There’s not a time Trent Pearman can remember Clay Swinney not being in his life.
“Before I could even walk,” Pearman said of knowing his longtime friend.
Trent Pearman is the son of Clemson director of scouting Danny Pearman, and Clay Swinney is Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney’s youngest son. The two fathers first worked together in the 1990s when they were part of the Alabama coaching staff.
Dabo Swinney came to Clemson as a receivers coach in 2003, while Danny Pearman, a Clemson alum, arrived five years later to coach tight ends — and thus began the relationship between their two sons.
That childhood friendship was highlighted by Trent and Clay winning back-to-back Class 3A state championships with D.W. Daniel High School to end their high school careers. The second title came Friday at Benedict College’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium in a 45-20 win over Camden.
Brodey Conn, the son of safeties coach and special teams coordinator Mickey Conn, arrived a little later in 2015 but has fit in with the other two Tigers coaches’ kids just fine.
“They’re my brothers,” Trent said. “I’ll fight with them until the end of time. Those three dudes and this whole team, I’ll have their back till the end of day. I just love everyone on this team.”
Football and family
Coaching is a unique challenge of its own that often affects more than just the coach. Families have to be “all in” on the profession as well. Football becomes a non-stop topic of conversation at home, which can have one or two results. Luckily for the Pearmans and Swinneys, Trent and Clay have fallen in love with the sport and don’t mind the constant chatter. In fact, they embrace it.
“It’s just in our nature,” Clay said. “Like a normal family, we talk here and there, but we have some pretty in-depth football conversations. It’s fun to be a part of.”
The talking subsided Friday, being replaced by action — and lots of it. After falling behind to Camden 7-3 early in the first quarter, Daniel rattled off 21 straight points and never looked back en route to the victory. Trent was 27-for-36 passing with four touchdowns for 272 yards, as the 2020 South Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year leaves Daniel with a 24-0 record as a starter. In both state championship games, he completed a total of 56 of 69 passes for 744 yards and 10 touchdowns.
“The first thing I’m going to say is how much I am going to miss him,” Lions head coach Jeff Fruster said of his signal caller. “I said the same thing about Tyler Venables when I lost him. Somebody else will pick up. But at the same time, what he was able to do as a two-year starter at Daniel High School will be unrivaled for some time.”
Both of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ sons, Jake and Tyler, as well as Clay’s two older brothers, Will and Drew, played for the Lions’ football program. So did Trent’s older brother, Tanner.
Trent took over as the Lions’ starting quarterback three weeks into the 2020 season. Tyler, now a sophomore safety at Clemson, left Daniel as the school’s all-time passing leaders with 6,927 yards to go along with 73 touchdown passes and 38 more on the ground.
Like his father and brothers, Clay Swinney played wide receiver in high school. On Friday, he made three catches for 16 yards and handled the holding duties during the extra-point kicks. He and Trent now have as many state championship titles as their fathers have national championships with Clemson.
“There’s a lot of things that both of us go through that nobody else can relate to,” Clay Swinney said in reference to being coaches’ kids. “We can relate to each other a lot better than other people, and I think he trusts me on the field and I trust him. He’s a great quarterback and a great friend.”
Trent and Clay took in every moment on the field Friday, from the cheering and presentation of the trophy to the team getting to dump water on their head coach. They understand the importance of sharing the time with people they’ve known their whole lives. As Trent noted, that’s not always the case for coaches’ kids.
“We’ve been here for 13, 14, 15 years, and that’s very unusual for coaching,” he commented. “Usually, you get fired. You move on to the next job and you move around, but I’ve been here growing up with every one of these guys. ...Thankful my dad’s been in a great spot. I just want to thank everyone again at the Daniel family.”
Biggest fans in the stands
An added aspect of Saturday for Clay was the fact that he had his whole family in the stands.
The Swinneys arrived at noon for the 2 p.m. game and never left the metal bleachers until after Daniel was crowned champs. Last year, Dabo Swinney wasn’t able to make the state title game in Columbia because Clemson was playing in the ACC championship game in Charlotte. With the Tigers falling to third place in the conference and missing the title game, scheduled for Saturday, it opened up a spot in Dabo’s schedule.
“You bet I’m going to be there,” Dabo Swinney said on Nov. 27 following Clemson’s regular-season finale against South Carolina. “I’m so happy for Clay and his team, coach Fru and all those guys. Pretty special for them to have a chance to go back-to-back state championships, so I look forward to that, get my popcorn and kick back and root for the Lions. I’m excited about that.”
Dabo Swinney wasn’t the Tigers’ head coach on Friday, which was evident by a lack of orange paraphernalia. Instead, he was Clay’s dad, rocking a white Nike “D” baseball cap along with a gray Daniel Lions T-shirt. Both he, wife Kathleen, Will and Drew were there as fans supporting the youngest Swinney, complete with cutout heads of Clay they held up.
Though Dabo missed last year’s state championship game, his absence was a rare occurrence. No matter where Clemson plays on Saturdays, Clay said his father is always there to support him during games.
“To me, he’s just my dad,” Clay said. “Yeah, a lot comes with it with our last name, but he always makes sure to put dad first, and that’s his No. 1 priority.”
Both Clay and Trent had the support of their families as they closed out their high school careers. Not too far from Clay’s cutouts in the stands was a “#16 Pearman” poster waving high and proud throughout the game.
With high school football wrapped up, Trent plans to compete in the Touchstone Energy Bowl North-South game next week, then participate in his final basketball season before making a college decision. He currently holds a scholarship offer from UAB.
Clay, on the other hand, will follow in his brothers’ footsteps — while making his own — and try to walk on at Clemson. His best friend and teammate, linebacker Griffin Batt, is hoping to do the same.
The Daniel-Clemson connection remains strong with the two schools only five miles away from one another. It’s not just for Clemson coaches’ kids, either. Arizona Cardinals wide receiver DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins is one of Daniel’s more notable alum who also went to Clemson (2010-12) and still keeps in contact with both schools. He sent Clay a text message before the game, wishing him good luck.
“Bring it back home,” Hopkins told Clay, who can now convey the “mission accomplished” message to a fellow Lion.
As the field cleared and Daniel players piled back into the locker room, the jubilant scene will forever be etched into Trent Pearman’s brain. From goofing off with Clay and hanging out almost every day to throwing long passes to his friend, the two will have an experience together as two-time state champion football players and coaches’ kids that not many can understand.
“I won’t ever get that time back again besides tonight,” Trent said of the experience with the Lions. “No one deserved it more than us.”