Campers get to live a dream

CLEMSON — As the buses turned the corner and headed towards the eastside of Memorial Stadium Sunday, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney led his troops, 13 men from all walks of life, into a cheer as they approached their final destination.

"Are you ready? Are you ready? Let's get up! Let's get up," he yelled as the bus stopped at the entrance to the Tigers' famous hill where Howard's Rock calls home.

From there these new Tigers made their way to the place they've dreamed about as kids and young men, but never thought they would actually get to rub Howard's Rock and run down the hill.

"This was about three decades in the making," said Chris Scillieri, who came down with his wife and daughter from New Jersey to participate in Dabo Swinney's first Fantasy Camp. "When I came down here and went to school, I wanted to play football, but I never really had the opportunity at the time. So to be able to gear up and walk around that locker room and run down that hill and get on that field — it's where all the big boys play every fall. It's beyond words."

The moment left Easley's Dan Jones speechless and emotional as he tried to gather himself. The IPTAY representative said the whole experience was priceless.

"I have watched the team bus come around the stadium for years and of course I'm in the charter bus business so it had a special meaning to me and I have had the privilege of doing the transportation for this," he said.

"To experience what those guys go through from the time they leave the hotel on Saturday morning to the time they get into the locker room and are ready and prepared and then that final minute ride to the hill, and then to unload and run down the hill… I can see how the kids can get pumped from doing that and the emotions that build from having done that event and then going out and playing like you have never played before."

But before they could play, campers — who paid $2,000 to get a first-hand account of what it is like to be a Clemson Tiger for a weekend — had to first experience the world of recruiting, learn the history of Clemson football, see what kind of workouts players must go through to get ready to play, sit in on offensive and defensive meetings, before having to actually practice.

"I really think the guys that came are probably leaving here today feeling like they got quite a bargain," Swinney said. "We spent a ton of time coaching and teaching. We ate well and we had a lot of fun. That really is what it's all about.

"This is an opportunity to go out and create ambassadors for Clemson football and give people and insight that they really can't get without being on the inside and I hope that is what they got this weekend."

That's certainly what Columbia native Ben Barton got.

"This has been the best experience that I have ever had, especially in athletics," he said. "If you are a Clemson fan, you have to do this. It is a no brainer. The economy is not doing too well and things are tight for everybody, but you have to look at what the value of having the time of your life is worth. What is it worth to you?

"This is a no-brainer."

Barton said the experience was more than just running down the hill and playing football on Sunday, though he loved it, but he said he also loved the fact they had the opportunity to meet and socialize with all the current coaches, former head coach Danny Ford and former Hall of Fame players Jeff Davis, Perry Tuttle and Michael Dean Perry.

"The hill was cool, don't get me wrong. It was awesome getting to run down the hill and it was awesome being on the bus, but that's only a five-minute window of the entire weekend," Barton said. "Everything else was just as good. Believe it or not, these guys are awesome.

"These are the best coaches I have ever been around. There are a lot of good things coming."

And that includes having Clemson Fantasy Camp II next year.

"This is something I have wanted to do for a couple of years and have been thinking about it and kicking it around for several years," Swinney said. "There are several schools out there that do a fantasy camp, but I'm not sure they do it like we did. There are probably some similarities.

"Clemson is a place that obviously has a very passionate fan base. We have a lot of traditions and a lot of unique things that we have to sell here… I think they had a great time and I tell you what, the coaches really enjoyed it. For us, this is what we do. We coach ball. This is when we get a chance to really talk ball with some people that really want to learn. It was a great weekend." Top Stories