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July 19, 2018

Dabo Swinney

Clelin Ferrell

Mitch Hyatt

Charlotte, North Carolina

Q. Mitch, just what you can say about the decision ultimately to return and be a part of the team this season? Why that was the best decision in your opinion, and then moving forward with this team, just what you have to offer with a lot of guys coming back.
MITCH HYATT: A big reason for me coming back, just talking to people close to me, I feel like I've got some unfinished business, want to finish school. And how the season ended last year is just something I didn't want to end it on, either. I'm just hoping with the work that we've done as a team in the off-season that we can -- that we're looking good for a good season this year.

Q. Mitch, you come into the season already with 42 career starts; Hunter Renfrow has 32. I feel like I've been watching him forever. When you've started that many games in this league, what are some of the things it enables you to do to get a leg up on the competition?
MITCH HYATT: I mean, I just have that experience. To start 42 games, it's just experience. I've seen a lot of things. I've played almost every team in the ACC, so I just can call back on that experience whenever I need to.

Q. Mitch, so much of the conversation about this year's team comes from the defensive line, but no one faces those guys more than you in practice. Could you just tell me about that unit and what makes them so special?
MITCH HYATT: Well, first off, they're just great guys. They're all-around just good guys, and I mean, the intensity they bring to practice and how hard they work is just -- they radiate it, and it comes off on everybody around them.

When I am coming to practice, I know I'd better bring it because they're coming after me, so I need to match that intensity of theirs.

Q. Mitch, the daily challenge of blocking Ferrell and Bryant and Wilkins, could you imagine getting better preparation than dealing with those guys every day?
MITCH HYATT: Yeah, just blocking every day, I really do feel like it makes me better and makes the whole offensive line better, and they make everyone better around them. It's just awesome to have that opportunity to go against them every day.

Q. You're a senior; how quickly did all this go by?
MITCH HYATT: Too quickly.

Q. Tell us about your teammate over here who's going to be stepping up here.
MITCH HYATT: Clelin, I've been practicing against him for the past three years. It's kind of crazy the fact that -- I definitely think his reason for coming back was because of me, because I decided to come back. But he's just a great competitor, great player, great person. He brings it every day in practice, and he really knows how to -- just knows how to compete. Whenever I think in practice I've got a leg up on him one day, the next day he'll somehow just -- whatever leg up I had was just gone, and he just is beating me the next day. It just goes back and forth. It's been a fun journey to have with him just to be able to compete with him every day.

Q. Is he the comedian of the team by chance?
MITCH HYATT: He thinks he is, but...

Q. You have a talented dual-threat quarterback in Kelly. Sometimes he stays back in the pocket and throws, sometimes he runs. Do you have a preference? Does it matter to you?
MITCH HYATT: You know, it doesn't matter to me. I'm just blocking for the point, so if he comes over to my side, if he tries to run around my guy and my guy tackles him, I'm not taking responsibility for that, I'll tell you right now. But I think he -- especially him, he has the maturity to understand when he needs to tuck and run or at least move out of the pocket and pass it. He's really smart about that.

Q. Mitch, your uncle Dan Benish, he's got a National Championship, you've got one. How special would it be if you could add that second and kind of have that over him? And have you talked about it?
MITCH HYATT: Yeah, he still thinks he has a leg up on me because he went undefeated in his National Championship year. I mean, I guess he could say that he still has that over me. But I definitely think I would like to get another one just so I can one-up him on that.

Q. Going into your fourth season, what has Clemson meant to you outside of the football field?
MITCH HYATT: Just the community. It really is. As soon as you're driving, you see the paws on the street coming into Clemson. You just have a different feeling about it. You kind of just have a smile on your face, feel more at home, and just the fact that everyone there is just super friendly, all the people. I can go sit next to someone in class for a semester and just become best friends with them and like hang out with them for the rest of my life, like that kind of thing. But it's just very contagious, that type of atmosphere.

