Clemson players have fondness, high hopes for Georgia Tech’s Tchio, Phommachanh

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Over a phone call a few days ago, Clemson offensive tackle Jordan McFadden issued a warning to Georgia Tech guard Paul Tchio ahead of their teams’ season opener Sept. 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But also loving encouragement.

“I let him know we’re coming,” McFadden said Wednesday at the ACC Kickoff media event. “But I told him, I want him to be the best guard in the country every game except for the first game. He knows I’m rooting for him, or at least I hope he knows that I’m rooting for him. I love Paul to death.”

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Tchio and McFadden’s bond stems from being teammates for two seasons at Clemson. McFadden said they shared a similar sense of humor, taste in clothes.

“We could always just talk to each other,” he said.

Tchio, from Milton High, entered the transfer portal in November and landed at Tech. He played in 14 games with one start in his two seasons with the Tigers.

“Paul just wanted something different,” McFadden said. “I think he’ll do great at Georgia Tech. I wish him the best. I want him to have the best season ever. I’m super excited for him.”

Players facing their former teams is nothing new, particularly in the era of the transfer portal, which has ended schools’ ability to restrict a player’s transfer destination, and the elimination of conference rules requiring athletes to sit out a season if they transfer within the league. But, in the long history between Tech and Clemson, teams that first played in 1898 and have met 87 times, the switch of Tchio, along with quarterback Taisun Phommachanh (formerly of Clemson) is a rarity, if not a first.

The rivalry is defined, of course, by a most significant movement of talent from one school to the other – Tech hiring away coach John Heisman from Clemson at the end of the 1903 season (which included a 73-0 win over Tech), leading to Heisman’s historic tenure in Atlanta. And Tech will face a former Yellow Jacket in the third game of the season, when former defensive end Jared Ivey will return to Bobby Dodd Stadium with Mississippi.

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Phommachanh transferred to Tech in May after three seasons with the Tigers. Like Tchio a four-star prospect coming out of high school, Phommachanh played in 13 games over three seasons as a backup.

“That’s my brother right there,” Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei said. “I’m excited to see him play. I definitely hope he gets a chance out there at Georgia Tech.”

Uiagalelei touted Phommachanh, who is expected to provide depth and push starter Jeff Sims, as a great athlete and very smart.

“Great leader and throws the ball really well,” he said. “He can do a lot of things with his feet.”

The game, part of Tech’s six-year series at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, will be a home game for Tech but is being staged as a Chick-fil-A Kickoff game on Labor Day evening. It was announced Thursday as a sellout, though a limited number of tickets are still available through the purchase of a Tech season ticket or three-game pack.

Tech has chosen to use the same seating configuration as it did for its 2021 game against North Carolina, with a capacity of 42,500 instead of the full 71,000.

“It’s in Atlanta, but I definitely think there’ll be a lot of orange in the stadium that day,” McFadden said.

It will be Clemson’s first time playing in the state-of-the-art building.

“I’m very excited,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry said. “It looks like a great creation in what they’ve built there. It’s going be fun. I genuinely am excited just to play in the stadium. Anytime you go to Atlanta, a great city, it’s going to be fun.”

Henry said the team has begun its preparations for Tech by reviewing game video.

“Most definitely,” he said. “If we haven’t started by now, we’re in trouble.”

A fifth-year senior, Henry has plenty of familiarity with Tech, which has lost to the Tigers in the past seven meetings. He said defensive players have been watching Tech games from last season to review the Jackets’ personnel. But, he acknowledged, there is a level of uncertainty as Tech has a new offensive coordinator in Chip Long. Henry said coaches have been reviewing Long’s past work at Notre Dame.

“With new schemes, there’s only so much you can watch (to prepare) because it’s the first game,” Henry said. “They could come out in the ... triple option. We’ve got to be ready for everything. We’re really just preparing for the game itself.”