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Remarks Honoring the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson University Tigers

January 14, 2019

The President. Wow! Wow, what a group. Look at that quarterback. Oh, I want to be the agent of that tall, handsome quarterback. [Laughter] Six-foot-seven. They say great athlete, and he's accurate. That's nice. Great job. And you're 18?

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence. [Inaudible]

The President. Boy, that's some—you got a good future. [Laughter] Good future. Congratulations, that's fantastic. And, Coach, congratulations. I mean, the whole thing.

What a—you——

Clemson University President James P. Clements. Thank you, sir.

The President. And the coach—you. What a job, huh?

Head Coach William C. "Dabo" Swinney. Thank you, sir.

The President. What a job. What a job, Coach.

So thank you all. We had a little something different. You know, we had to make a decision. We could have seen you in about 2 months, and I know a lot of you are off to all sorts of camps, and they're all checking you out. And you're going to be wealthy as hell, in some cases. [Laughter] In other cases—in other cases, you're going to be coming back, and you're going to have another great year. I don't know if you can ever do 15 and 0. I hear that's a first time, right?

Coach Swinney. Yes, sir

The President. Fifteen-and-oh.

Coach Swinney. Yes, sir.

The President. Has that ever happened before? I don't think so. So I don't know, but you'll do as good, right? You'll do as good.

But—so, I had a choice: Do we have no food for you? Because we have a shutdown. Or do we give you some little, quick salads that the First Lady will make along with—along with the Second Lady. They'll make some salads. [Laughter] And I said you guys aren't into salads.

Or do I go out—Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott—do I go out and send out for about 1,000 hamburgers? [Laughter] Big Macs. So we actually did. We bought 1,000—Burger King, all American companies. Burger King, Wendy's, and McDonald's. We have Big Macs. We have quarter-pounders with cheese. We have everything that I like, that you like. [Laughter]

And I know no matter what we did, there's nothing you can have that's better than that, right? [Laughter] And so we ordered. We literally have—and I don't know, have they started eating and devouring?

Audience members. Yes! The President. I wanted to see—so, it was piled up a mile high. I just wanted to see what was left. I saw it at the beginning. How much is left back there? How much? They go, "Not much." [Laughter]

Well, I want to thank you. I want to thank you for being here. We're truly thrilled to welcome to the White House the 2018 College Football National Champions, the Clemson University Tigers. Very famous team right now, the way you're playing. Very famous team. Unbelievable. Unbelievable.

We had such a wonderful time 2 years ago. I got to know your president, I got to know your coach. And—very special people. Really, very special people. What a job you've done, I'll tell you what. And, Coach, what a job you've done. Very—very unusual.

You know, there are other teams with a lot of talent, and they're watching us tonight on live television. You got a lot of—[inaudible]. [Laughter] They're watching us, and they're saying, "We'll get them next year." [Laughter] And maybe they will, but I don't think you think so, Coach. Right? You feel good about next year, right?

Coach Swinney. Yes, sir.

The President. How many are coming back next year?

Coach Swinney. Enough. We've got enough. [Laughter]

The President. Enough. They'll have—and a couple of new ones coming in, I'll bet.

Coach Swinney. Nobody's going to feel sorry for us.

The President. Nobody is going to feel bad. That's good.

Well, we're going to have you back. And you're going to be back. And I said that to you last time. But last year—we skipped a year—but I said to the coach last time—I said, "You'll be back." And it turned out to be pretty soon.

To the University President Jim Clements; Board Chairman Smyth McKissick—where is Smyth? Come on, Smyth. You got to get up here, Smyth. Come on. I mean, you are the chairman. Dan Radakovich. Where's Dan? Athletic Director. Come on, Dan. Get up here, Dan. Coach Dabo Swinney. Everybody knows Dabo. Is he doing a good job, Dan? You're going to keep him for this season? Huh?

Director of Athletics Dan Radakovich. Yes, sir!

The President. You're satisfied with his results, right?

Director Radakovich. Absolutely.

The President. I would think.

And all of the incredible players here. And you are incredible athletes, incredible players. Congratulations on your stunning victory against a great team and your second national championship in 3 years. Pretty incredible.

Joining us today, we have a few of our biggest fans: Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin, who is doing a fantastic—where's Steve? Couldn't make your team. He would never be able to make your team, that I can tell you. [Laughter] Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, who is a great player. He was in the Rose Bowl, actually. Matt Whitaker right here. I won't tell you whether he won or lost in the Rose Bowl, but they played a good game, right? [Laughter] And he's a—he was a great football player.