Q. Tell us about your teammate Mitch.
CLELIN FERRELL: Oh, Mitch? Oh, yeah, I mean, I already told him, because this is the second time somebody has asked me this question, man. I have nothing but the utmost respect for him. I don't think there's been a battle the last three years in practice more than me and him. He's made me so much more of a better player, and I have a lot of respect because he's seen the success of it and the failures. He's been a starter since he's been a freshman. He's went against Shaq and Kevin Dodd and getting whooped up on by them, I know that's tough because when you're a freshman you're not always the strongest guy, but he was going against those guys and making them better and them making him better. There's nobody on the team I have more respect for. He brings it every day. Just truly a great competitor, hard worker, and isn't fake about it. Doesn't try to be the most vocal guy because that's not who he is, he just puts his head down and goes to work, and I know every day I've got to bring my best when I go to work or he'll expose me.

Q. Can you talk about two of your other guys, Tanner Muse, who's a safety, and Justin Foster, who could have a bigger role this year?
CLELIN FERRELL: The country boys. Tanner Muse, that's my boy. I go home -- ever since I've been in college, I go home with him for Thanksgiving, go back to Belmont. But like I said, man, he's a guy who like -- he's not the crazy guy you see on the field. He's kind of got like just cuts that switch on. He's a chill guy off the field, but when he gets on the field, it's a crazy thing. Fast as you don't know what, covers a lot of ground, will come up and knock the mess out of you, and just loves to go out there and have fun.

And Justin Foster, you talk about a guy who when he got here was too wet behind the ears. He's made such great strides over his freshman year and throughout the summer. I've been so impressed with him. Very, very smart, too. The guy could have been an engineering major. He helps me fix my cars all the time. I'm like, it's kind of weird. But he's a guy who's very, very strong, going to be a really good player here, and I'm excited to see what they do this year.

Q. When they were asking Mitch about the defensive line and about you, you put your fingers in your ears. Just wondered why; is that trying not to listen to all of the outside noise, or what was the purpose there?
CLELIN FERRELL: You hit it right on the head. When I came in, Coach Hobby, my old defensive line coach, and Coach Bates, too, they always talked to us about not taking the cheese. Yesterday in the team meeting, Coach Swinney getting on us, "I hate seeing them old magazines. I hate that. It's all on paper."

But they're right, though. I'm tired of seeing it, too. We're ready to just go out there and play and perform because that's what it's all about. I mean, people just keep asking us how good can we really be? I mean, I don't know. We're very talented, but I hope I get asked this question at the end of the season. That would be a better time to answer it.

But yeah, that's basically it, not trying to listen to the outside noise because obviously I know we're a talented group. But we're more so about the action, we want to walk the walk rather than just talk it; know what I mean?

Q. The new redshirt rule seems like a real game changer. Coach Swinney was just telling us the other night about how 2015 when you redshirted, they really could have used you when Shaq Lawson got hurt in the Orange Bowl. How much do you think that will benefit players, the new rule, and especially keeping guys engaged who are kind of on the bubble?
CLELIN FERRELL: Oh, man, it's crazy to me. It's something I haven't really formulated an opinion on yet. But I definitely see where it could have been used in my situation. If the coaches felt like I was ready to play toward the second half of the year that I redshirted, then, yeah, that would have been a great tool to have. Because like you said, Coach Swinney said, Shaq did get hurt. Shaq and Kevin Dodd both were beat up really bad, and it would have been great to have some more young guys get in there, take some of the slack off them.

But again then, it's just weird. It's like any game, not even just regular season, like bowl games included, too, so that's like wow. I ain't even thought that they would make a rule like that. I don't know. I haven't really formulated too much of an opinion on it.

Q. Not just you but Christian, Dexter, Austin, everybody coming back on that defensive line as a starter, what that means for Clemson, what you can say about that room knowing that all of you guys are going at it one more time.
CLELIN FERRELL: That means a lot, man, because obviously experience is huge in college football, just being able to have guys who have been there and know what it takes. Not even just have played in the game, but guys who have been to the pinnacle, guys that have played on the National Championship winning team before and know what it takes to get to that moment. That's huge to have in your room.

