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Athlon Cover Catch-Up: Charlie Whitehurst talks Dabo Swinney, Clemson and Being Handsome


Charlie Whitehurst began his career at Clemson taking over for the immensely successful Woodrow Dantzler, who left school as the most productive quarterback in school history.

By the end of his college career in 2005, Whitehurst passed Dantzler by nearly 2,500 career passing yards. As Clemson continued to be an offensive powerhouse, Whitehurst watched his records fall to Tajh Boyd.

Whitehurst, who appeared on the Athlon Sports ACC preview cover in 2005 alongside the Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, led Clemson to two bowl games in three seasons, two bowl victories and two top-25 finishes. Now, Clemson is a College Football Playoff contender riding a streak of four consecutive 10-win seasons.

Whitehurst played for former coach Tommy Bowden but Whitehurst’s receivers were quickly becoming accustomed to their new receivers coach, Dabo Swinney. While Swinney built up the Clemson program, Whitehurst has spent a decade in the NFL, primarily as a backup.

In 2014 for the Tennessee Titans, Whitehurst started a career-high five games, but he’s become just as notable in Nashville for a style that looks like it belongs on a stage at a rock concert as much as on the football field. Nashville Lifestyles magazine named him one of the 25 most beautiful people for 2014, confirming that, yes, the backup quarterback is the most popular guy in town.

How closely do you stay involved in the Clemson program?

I was at the Notre Dame game a few weeks ago. We were on a bye week, so I went to go see them. I try to watch them when I can. I know they’re undefeated and they’ve got a solid quarterback. Dabo’s done a heckuva a job since he’s been there. It’s fun to say you went to Clemson. They’ve got a real shot at it this year.

Were you on the sideline for the Notre Dame game or did you get a seat? The weather was not good.

It was pouring down rain. I got wet pregame. I was down there and watched them warm up and run down the hill, but I found some shelter after that.

You were there when Dabo was receivers coach. Did you have any interaction with him or did teammates tell you about him?

He always seemed like he took his job real seriously. I remember one of the receivers, I asked him how’s Dabo as the new coach, and he told me, “He’s making us take notes in there. He’s really tough on us.” That’s what everybody does now, but back then we were running the spread and we didn’t have many plays. We didn’t have notebooks or big playbooks, but Dabo had his receivers taking notes. I didn’t know that every other college in America was doing that. But Dabo, he was demanding of those guys. He pushed them really hard. I think it made them better. …

He had a little cart that he wheeled in, like a substitute teacher, and he’d make a presentation and give them game plan to the receiver. It was weird, but my point is that he’s always doing the extra thing.

He’s always been a high-energy guy. We lucked into him, but my gosh, he could be there as long as he wants to.

He’s kind of character, a great motivator. Did you notice any of that or was he so early into his career that he didn’t really show that side?

You noticed it because he was out there pushing his position group really hard. I remember when I left he was a guy everyone really respected, and you knew he was a little different. It doesn’t surprise me. You say character, but that is who he is. He’s not trying to put on a persona. He’s a motivator. People really relate to him. He’s a leader. When he got hired, I said, my God, what a leader.

Swinney reacted strongly to a question about “Clemsoning” — meaning, a team that starts out hot, raises expectations, and loses a game in a major upset. That term aside, something has changed for Clemson in the last five years where that team is able to handle success in a way it didn’t before. What have you seen that’s changed?

We’ll see how the season goes. Clemson’s had some really good seasons and been in some good situations and then you don’t win the big game, but there’s, what, six or seven teams in the last six or seven years that haven’t done that and they won the national championship. There aren’t 20 teams a year that don’t do that. But I get it. It takes a while. The recruiting takes a little time. The facilities, the coaches. It takes time to get talent in there. It takes time, and it’s hard to win every game.

Clemson is one of the top 10 teams in terms of producing NFL players. Do you have a relationship with these guys even if you didn’t play with them in college?

You try to talk to them before the game. But I’m the oldest one. I don’t think there’s a player in the NFL that I played with. There’s not a lot of guys I personally played with. You usually say hello.

Speaking of being one of the older Clemson guys still in the NFL, you’ve had a 10-year NFL career. Do you ever think, wow, I’ve got it pretty good.

I’m proud of how a lot of it has gone. How many people get out of the game and wish they had done more. I have some regrets and some things that could have been better. But to last 10 years, I am pretty proud of that.

You’ve gained a bit of local celebrity status in Nashville. What do you think of that?

I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Well, you were on a most beautiful people list.

I think when you grow your hair long and play quarterback, little things like that, it’s like “Who is this guy?” It’s a great town, if we can get this going in the direction we think it’s going, we’ll get a lot of support and it will be a lot of fun. It’s a great a football town.

Do you get recognized moreso than other backup quarterbacks?

I’m not sure. Maybe. I don’t have an issue with it or anything. I can go anywhere I want. You see people out at dinner who are in the music business, and who am I compared to some of those people?