‘To God Be the Glory’: The Faith That Carried Clemson to Victory

If you saw only screaming fans and ticker tape, you missed the story.

By Nancy Flory Published on January 10, 2017

Just after midnight Tuesday in college football’s National Championship game, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, with one second left, threw the ball two yards to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow. The pass won the game at 35-31, giving Clemson their first championship since 1981. The typical college-football-win hysteria was there, along with the mandatory Gatorade dunk, obligatory press interviews and drunken bar scenes filled with screaming fans.

But if that’s all you saw, you missed the game. The real story goes much deeper — as deep as the faith of Head Coach Dabo Swinney and his players. 

‘It’s What God Wanted’

As ticker tape rained down on the field and cheering fans formed a deafening roar, quarterback Deshaun Watson stood with a reporter for an interview. Still gasping for air following the game, his smile was electric. “I’m speechless right now, man. It’s what God want[ed]. He put us [here] for a reason,” he said. “I talked to one of my coaches and he said ‘It’s a movie and it’s going to end the right way. Just keep believing in God, and just believe in your teammates and everything’s gonna fall in place,’ and that’s what happened and now we’re national champs and it’s amazing!”

Watson was asked why he made the decision to attend Clemson when he originally wanted to go to Florida. Calling Florida his “dream school” and saying that he loved Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin, Watson said the decision was made after he found Christ in 9th grade. He began to pray, along with his ailing mother, about which school to attend and that God would lead him to the right decision. “The day I committed to Clemson, God was talking to me and I just felt like the timing was perfect and that’s what I wanted to do. I stuck through it and it was the best decision of my life.”

‘Only God Can Do This’

Head Coach Dabo Swinney, in a post-game press conference, said rival Alabama worked hard and was a great team, but in the end, his players worked harder. “They fought. They fought for every play,” he said. “I said it out on the field and I’ll say it again. For me personally, only God can do this … there’s just no other explanation for me. It’s not anything to do with me. It’s God working through me and the staff and these players.

“Alabama [is] a challenge. … we just kind of hung in there. We made some mistakes, really we played great defense outside of about three plays, four plays, great drive by them there at the end, unbelievable play, to get the first down there, but at the end of the day, we had one second. We got it done with one second left and we’re the National Champs. To God be the glory.”

Journey of Faith

Wide receiver Hunter Renfrow said being a walk-on player was a “journey,” and that he could never have imagined last night’s win back as a senior in Myrtle Beach. “It’s almost like I got knocked out in the third quarter and this is just all a dream. And credit — I think my faith in God really got me through.” In a locker room interview, Renfrow added that winning the championship felt “unbelievable.” “Just glory to God. Thankful for everyone who … got me to this point.”

The Real Story

The real story of Clemson’s win isn’t about the school having the biggest or fastest or strongest players — although Tigers worked very hard to get to the championship game. It isn’t about who had the most genial or magnetic personality — although Coach Swinney is known for having such a disposition. The real story behind the incredible win is that the men interviewed following the game — the coach and key players — exhibited and proclaimed their faith on the world stage.

Given the opportunity to remain silent, these guys held up Christ as their hope and reason for success.

Watson summed it up in one last interview question on the field. The star quarterback was asked what he told his teammates when he led his offense back on the field after Alabama had regained the lead very late in the fourth quarter. “I walked up to my offensive line and I walked up to my receivers and I said, ‘Let’s be legendary. Let’s be great. God put us here for a reason.'”

Here’s the ‘legendary’ game-winning pass:


Note: A big “thank you” to Stream reader Kim L. for suggesting this story. 

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