But then again, though, it just brings more out of it because we have new guys coming in every year and we have young guys that we want to see it, as well. And our position rooms are very, very deep, know what I mean. And like Coach Swinney tells us all the time, you're not guaranteed to run out there first just because of what you did last year. You've got to go out there and earn it every single day, and that's something I love about it because that's how I got on the field. I had to go out there and compete with my peers in my position room when I was a redshirt freshman, to go out there and earn the starting job. So that's what you've got to do every day, so it's just going to bring the best out of all of us.

Q. There's a lot of talented young freshmen joining the defensive line. How have they responded to joining such a talented group?
CLELIN FERRELL: Oh, my goodness. Man, they've been great. I've always wondered like with just the hype that our defensive line gets, the front four, and then you still have guys like the No. 1 player coming in or a KJ Henry who's regarded as a five star. And people ask them why are you going to a school where they're already so-called deep in the defensive line.

But it's because they know that they're not afraid to come in and compete. They understand the great tradition there, and they understand that they have guys that aren't just about themselves. We're all about each other. And I see those guys come in and be able to take constructive criticism and come in and work hard and make the progressions that they've made throughout the summer. Man, it's been huge, and I love that about them. I'm very hard on them because I want the best for them because if I see the best coming from them, it's only going to make me better. Know what I mean? So it's been great to see them and they're making great progress, so I'm excited for the fall, their first fall camp coming up. It's like a dad seeing his kid go to school for the first time, know what I mean? Because they look up to me because they feel like I have some knowledge that is valuable to them. So I'm happy that I can be able to share some things with them, so it's been really, really good to see.

Q. Anything else you'd like to say?
CLELIN FERRELL: Thank you all for being here, man. First of all, I want to thank my Lord and savior Jesus Christ, yes indeed. I want to thank Coach Swinney for picking me to come up here and represent the team, man. This has been great, seeing all you guys, answering all the questions. A lot of the questions are repetitive. Just saying. But man, it's been -- just saying, yes indeed.

But yes, it's been great, man. It's been great. A lot of great people here, and this just lets me know that football is right back around the corner. I can't wait to get started. Let's do it.

Q. Coach, is he always this shy?
DABO SWINNEY: So you can imagine the battles that we've had on our practice field. So frenemies, right? They're frenemies for the next few weeks, and then come September they'll be back on the same team again. These two right here are two great competitors, great human beings, and both going to graduate in December, and just represent our program in every area with excellence. And that's what it's all about. That's what you want.

Everybody says, oh, well, these guys are back, these guys are back. Yeah, it's great. I kid with Mitch because everybody puts -- it's all about the D-line, all the D-line is back. I'm like, well, Mitch, didn't you come back, Renfrow came back and Falcinelli came back and nobody put them on the magazine. We've had a little fun with that. Kind of comes from being an O-line, I guess. But these guys have made each other better for the past three years, and it's been a joy to watch them.

But the great thing about them coming back, yes, it means we have great players, but more importantly, that's who's mentoring your young players. That's the leadership that's in your locker room. That's the guys that are running the skills and drills. That's the guys that are in the locker room setting the standard for really talented young people. It's a blessing to have them back, but hopefully y'all have enjoyed spending a little bit of time with them and seeing a little bit more than just what type of good football players they are.

Q. The board of trustees approved Brett Venables' contract extension this morning. Why do you think it was important to get that done and kind of take care of him in that way?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that's really kind of been done a long time ago as far as from my perspective, but there's a process, a formal process that you've got to go through before you can really kind of stamp something, throw it in the filing cabinet. So I'm happy that we were able to go ahead and get that kind of finalized, but really happy for Brent and his family. He has just done a phenomenal job. I think he's the best at what he does. He's so passionate about his job. He's passionate about the players he coaches, and he's passionate about Clemson. We have a tremendous relationship, and excited about his son Jake coming on board. Jake is going to be a great player, Mike-backer for us. But again, just gives him the longevity and a little bit more security. Really wasn't -- the salary didn't change a whole lot, but it just kind of gave him some long-term kind of supplemental income down the road, and more time, term, and in the coaching business, time is very, very valuable. He's earned his status per the market, and just really happy for him.

