Miami Gardens, Fla. – The leading passer on the nation’s No. 1 team is Deshaun Watson. He’s from Georgia. (Gainesville, to be precise.) The leading rusher on the nation’s No. 1 team is Wayne Gallman. He’s from Georgia, too. (Grayson High in Loganville, which like Gainesville isn’t far from Athens, the college town that sports a football program not involved in the College Football Playoff.)
We’ll have more to say about the splendid Mr. Watson in a bit, but for now let’s hear from Mr. Gallman, who has rushed for 1,332 yards and is within two first downs of Clemson’s single-season record. He was recruited by Georgia, but he liked the little town in Pickens County, S.C., more. “Once you go to Clemson (to visit),” Gallman said Tuesday, “you’re attracted.”
The Tigers also had an personal hook. Grayson coach Mickey Conn was the Alabama roommate of Dabo Swinney, who coaches Clemson. Gallman also forged a bond with Chad Morris, then Clemson’s offensive coordinator. Gallman liked Bryan McClendon – the Georgia assistant who’ll be coaching the Bulldogs in the TaxSlayer Bowl – but he picked the place in Pickens County. (And we concede that, with Todd Gurley and Nick Chubb and Sony Michel and Keith Marshall, Georgia has done OK at signing backs.)
Still, the scene at Sun Life Stadium on Media Day for Thursday’s Orange Bowl was jarring. Watson, a Georgian, was seated at the first podium on the far end of the mezzanine. At the next podium was Gallman, another Georgian. The Bulldogs, meanwhile, were due north on I-95, preparing for yet another bowl that doesn’t matter.
But enough about Georgia. As good as he has been, Gallman has actually been a bit disappointed in his yield. “I wanted 2,000 yards,” he said. His longest run – 66 yards through the left side, to be precise — came on the third play of the game against Georgia Tech back in October, but he offers an asterisk to that. “I should have had a longer one. Against Boston College I went inside instead of going outside.”
Gallman is neither surprised nor chagrined that the No. 1 Tigers are a betting underdog to Oklahoma. “We always get disrespected,” he said. “We’re always being put down. That’s how it’s been all year. We expected it.”
Being a coach, Dabo seized on this latest slight. “He uses it. He riles us up,” Gallman said. “He gets ticked off as well. It’s fuel for the fire.”
Being No. 1 has, however, had its perks. Over Christmas in Loganville, Gallman didn’t dress himself in full Clemson regalia. People still recognized him, though. “They know my face,” he said. “I went to the mall (the massive Mall of Georgia in Buford) and people were saying, ‘Hey, Clemson.’ ”
So how, someone asked, has a guy who grew up outside the Perimeter taken to the more rustic charms of his collegiate home? “You come to Clemson and you see trees,” Gallman said, “and then boom! There’s campus. It’s small, but it keeps people out of trouble, so that’s probably a good thing.”
And there’s rather less traffic, yes? “Not on game day,” Gallman said. Fair point.
Further reading: Clemson could hush all those ACC skeptics.