Right at home

CLEMSON — It has taken Kevin Steele 32 years to get back to his home state of South Carolina.

From his playing days at the University of Tennessee to a coaching career that has seen him coach with some of the best in college football and in the NFL, he has always held out hope that his career would one day take him back to the Palmetto State.

"I wake up every morning fairly comfortable regardless of where I'm at, but this is a great place to be. It truly is," he said.

Steele grew up in Dillon as the son of a teacher and principal that is well thought of in the state. Pete Steele, who passed away last summer, was an educator and football coach before becoming a principal, where he was well thought of and liked across the state.

"You walk in places here, and there is not a school building or educational meeting that I have walked into in this state where it wasn't ‘you're Jeff's brother, you're Dale's brother or you're Pete's son.' I mean so many people know the name," Kevin Steele said. "You run into guidance councilors, principals, assistant principals, teachers and coaches that know who you are because of your family."

And now that he is working, recruiting and coaching for Clemson, it makes it even better.

As he meets alumni or just the casual fan in the street, he always gets the feeling that Clemson isn't just a town or school as much as it is an identity for those associated with it.

"I have worked at Nebraska, Tennessee, Florida State and Alabama," Steele said. "There is a passion at those institutions and when people speak at those institutions they speak of it as the greatest place ever. When Clemson people talk about Clemson, however, they talk about it like it is a person.

"I'm waiting to meet this person because it is a relationship that goes beyond just an educational institution. It is a great place."

And those kinds of feelings motivate Steele to do all he can to help bring back a championship to a program that has been starved for one since 1991.

Steele's philosophy is that of an attacking style defense, which will include different elements he has picked up in all of his stops on his way back to South Carolina. Stops that include Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Nebraska, the Carolina Panthers, Florida State and then of course Alabama.

But no matter what scheme he throws at opposing offensives, whether it is a zone blitz scheme he picked up from his good friend Dom Capers in the NFL or maybe it's a coverage scheme Nick Saban passed on to him at Alabama. Steele's primary philosophy is elementary.

"The primary objective is to get the ball back. That's our job," he said. "It doesn't matter if we are called upon to do it with four yards to the goal line or 84 yards to the goal line. Get the ball back and get it back as quick as you can.

"That's the primary objective. How to do that? There are a lot of different ways."

Ways he has picked up in both college and in the NFL. Ways that have helped him make it back to South Carolina.

"That makes it feel more at home," Steele said.

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