Q. There seem to be a few elite teams that have a legitimate chance to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff each year. Clemson has become one of those teams. What are the factors required to take a team from being good to being elite?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, that's a deep question and something I actually just talked about with my staff yesterday. You know, for me, it started in '09 our first year, and it's being really driven by the why of our program: Why I coach, why we do what we do, not just what we do, how we do it, but why. And really everybody believing in that part of it. Being culture focused, being very intentional. For me, I recruit people first. I hire people first. There's no perfect people, but I think the good Lord has given me good instincts, and so we've had a certain way that we've gone about doing things.

We start over every year, reinstall the program, reinstall the core values, the philosophy that we believe in, the why, and I just don't vary from that.

And then as we have been able to build that culture over the many years now, we just nurture it every year. You develop young people. You develop leadership. We've had 196 seniors, 192 graduates. I think we've had 13 or 14 juniors leave early. Three of them are already back. Two of them have got their degree. Da'Quan Bowers is coming back this fall to finish up and work with us. It's just culture driven. That's the short answer I can give you.

You know, the program is what I've always been focused on, not just having a good team. From day one, we've always been program oriented, with the goal being developing a consistent winner, to one day be a team that year in and year out you just know you've got a chance. That's all you can ask for.

Q. I was going to ask you about Tanner Muse missed spring practice with a knee injury. How is he doing, and Justin Foster is a guy that didn't play much as a freshman but I'm sure you have an expanded role for him this year?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, Tanner is doing great. He had a little minor injury. We held him out of the spring game, but he's doing well. He had a good summer, got great experience last year, which I think will be very valuable for him going into this season, and a very committed player. And then Justin Foster is one of those guys that really not many people know about other than maybe people that followed the recruiting scene or people from his local area. But boy, is he really developed, and Cle hit on that.

He was a linebacker, so he transitioned, ended up playing some as a true freshman last year, but he made huge strides this spring, and I expect that to continue into fall camp. But a great young man, great family, and has really developed physically, and now has the mindset and enough knowledge to go with it within our scheme to I think be a productive player.

Q. Just if you could elaborate on your schedule this year, the ACC Atlantic and what you see from the guys coming behind you in the league?
DABO SWINNEY: I mean, it's a challenge every year. You're talking about a league that's had 21 bowl teams in the past two seasons, so very deep. We had 10 bowl teams last year, 11 the year before. I think that's a record of any conference, so that tells you the depth of our league, first of all. It's incredibly competitive. You'd better show up and get better. You'd better show up and be ready, but particularly in our division. Man, Coach Clawson up at Wake Forest, the job he's done; Steve at BC, man, I think they're going to be a really good team. Dave Doeren has done a phenomenal job up at NC State. That's a few play game every single year. Obviously with Florida State, with Willie coming in there, I think he's a great fit for Florida State, and he's a winner. He's won everywhere he's been. No real reason to think that he's not going to get them going. This is a job where he's got really all the resources to be successful, and I don't have any doubt he will. They've always got players, always got talent. So very, very difficult.

Syracuse beat us last year. They've got a quarterback coming back that is -- he has got moxie and toughness and just -- the kid is a player. He is a very good player. I was hoping he might leave early. But heck, he's back. I don't know if I missed anybody.

But our division is tough. It's going to be a battle to the end.

I forgot Louisville. Pretty tough. We've played them four years in a row, and three of those years were the last play of the game. It's a tough division.

