Michael Palmer will touch Howard's Rock and run down the hill in Clemson's Memorial Stadium for the last time Saturday.
And Palmer, a senior from Parkview High School, couldn't pick a better situation.
Should the Tigers defeat Virginia, they will win the ACC's Atlantic Division and will play Georgia Tech in the conference's championship game Dec. 5 in Tampa. It will be Clemson's first appearance in the game since its inaugural event four years ago.
"I can't think of a better way to have my last home game at Death Valley than to have a chance to take it to the ACC title game," Palmer said. "No better way to draw it up."
Palmer has seen much during his career in the orange and purple. He experienced the Tommy Bowden years, when for three years it seemed as ifBowden was always one loss away from being fired.
He experienced the beatdown by Alabama in last year's Chick-fil-A Game at the Georgia Dome. A national audience saw the Tigers, who were a chic pick to win the ACC, outmuscled and outschemed in a 34-10 defeat. Six weeks later, Bowden was fired. Six weeks after that, Dabo Swinney was elevated from interim coach to coach.
"There's one thing that I could say, is sometimes you have to go through the valleys to get to the top of the mountain," Palmer said.
The valleys continued this season. The Tigers lost three of their first five games, including a 30-27 defeat to Georgia Tech and a 24-21 loss to one-win Maryland that caused the Clemson faithful to again sharpen their tongues and blades. It didn't seem to matter that three of the losses were by a total of 10 points.
Luckily, during the off week that followed, Palmer said the team watched a lot of film. They learned how to be accountable to each other.
From the loss, a five-game win streak was born.
And in four of those games the Tigers have scored at least 40 points.
While much attention has been paid to do-everything running back C.J. Spiller and freshman quarterback Kyle Parker, Palmer has quietly put together an all-conference type of season with 27 catches for 303 yards and three touchdowns. Because defenses are focusing on stopping Spiller and wide receiver Jacoby Ford, Palmer has become Parker's go-to receiver.
But now, Clemson must win this weekend. It's exactly the kind of game that Palmer acknowledges the Tigers haven't been able to win the past few years. He mentions the loss to Boston College two years that cost them a chance to play in the ACC title game as an example. All they had to do was make one stop, but Matt Ryan threw an improbable 43-yard pass across the field to win the game.
Palmer says the Tigers have come a long way mentally since then under Swinney, whom Palmer credits with knowing what to say and when to say it to keep his team focused.
"Here we are again with another game that we need to win to get to the ACC championship," Palmer said. "I know that we are going to play as hard as we can to get to the ACC championship."
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