Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put former walk-on Wes Forbush on scholarship. (Photo contributed)
Forbush, a senior receiver for the Tigers, has realized many dreams since overcoming two ACL tears while playing for Scott Smith at Science Hill.
He played his way into a scholarship at Clemson, where he enrolled, in part, because his brother Matt had played there. He has played on special teams and even made a couple of catches this season. And he smiled like a champion when Clemson defeated LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last season.
But Forbush has never tasted victory against fellow Science Hill alumnus Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks. The final opportunity will come tonight when the No. 6 Tigers (10-1) visit No. 10 USC (9-2) in the latest chapter of a fierce rivalry.
“A lot of my teammates are from South Carolina, and they grew up playing against the guys that go to South Carolina,” Forbush said Thursday night. “I never realized it until I got into the state of South Carolina what a big rivalry it is. It could be your best friend coaching for South Carolina and you’d still get fired up to play them just because of the rivalry and the intensity of the situation and what all it brings. It’s not so much coach Spurrier, but the position he’s in.
“I mean, Steve Spurrier ... is one of the most well-known coaches in college sports. So it’s neat to be able to look across — it’s usually at the beginning of the game or pre-game warm-ups when I’ll see him on the field — and just kind of think he’s from Johnson City, you know, and his background’s not that much different than mine and the success he’s had. I have nothing but respect for coach Spurrier. I think he’s just been a phenomenal coach.”
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins should give the Tigers their best chance to beat South Carolina since Forbush has been there.
“There are times where, like, Sammy will make a play,” Forbush said, “and you’re awestruck for a minute, because he’s one of the best, in my opinion, the best receiver in the country.”
Forbush made two catches this season, a 6-yard reception against Wake Forest and a 17-yarder against Virginia.
“It’s my most exciting memories in college football — all of football, actually — just because you’ve worked year-round just for those few opportunities to get a chance to make a play,” Forbush said. “And when they come and you can actually get a good catch … it makes everything worth it.”
Forbush played 22 snaps prior to this season, which has included 23 plays thus far. But he felt appreciated even before he saw the field on Saturday, a feeling that was validated when he was awarded a scholarship.
“I guess the ultimate thing with that is it’s not so much the fact that you get to have your school paid for,” Forbush said. “It’s that the coaches have recognized and are rewarding you for all the hard work you’ve put in, because they don’t just hand them out. You have to go and earn it. So for them to recognize me for that means more than the scholarship itself, so to speak.
“One nice thing I’ll say about Clemson as a whole … just because it took me a while to be on scholarship, I was never treated like there was never any segregation between myself as a walk-on and the scholarship guys, even between the coaches or the players. Everybody was always the same.”
The bonds are as strong or stronger as the ones made with Science Hill teammates such as Greyson Janeway, Armando Canepa, Jim Ashburn, Joel Shrum and Jordan Richardson. Forbush’s favorite high school moments include intercepting two passes at Tennessee High as a junior in 2008. His father, Alan, played on Tennessee High’s powerful teams in the early 1970s.
“That was kind of fun to rub that in his face when we won that game,” Forbush said. “But more than anything with Science Hill is I just miss being on that team — because the group of seniors we had were just so incredibly close — and the we stay in touch to this day.”
Forbush also speaks fondly of Paul Overbay, who was the Hilltoppers’ defensive coordinator when he played.
“He’ll go down as my absolute favorite coach ... just because playing for him, he was the type of coach you would run through a brick wall for,” Forbush said. “You knew he had your back and he’s a big reason that I love football the way I do … and to this day he’s still someone that I really admire and look up to.”
Forbush’s college career has flashed past, a fact that hit him upside the head like Howard’s Rock.
“I went through practice that week, it was in the back of my mind that this was gonna be the last time I was gonna be in Death Valley and get a chance to play,” Forbush said. “Even in pregame warm-ups I was pretty calm about it all. But on senior day you get to run down the hill one at a time, and when I got to the top and rubbed the rock and looked out and there were 85,000 people, it kind of hit me right then and there. And it was pretty bittersweet, because I’m certainly gonna miss it and I’ve loved every second I’ve been at Clemson. So it was pretty tough to come down the hill for the last time.”
Forbush has overachieved, especially after overcoming two ACL tears in high school.
“Ever since I was elementary school, playing college football has always been pretty much the biggest dream of mine,” he said. “I got hurt the first time and thought that was not gonna be the end of the world, and when I got hurt the second time it was pretty disappointing and I wasn’t sure what I was gonna do. And I decided, ‘Well, if this is what I wanted to do because I’ve always loved football, I don’t want it to end like this.’
“I figured if I was gonna ... try to play college football why not do it at a big-level program. My brother was a walk-on at Clemson … and he kind of got my foot in the door. It’s just been gratifying to not give up on my dreams and maximize the opportunity that’s been presented to me.”
And the receiver’s dream career could be completed tonight.