Senator Lindsey Graham. Lindsey? Acting Secretary of Defense, Pat Shanahan. A big fan of yours too. Pat. Another great friend of mine, and Lindsey's and everybody—and is a highly respected man, big football fan: Tim Scott. Senator Tim Scott. Thank you, Tim. Thanks. Congressman Jeff Duncan. Thank you, Jeff. Great. Hi, Jeff.

Also with us is our new Chief of Staff and a former Congressman from the great State of South Carolina, Mick Mulvaney. He's doing a fantastic job. Thank you, Mick.

And we have a lot of other great politicians here. Great successful politicians. And I have to say, what you've done is very inspiring to a lot of people—to everybody.

The Clemson Tiger football team has earned its place in the history books as the first team since 1897 to finish the season with an undefeated 15 and 0 record. Eighteen. Can you imagine that? That's a long time ago, Coach. [Laughter] Yes, just do as well next year. [Laughter] That is really—1897.

The senior players on the team have won 55 games over the past 4 years—an incredible fact. You're tied with the Alabama seniors for the most wins in Division I history. And the biggest win of all came in the final game between these two titans—they are titans—with a jaw-dropping 44 to 16 Clemson win over the Alabama Crimson Tide. And Alabama went in, and they felt confident. But, boy, right from the beginning, the job you did.

Trevor Lawrence—where's Trevor? Trevor Lawrence. There's Trevor. That's what I thought. Showed why he's among the best in college football, despite being a 19-year-old true freshman, throwing for 347 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. And by the way, as I remember, a couple of not-bad runs, right? [Laughter] They said you're a great athlete, aside from everything else. And you're also an accurate thrower. It's nice to see.

This season, he racked up more than 3,200 yards in the air, which is tremendous. And it's certainly not a bad way to start a college career. Has there ever been a start like this of a college career for a quarterback, Coach—I think, as a freshman? That's pretty good, right?

Coach Swinney. Don't think so.

The President. Yes. I think the coach is satisfied. He feels good. [Laughter] Trevor, he likes you, okay? You'll be—I don't think you're worried about—he's not being—he's not worried about being beat out next season, I don't think, at the beginning. I don't think so. Although, there are probably a couple of guys in here, Trevor, you got to be careful, right? [Laughter] There are probably—who's gunning for him? Who? Who's—the hands, there? A couple of guys. Oh, look at them. I know how that stuff works. That's all right. Good luck to everybody. [Laughter] Hey, lots of luck right now. It's a little—great.

The good news for Clemson fans is that he won't be eligible for the NFL draft for another 2 years, okay? [Laughter] Good. Great career.

Wide receiver—I watch you—Hunter Renfrow began his career—where's Hunter? Hunter. Great. Great job, Hunter—as a walk-on. He finished it with two receptions in the championship game, and he was drawing coverage all over the place, wasn't he? I could see that. They were talking about it. They were all over you. Drawing coverage anywhere he went on the field, which made it a lot easier for some of the other folks. So, great job. Great job, Hunter. Fantastic.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables is here today. Where's Brent? Where's Brent? Wow. And I'll tell you, he didn't get a very good location here. [Laughter] That's—are you okay back there, Brent?

Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. I'm good. Yes, sir.

The President. Okay. [Laughter] Three times, your defense stopped Alabama cold in the red zone. True. An incredible feat—a feat that people said couldn't happen. Alabama averaged 48 points per game this season. Clemson's defense held them to just 16 in the championship game. Amazing.

Cornerback A.J. Terrell played a leading role with 8 tackles, a forced fumble, and a big 44-yard interception return for a touchdown that put Clemson on the board and set a course—and really set the course for the game. Right from the beginning.

Coach Swinney says that "all of us have greatness inside of us" no matter who we are or where we come from. And, gentlemen, you proved that so much this season. The entire season. Not just the one game—one game was incredible—but you proved it over a full season. No bad moments.

It takes a special leader to bring out the greatness in others. Dabo Swinney is just that kind of a leader. I knew that when I met him 2 years ago. I said, this guy is a special guy. He inspires. He's a very unique guy. Isn't he?

Mr. Clements. Yes, sir.

The President. Really a unique guy. And he's getting a little embarrassed over here. [Laughter] It's true, Coach. It's true.

So Coach Swinney has brought Clemson 8 consecutives, 10-win seasons—and I know the competition that you have—three "Bear" Bryant Coach of the Year awards, and now, a third national championship. And that's really incredible. Really incredible.

The most important thing is, he's helped countless young Americans set high standards for themselves, reach for excellence, and achieve their full God-given potential.