Q. This is your 11th year, and what I've been watching is exactly what you described the Atlantic Division, but when you first came into the league, the ACC's bowl performance was pretty lackluster, and coincidentally perhaps, but once the new CFP system was announced, the league took off. I asked the commissioner does the CFP ratings system look at the ACC more favorably. Anyway, your thoughts, is this just a coincidence or how has the ACC grown so much in the last few years?
DABO SWINNEY: Just earned it on the field. Really that simple. I think we've got great coaches, great recruiting, great development of players. All you've got to do is look at the NFL Draft, and I think we're second maybe in draft picks over the last, I don't know, eight, nine years or whatever, and I don't think it's even close. Good recruiting, good development of players, and a lot of great coaching in this conference. But then stepping out and earning it on the field. You've got to go beat people, and I think that rhetoric has changed. When I got the job nine years ago, you're exactly right, that's where we were, and we earned that, too. We didn't beat anybody. And so I used to tell people all the time, I'd be like, guys, let's just shut up -- we've got to play people and you've got to beat people, then the story will change, and that's what's happened.

We've done very, very well out of conference. Our head-to-head rivalry games within this conference over the last three, four, five years speaks for itself. And then again, just the competitiveness of the league, and then what we've done in bowl games, et cetera. I think we're -- we're 5-1 in our last six bowl games, and we've played good people.

So I think it just takes time, and we've been -- it takes time and it takes consistency for people to kind of change the narrative a little bit, and that's what's happened. We've been very consistent, and we've done it over a good amount of time.

Q. A few years ago you added a successful coach in Kyle Richardson. How has his addition further enhanced a strong coaching staff?
DABO SWINNEY: Kyle has been a great addition. He's a player development analyst coach for us, and brought in a great amount of experience. Grew up in Clemson, actually, so he's kind of from the area. So he's been an excellent addition. Really proud to have him on our staff. He does an awesome job in helping run the offense when the coaches are gone and helps support our coaches in a tremendous way in game plan development.

Q. You talk about the bigger picture. When you hoist a trophy, you spend time talking about God and faith and what's above everything else, not just football. Can you speak about that a little bit more because it's impressive that that's where you go when you get asked a question right after hoisting a trophy, so just what you can say to that?
DABO SWINNEY: About my faith? Man, that's the easiest question I've had all day. Well, I mean, to me, that's just the priorities of my life. That's just my -- I think that I made a decision when I was 16 -- I grew up in a family that I was taught there was a God and all that, but I didn't really have a relationship with Christ until I was 16. And that was a game changer for me. That's really become the foundation of my life.

And me personally, I don't really -- it's hard to survive and thrive in this world if you don't have a spiritual foundation and have something that you can -- that will give you peace, because life is hard, and we're all going to experience death and failure and setbacks and disappointments and cancer and -- it's just a really difficult world.

For me, God is always -- and my relationship with Christ, he's given me hope and peace, and I love Jeremiah 29:11, for I know the plans I have for you. That's kind of been a life verse for me. It says to give you hope in the future. There are plans for good, not disaster. And so I've always taken that, and I've kind of applied that to my life along my journey. Everybody sees me now and I'm the head coach at Clemson and this and that, but my life hasn't always been this way. I've always used that as -- to me, if there's really hope in the future, then there's power in the present to deal with whatever mess you're dealing with in your life, to step through, to hang in there, to persevere, to continue to believe in something, and that's what my relationship with Christ did for me. It gave me a hope and a belief -- the ability to have a hope and a belief beyond my circumstances.

It's probably the greatest accomplishment that I have had to this point is to see my three sons come to know Christ and to know him as their Lord and savior. But those are personal decisions that people have to make, but it's just how I choose to live my life. Trust me, people that know me know I ain't perfect, but I do try to live my life in a way that hopefully can be pleasing to my maker because I know I'm going to meet him one day, and he's not going to pat me on the back and talk about how many wins I had or how many Coach of the Year trophies we got or how much money I made. I really think he's going to hold me accountable to how I took advantage of the opportunity and the blessings that he gave me, the impact that I had on young people, the type of men that we develop through a game.

Appreciate you asking that question. We can pass the bucket if y'all want and keep going. Didn't expect that one. (Laughter.)

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