Remembering Gaines

April 17, 2002 - that was my first encounter with Gaines Adams.

We corresponded via e-mail regarding his recent verbal commitment to Clemson, after switching from an original pledge to North Carolina.

His comments were published here on CUTigers that day in a Q&A feature for our premium subscribers.

As it turns out, it would be the first of well over 100 conversations I probably had with him over the course of the next five years.

In fact, in his last two seasons, I'm sure I talked with Gaines Adams every single week, either in 1-on-1 interviews for the Tiger Pre-game Show or for articles here on CUTigers.

Adams, pictured here in 2002 signing his LOI with Clemson, played as a wide receiver and defensive end at Fork Union Military. (CUTigers File)
And I watched him grow up, literally, over the course of that time.

From a soft-spoken player who was somewhat intimidated by the media as an underclassman, to a bigger-than-life NFL first-round draft prospect that commanded the attention of every room he entered - it was amazing to watch his transformation.

I remember conversations I had with him early in his career regarding his time spent as a wide receiver at Fork Union and how it was mind-boggling to think of defensive end in that role.

I remember his emergence during spring practice one year before he exploded on the scene during his junior season.

I remember the press conference announcing his return to Clemson for his senior season and how he said Tommy Bowden was instrumental in that decision.

Then I remember the spectacular plays - the incredible 66-yard fumble return for a touchdown at Wake Forest during his senior year. There was also the 28 career sacks - tying for No. 1 in Clemson history with the great Michael Dean Perry.

Adams started to emerge during spring practice before his sophomore season before exploding on the scene as a junior. (Roy Philpott)
There were the 44.5 tackles for loss and 66 quarterback pressures.

There were the countless awards he received during his senior season- ACC Defensive Player of the Year, AP first-team All-American, The Sporting News First-team All-American and on and on.

And when he was selected No. 4 overall by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2007 draft, I remember he was widely considered to be the best most coveted pass-rusher available that year.

Then I remember Bowden issuing a statement that same day on how incredible it was for Gaines Adams to go from playing eight-man football in high school to being a first-round draft selection in the NFL.

Those sentiments were echoed again by Dabo Swinney in a statement released Sunday.

But most of what I remember about Gaines Adams was just sitting down inside of the old team meeting room in the McFadden building and talking football. He was always up for an interview, no matter how many times he had been asked the same question over and over.

Adams was eventually picked as the No. 4 overall selection in the 2007 NFL Draft. (Roy Philpott)
He was always gracious with his time, even after reaching the "big time" of the National Football League.

The last time we spoke was in Tallahassee on the sidelines in Doak-Campbell Stadium in 2008, shortly before the Tigers took on Florida State.

We talked about "life in the league" and I remember asking him about his thoughts on Dabo Swinney, who was then Clemson's interim coach. And while I don't remember much else about the specifics of that conversation, I remember walking away from our discussion amazed at just how genuine and friendly he was after all that time.

It was only 10 or 15 minutes of talking, but all it did was reaffirm what I remembered most from his days in Clemson: Gaines Adams was one of the good guys.

And then to learn that he passed away, at the age of 26 on Sunday morning, was just shocking. It was absolutely stunning.

I knew Gaines Adams.

And I liked the Gaines Adams I knew.

I just wish there more times in the future to get to know him better.

NOTE: In a tribute to Gaines Adams, has designated a post on our football message board for all fans to leave their thoughts on this former Clemson great. To view that thread and post your message now, please click here. Top Stories