After the championship game, Dabo—something was really, truly profound, people saw. He said, "When you get a young group of people that believe, that are passionate, that love each other"—that's 6'9'' and weigh 397 pounds of pure muscle—[laughter]—he didn't say that, by the way, that's—I add that, okay? You know, that helps too, Coach, right? I mean, in all fairness, that helps. [Laughter] "That sacrifice, that are committed to a singleness of purpose, you better look out, great things can happen." And that's what happened. Incredible people. You'll always go down as winners. The biggest winners. Fifteen-and-oh.

What a beautiful message for our country: If we believe in each other, if we love each other, if we are committed to making life better for all of our citizens, then great things will always happen for America.

We know Coach Swinney is right, because you proved it with your incredible victory and, really, your incredible victories over a long period of time—not even this season. So to all of the amazing athletes here today that wiped out more food than any human being has ever seen before, including me—[laughter]—I've never seen so much—thank you for inspiring America. You really have.

Fellas, you inspire our country. That was an inspiration. Tim Scott, Lindsey Graham, all of you here, I think that was a great—Congressman, right? That was an inspiration for our country, especially from two Senators that happen to come from your State. They were very happy, I will tell you. They were very, very happy people. Very proud.

Congratulations once again to the National Champions, the Clemson Tigers—one of the best teams ever in the history of college football.

Now I'm proud to introduce your coach, Coach Swinney, and your University President, Jim Clements. Very special people. You know, it's very funny—I meet people and I say, "Hello, how you doing? Everything good? See you. [Laughter] Best of luck." And that's the end. I remembered these two people. They're very special people. And they prove that by winning like nobody else has been able to win.

And by the way, Clemson is also a great, great school. So, thank you very much for being at the White House. It's a very special place; built in 1799. And it just has a special feel about it. It's just really an incredible—an incredible building. It's an incredible home.

Thank you all. It's your home. Thank you very much for being here. And, Coach, please say a few words.

Coach Swinney. Thank you, Mr. President, for this opportunity. What a fun day it's been. It's an honor to be a part of this tradition. And to be honest with you, it's really cool that football can create an opportunity like this. And I stand here before you as a guy from Pelham, Alabama, and I'm looking at all these young people from all over this country. And I have to look at my mom, because I came to Washington, DC, on a train in the fifth grade, and we didn't—she didn't have enough money to come with me. But here we are now, many, many years later, and we're getting to have a chance to have a moment like this.

So football matters. And football, and the relationships through football, created this opportunity. And for that, I'm so thankful.

It's been an unbelievably crazy week. Literally, a crazy week. But it's great to receive this recognition, to see this team honored for its amazing season.

One week ago today, as a matter fact, we were at the stadium getting ready to go, but—getting ready to kick it off. But 1 week ago today, we all enjoyed a magical and historic moment as our team became the first 15 and 0 team in modern football history.

And one of the things that we talked about, and you guys know, is—you know, we say all the time: Greatness is not your destiny, greatness is not your right; it's a decision. You know, we always say: Championships are won when the stands are empty; champions are made when nobody is watching.

And this team—this team right here made a decision to be great, and was special from day one. We had our goals, and y'all all know what our goals are. But more importantly, our daily commitment was greater than those goals. And that's what it takes to do something special.

And our staff—and all of our staff is here—what an amazing job our staff did. It says in Proverbs that, "Where there is no counsel, the people fall. But in the multitude of counselors, there is safety." And we've been so consistent at Clemson because I've got a multitude of good counselors. A lot of good people. Unbelievable staff. Great continuity. A bunch of great, young people that buy in and choose to be about the right things and to think the right way and to lay it on the line for their university and for each other.

And people talk a lot about X's and O's in my business. You know, we talk a lot about X's and O's. But this game, to me, is really about hearts and souls. And last Monday, you saw on full display the heart and soul of this team. They played with a will to win that just would not be denied.

And one of the things that we talk about all the time, in Colossians 3:23: Whatever you do, you do it with all your heart. It doesn't matter what you're doing; you do it with all your heart. And—because when you do things with your heart, you go above and beyond; you do the extra. And this team, they put their heart into it, and they went above and beyond in every area. We always say, the fun is in the winning. And it is in the winning. But to me, it's how you win that matters the most.

On the field—hey, 15 and 0, there's really nothing else you can say. We had 13 of those wins by 20 points or more. Our seniors, 55 wins in a 4-year period—most in the history of college football. We had the number-one scoring defense in the country. And we had the most points ever scored in Clemson history.

