a little nervous," he said Monday. "Once I knew it was in, it was all fun from there."

Buchholz 35-yard field goal stayed just enough inside the left upright to give the Tigers a 23-21 victory over South Carolina.

"Celebrating with your teammates – that is the greatest feeling in playing sports," the senior said. "When you win or you win a close game, the time you have with your teammates after the game, and just the way they celebrated and supported me, I will never forget that.

"I think the most joy you get in winning is the celebration with your teammates and the fans afterwards. Just putting a smile on people's faces, it can't be matched."

Buchholz hopes he can put more smiles on the faces of those dressed in orange this Saturday when USC and Clemson hook up for a high-noon showdown in Death Valley.

"If it comes about again this year, it will be fun," Buchholz said. "Last year was a lot of fun winning in that fashion so if it happens, I'm all for it.

"Hopefully, it will not be that close. It is always a hard fought game though and I will be ready if called upon."

Beating the Gamecocks, who come into Saturday's game with a 7-4 record, was somewhat surreal for Buchholz. Never before had he been responsible for making so many people happy and so many people sad at the same time.

And that included his family.

Several of Buchholz's cousins are USC graduates and the last year has been an interesting one for him to say the least. Two weeks after hitting the game-winning kick against the Gamecocks, Buchholz was back in Columbia on the USC campus as a groomsman in his cousin's wedding.

"All of his groomsmen were South Carolina fans except two of them," Buchholz said. "I guess I got some (stuff said) about me at the rehearsal dinner, but I wasn't able to go to that. But I think I caught a bunch from Danny the groom.

"They will be here this weekend. It's fun. For my graduation present in May, he gave me a South Carolina cooler and I actually gave it away to Coach (Larry) Penley's brother-in-law, I think. It is pretty neat, and the rivalry is pretty special for sure."

Not all of Buchholz's cousins went to USC. One of his older cousins graduated from Clemson back in the 1990s and took Buchholz to a couple of games when he was a kid. That same cousin gave him a framed blown up picture of the game-winning field goal as a graduation gift last spring.

This one he decided to keep as it hangs proudly in his house.

"I don't really look at it much," he said sarcastically.

Last year's winning kick wasn't the first time Buchholz had broken the hearts of the Gamecocks.

When he was a sophomore for the soccer team in 2005, he knocked in the game-winning goal on a free-kick. Like the football game, that too was played in Columbia. Buchholz remembers the rivalry as being every bit as intense on the soccer pitch as it is on the football field.

"The level of intensity is probably very similar, if not the same, as it is on the football field. That's what makes it such an interesting rivalry with the level of competition and the heat of the battle is unbelievable. I felt that on the soccer field," he said. "It was crazy. The rivalry is like nothing else. It's awesome."

Especially when you have the power to make a lot people happy, and a lot of people unhappy at the same time.

"It is one of the highlights of my career here at Clemson," Buchholz said.

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