Remember When: Clemson-USC 2000
Posted By:Brett Haynes Tags:
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In November of 2000, Clemson and South Carolina met in Death Valley to renew their annual bitter rivalry. On a blistering cold night in the Upstate, the teams set the stage for a climatic ending to a game that is still discussed to this day by fans from both schools. If you are a Tiger, the game brought the thrilling taste of last-minute victory. If you are a USC Gamecock, the game still makes you want to throw the remote control through the TV screen every time you see the game-winning kick. That kick was delivered by Aaron Hunt, and I sat down recently with the former Tiger kicker to discuss the game and his Tiger career.
Hunt knows that this game will probably define his Clemson career - and he is perfectly fine with that. I mean, what player wouldn't want to go down in Clemson lore as the guy that beat the Gamecocks with a last-second field goal? But, there is more to Hunt's career than that. Yes, he made that clutch kick with seconds to go and 85,000 people watching anxiously over his shoulder that night. But fans tend to forget that he is still to this day the Tigers all-time leading scorer with 329 points. So it was funny to me that as we sat in a local restaurant and talked, with business people reading sports pages all around us to get the latest scoop on Tiger football, they had no idea that the man who has contributed more points to Tiger football than any player ever, was sitting right amongst them.
Hunt hails from Oak Ridge, Tennessee and still makes regular trips home. He is close to his family and was actually on the phone with his mother as I walked up to greet him. He works here in Greenville and is a soft-spoken guy who is very easy to talk to. We would discuss that crazy game soon enough, but first I wanted to ask Hunt about his recruiting experience.
The Top Fan: "Aaron, please tell me a bit about your high school kicking days and what led you to play for Clemson. "
Aaron Hunt: "First of all I didnt even play until my senior year - starting anyway. My father and I made a tape and sent it out, on my own, and then my first game starting I broke the school's record twice for the longest field goal. I made a 50 and a 52 yarder in the first-half. That kinda got me on some school's radars that I wasn't on before, I guess. I had actually visited Clemson my junior year, just basically to see what it was all about. My senior year was Bowden's first year. He brought me in. I took some visits, mostly to Tennessee, it's where I wanted to go. Went to most UT home games, thought they would give me an offer but never did. They ended up signing (James) Wilhoit the next year, he was a friend of mine, went to several camps and stuff together. They had Alex Walls at the time as a sophomore so he had two years left. Just wasn't the right time slot there."
TTF: "And when you got to Clemson, who were you up against?"
Hunt: "Tony Lazzara. He was a junior my freshmen year I believe, but he didnt play his senior year - I could be wrong."
TTF: "What game did you become CU's starting kicker?"
Hunt: "I started from Day 1 against the Citadel freshmen year."
TTF: "What are some awards and honors you received as a kicker at Clemson?"
Hunt: "I was honorable mention (all-ACC) everything every year for four years (laughing)! I was also a Semi-finalist for the Groza award my junior year."
TTF: "What are some things about the Clemson football program that folks may not realize?"
Hunt: "Well the staff is real big on going to class. Real big. Of course this was under Bowden. But yeah, they were real hard on us going to class and that sort of thing. They were real big on being accountable and that sort of thing.
TTF: "What are some of the kicks that really stand out in your mind? You know, when you made a kick that wasn't so much a TV highlight, but a kick that you felt really gave Clemson three points when they just had to have it."
Hunt: "The big ones I remember are the ones that I missed! Georgia on the road in 2002 - we lost by three. I put one off of the upright, and one at the end of the game from 47 - bad snap - fell just inches short. It was a night game, my best kicking in warm-ups in my life and I was 0 for 2 that game."
TTF: "And after Clemson, did you pursue going pro as a kicker?"
Hunt: "I pursued it shortly, but it is so tough. I mean there are only 32 pro-kickers on rosters - thats nearly impossible to get a job in the NFL. There are no back-ups. they just carry one and will call one in if they need one. Thought about Canadian a bit and arena a bit, but not really."
TTF: "Now let's talk a bit about that night in Clemson that everyone in the Palmetto State remembers. I know you were on the sideline getting prepared to do your job, but could you kind of give us a little insight as to what was going through your mind during all of that (USC had just scored a late 4th quarter TD to take a 14-13 lead with about a minute to go and CU and quarterback Woody Dantzler had first down at their own 41-yard line)? And you were already 2 for 2 that night right?"
Hunt: "Yeah, I went 3 for 3. It was a tremendous battle the whole game. It was cold. Then they fumbled into the end zone and scored. I believe Keith Adams nailed him. But they recover....I didn't really see the pass to Gardner, was warming up on the other end of the sideline but I saw it on the jumbotron. Ran out, of course they call a timeout to ice me, but that gave me a moment to gather my thoughts and just treat it like any other kick."
TTF: "And when the kick went through the uprights, what do you remember?"
Hunt: "The Hill. I remember seeing the fans on the hill.... Everything just went right. Good snap. Good hold. I want to give a shout out to my snapper. Henry Owens was the snapper and Jeff Scott was the holder that night. Of course the line blocked well. I never saw the ball, just saw the Hill and the fans and then I got piled on."
TTF: "Did Gardner push off? In the locker room after the game I know there had to be a lot of mouth-running. Did he push off or did you hear him say in the locker room?"
Hunt: "There was contact. It was a great catch and a call that could have gone either way. I think it was a fair enough call. Rod went pro after that game, so I never saw him around much after that moment."
So there you have it, a look back at one of the games that people from this state will be talking about for many, many years to come. South Carolina fans will always feel that Gardner pushed off on the defensive-back. Clemson fans will always say that it was a 50/50 call and that the ref decided to keep his flag in his pocket at such a key moment in the game. Either way, it is what college football is all about, and a game for the ages!
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