But off the field—so it's not just winning. It's how you win. Off the field, this very same team that set out to be the best ever, they had the best ever team GPA in the history of our Clemson program. We had 66 guys make a 3.0 or better. Our record, previously, was 56. They shattered it. They went above and beyond in every area.

We won the AFCA academic award, number 1 out of 130 teams. We won the top academic award, awarded by the American Football Coaches Association. And then, in New York, back in December, Christian Wilkins won the Academic Heisman, which goes to the top student athlete in all levels of football.

So when I tell you this team was committed to excellence in all areas, they were truly committed. And in the end, that's what we're all going to be defined by. That's what our program is going to be defined by; not by these trophies. Our program is going to be defined by the type of men that leave our program. And what they do when they get out in the society, the type of future presidents they become, and governors and CEOs and coaches and teachers and NFL players—whatever it is—that's what our program is going to be defined by.

We had a quote that we kind of live by. We started the season and kind of talked about this quote. And I don't know who said it, but it says this. It says: What you can vividly imagine and ardently believe and enthusiastically act upon, will inevitably come to be. This team dreamed big, they believed big. And last Monday, you saw them enthusiastically act upon that dream and belief.

But my favorite part of this team, and what I will always remember, is that they truly enjoyed the journey. I can't tell you how many times we kind of hit pause. A lot of times, with young people, everybody wants to hit fast-forward. But this team, we hit pause a lot, and really, truly enjoyed the journey. And it really made it so much spec—more special for me. And in the end, that's what it should be about: just finding joy in the journey of whatever it is that we're doing.

So I want to close, and I really want to give this perspective to our team and, really, to anybody who's listening. This is a quote. And the whole college football world was captured by Tyler Trent. He was the Purdue football fan that was battling cancer. You probably saw that he just passed, just recently. And here's what he said. He put out a quote, and he said:

Though I am in hospice care and have to wake up every morning knowing that the day might be my last, I still have a choice to make: to make that day the best it can be.

Yet, isn't that a choice we all have every day? After all, nobody knows the amount of days that we have left. Some could say we are all in hospice, to a certain degree. So why don't we act like it? Where is your gratitude? With Christmas coming up, what are you thankful for?

I had to write my will recently, and I'm just thankful that I can give my family Christmas presents, maybe even for the last time. Let's not forget that my doctors gave me 3 months to live almost 2½ months ago. So why can't we live grateful lives? Why can't we make every day count like it's the last?

So for this team, and all you guys moving on, and even the guys coming back, that's what I would say, is go live and be great today. In order for your someday to become a reality, you just got to be your best today and truly enjoy the journey, because I always believe the best is yet to come.

So, President Trump, I can't thank you enough for this very special opportunity, and all the dignitaries here, to honor our football team on something that we earned and something that happened all the way on the other coast, in California, 1 week ago. What a special moment we will remember for the rest of our lives. But it pales in comparison to the relationships and the journey that it took to get there.

But on behalf of our team, our staff, the Board of Trustees, our president, and our AD, I want to thank you so much for this opportunity that you gave us. Thank you.

Mr. Clements. Thank you, Coach, for those kind words. Thank you, Mr. President, for your kind and inspirational words. Thank you, Mr. Vice President, for being here.

Good evening. Go Tigers! I'm only stepping up because the President asked me to come on up. So I'm going to go ahead and add to my thanks.

Mr. President, it is great to be back at the White House, for the second time in the past 19 months, with our football team to celebrate our national championship. Mr. President, I appreciate very much your kindness and your hospitality and the fine dinner that you served us and for inviting us to be with you today. It is an honor and a privilege to be standing here in the White House as we celebrate the accomplishments of this amazing group of men who represent Clemson so well, on and off the field.

I do want to thank, if I can, Mr. President, our Board of Trustees for their outstanding leadership. We're blessed at Clemson to have an incredible Board who cares deeply about Clemson academics and athletics. So I do want to thank the entire South Carolina congressional delegation for their strong support of our great university.

And I know, Mr. President, you pointed them out, but in particular I do want to thank Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tim Scott for being here this evening and for always supporting us.

I also want to thank Congressman Jeff Duncan, a proud Clemson alumnus and former Clemson football player who does an outstanding job in our home district. Would you please help me thank them for all they do for the university? And, Mr. President, I do also want to thank our Governor, Henry McMaster, for his leadership over our great State. The Governor was not able to join us tonight due to a scheduling conflict, but he did want me to pass on to you his warm regards.

Tonight we honor these young men and these coaches who are a wonderful example of the high standards we set in everything that we do at Clemson, from athletics to academics. These student athletes, as you know, worked incredibly hard to accomplish their dream of being the number-one college football team and the only one in the modern era to go a perfect 15 and 0. And I want you to know, gentlemen, you made the Clemson family very proud along that journey.

