Clemson's Swinney draws large crowd to local FCA banquet

By NICHOLAS SULLIVAN
Posted 1/31/20

Those who flooded Thursday evening into the Clarence Brown Conference Center would be made to wait in anticipation before getting to meet Dabo Swinney. As always, though, the Clemson head football …

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Clemson's Swinney draws large crowd to local FCA banquet

Posted

Those who flooded Thursday evening into the Clarence Brown Conference Center would be made to wait in anticipation before getting to meet Dabo Swinney.

As always, though, the Clemson head football coach stole the show at the microphone, pushing his late arrival to the back of everyone's minds by the time he wrapped up his nearly 90-minute speech as keynote speaker of the 15th Annual Bartow County Fellowship of Christian Athletes Home Team Fundraising Banquet.

"I am literally the poster child for the FCA, the impact it can have," Swinney told 400-plus individuals inside the Etowah Ballroom. "It is so important for me to give back. That's why I'm here.

"I do a couple of these every single year. ... The FCA, that's the reason I met the Lord."

A two-time national champion with the Tigers, Swinney spent a good portion of his time discussing his troubled childhood, his faith and what led to him becoming an FCA President at Pelham High in Alabama.

"The FCA met me where I was," Swinney said. "That's what makes the FCA so special. You have to walk into a church. I love my church; I'm very involved in my church. FCA came to me, right where I was in my life, which was a mess."

Always a quotable coach, Swinney served up several signature moments, including his use of acronyms like SWAG (Saved With Amazing Grace) and JOY (Jesus Others Yourself).

The 50-year-old Swinney also discussed his recent and future travel plans. Having just arrived from Pittsburgh, he would be heading back home later that night only to fly back out at 7 a.m. His whirlwind journey would bring him back through Georgia before departing for Miami to attend Super Bowl LIV.

"I've got three of my players who are playing in the Super Bowl, and I'm just so pumped to go see them, hang out a little bit and root for them," Swinney said. "... They're all on the Chiefs, don't have anybody on the 49ers. It will be easy for me. I'm going to buy me a hat, get me a popcorn, sit in the stands and root for the Chiefs."

He also made sure to give a few mandatory shoutouts to hometown hero and current Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, praising the sophomore for his faith and leadership.

"You all should be so proud of Trevor Lawrence," Swinney said. "I tell people, he looks like Hollywood, but he is the most un-Hollywood guy you will ever meet. He's the best leader.

"Every Thursday night, he has a Bible study at his house. It's unbelievable. Every Thursday night, he just has a bunch of college kids over at his house, talking about Jesus. They're worshipping, and they're singing. It's just a beautiful thing to see."

Giving his speech barely two weeks after losing the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to LSU, Swinney spoke about seeing Lawrence respond to his first loss since the final game of his storied career at Cartersville High.

"I'd never seen Trevor Lawrence lose a game," Swinney said. "In a weird kind of way, I kind of enjoyed watching him respond, because I didn't know [how he would]. I'd never seen him lose, never been in that situation with him.

"I watched him in the locker room thank every player, every coach. I saw his heart, saw his faith, saw his foundation, saw his anchor."

FCA Bartow area director Sherry Spinks knew Swinney's presence would draw a crowd, but even she was pleasantly surprised by the turnout to Thursday's event.

"I was blown away at the amount of people who came out," Spinks said. "Obviously, it is Dabo, so I knew a lot of people would be here.

"I was very impressed with what he said. I'm hoping and praying that a lot of people were touched here by his message. I definitely think it was very powerful."

Only time will tell how much Swinney's words, along with those of other speakers, including Spinks, FCA board chairman Davis Nelson and FCA Leadership board member Sean Baxter, will have on the future of the organization. But Spinks certainly felt the night positively influenced the trajectory.

"I believe tonight will just help launch the ministry forward even further, because people are now going to understand the impact we have even more," she said. "... I believe that after this, our support financially and on a volunteer level will really increase."

At the very least, locals will be eagerly awaiting the 2021 headliner. Last year, the keynote speaker was retired college football coach Gene Chizik, but with Swinney attending at the height of his career, the expectations will be great.

"The bar is definitely high," Spinks said. "It will be pretty hard to follow that one up. ...

"I'm not ready to release any names yet, but we are in contact with an agent for a speaker for next year. If all the plans go through, I think it will be just as big of a hit."