And, Mr. President, our players succeed in the classroom, as well. We had 26 players on this team who earned their degree. That was more than any other team to play in a bowl game. And this championship, as I said on Saturday, was truly a team victory—from our student athletes who worked so hard on the field and in practice, to our coaches, to our recruiting staff, to the social media team, to our faculty, to the academic advisors in the Nieri Center, to the medical staff and trainers, to the facilities team, to the support staff, to our donors, and all of those who worked in any way, shape, or form for this program. All of them played an important role in making this happen.

And of course, I'm very thankful that this team is led by Coach Dabo Swinney, a man of great integrity and of the highest character, who is on a serious mission that goes beyond football. And he cares so very deeply about developing his players into young men who will be successful in life.

And I do want to acknowledge and thank our outstanding Athletic Director, Dan Radakovich. His leadership has taken Clemson athletics to the highest level possible.

Coach Swinney has a motto that all of you know, and many of us at the university have adopted that, and this is: Best is the standard.

At Clemson, we strive every day to live up to that standard across the entire university. The success of our football team and athletics, in general, has helped to elevate the entire profile of our great university. We're at an alltime high in almost every possible measure, from academic rankings, to applications, to retention rates, graduation rates, fundraising, research funding, ACT scores, SAT scores, and so many other measures.

We are determined—all of us in this room and back at the university—to keep pushing every single day to make a difference and to take Clemson to greater heights and service to our students, to our home State of South Carolina, and to this great country.

Thank you again, Mr. President and Mr. Vice President. Thank you for inviting us. Thank you for recognizing the Clemson University National Championship team. May God bless you all. And go Tigers.

The President. And as your president said, that president, he has done some job. [Laughter] We can never forget the great job he's done as a school, as a university. That's a fantastic—a fantastic place, with an unbelievable reputation on its own.

I think we're going to take the entire football team down to another special place, the Oval Office. And I remember 2 years ago, right—[applause]—2 years ago, Coach, we did that. And a lot of other Presidents don't do that. And we did it, and it seemed to have worked, right? [Laughter] Coach Swinney. That's right.

The President. Whatever it was. Because they all wanted to come back.

So we're going to go; we're going to take the team down. I thought before I did that, I'd ask Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Tim Scott—two people that have represented your State very, very well and that love your team, and very special friends of mine.

So maybe I'll start off with Tim and Lindsey, and say a couple of words. And we're going to travel down to a very, very important location, the Oval Office. Okay? We'll do that. We'll take pictures. Good? He likes that. Good.

Please, Tim. Please. Lindsey, come on.

Senator Timothy E. Scott. Well, God bless you. How many of you guys are incredibly excited to be at the White House? [Laughter] How many are looking forward to going down to the Oval Office? How about we all—how about we all give President Trump an amazing round of applause for being here tonight? [Applause]

The President. Thank you.

Sen. Scott. God bless you.

My comments will be quick. South Carolina is so proud of Clemson University, and specifically the athletes who represent us so well off the field as much as you do on the field. I can't say it any better than Dabo said it himself a few weeks ago; maybe it was championship night. He said, if you put God first, others second, and then yourself, amazing things can happen. This is a fulfillment of that mission.

The President. Thank you very much.

Senator Lindsey O. Graham. Well, they said be short. I started this speech short, and I'll end it short. [Laughter] You can tell this is an educated crowd. [Laughter] So I grew up in Central, South Carolina. Anybody know where that's at?

Audience members. Yes!

Sen. Graham. Yes. So when the Tigers played, it was good. My dad owned the liquor store, so every Saturday was good for business. [Laughter]

I went to Pelham, Alabama, on vacation, Dabo. [Laughter] So, Tim has an incredible story. Mr. President, you have an incredible story. But these young men here, you have a story that nobody else can tell. Go Tigers.

The President. Thank you, Lindsey. Thank you, Tim.

So, Coach, let's go on down to the Oval. And if the team would just follow—I'm going to say, follow your coach. Well, follow your coach. But let's go to the Oval. Let's take some really great pictures that you're going to have for a long time. A long time.

And, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. A tremendous honor. Thank you. Thank you.

NOTE: The President spoke at 6:48 p.m. in the East Room at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Michael R. Pence. Coach Swinney referred to his mother Carol McIntosh; and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. The transcript was released by the Office of the Press Secretary on January 15.

Donald J. Trump, Remarks Honoring the 2018 College Football Playoff National Champion Clemson University Tigers Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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