Trump welcomes NCAA champion Clemson to White House

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump honored Clemson University‘s NCAA champion football team Monday, calling its victory a title “for the ages.”

The Tigers won the national championship in January with a thrilling 35-31 victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Redshirt junior defensive end Clelin Ferrell said he was one of about a dozen players who were invited into the Oval Office to meet President Trump. Ferrell said each of the players introduced themselves and they took a group picture. President Trump asked them how they thought they were going to be next year. Ferrell described the chat with the president as “pretty chill, nothing serious.”

In the main event on the South Lawn, Trump told the team that “success is about how hard you are willing to fight in order to overcome and in order to win,” but he also kept it light-hearted. He asked for Hunter Renfrow, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass with two seconds remaining.

“Where’s Hunter?” Trump asked. “Oh, Hunter, you’re so lucky you caught that ball.”

Trump noted the team’s wins over Florida State, Ohio State and South Carolina en route to the national title. He talked about Dabo Swinney’s vision for the program, and said the coach “helped forge a new culture at Clemson” — a message that didn’t go unnoticed by the players.

“It was a good reflection of what most people saw us do this year, which was come together as a team to accomplish one big goal, not just for us but the whole Clemson community,” Ferrell said. “It was good to hear that from somebody as big as him, the president of the United States, so that was just a great feeling to have that type of recognition from somebody like him.”

“Being an athlete, a lot of times you don’t get to sit back and look at the accomplishments you’ve had, but today has been a great day because we got to eat White House food — oh my gosh — it was finger food. It was probably the best finger food I ever had. Shrimp, it was good, but just soaking it all up and just enjoying the moment you worked hard for.”

Former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson and nose tackle Carlos Watkins, both now with the Houston Texans, made the trip. Watson wore bright red sneakers with his suit.

After the event on the South Lawn, Watson joined press secretary Sean Spicer in the White House press briefing room and Spicer took Watson’s picture at the podium.

President Trump said there is a tiger that looks like it’s flying upwards, etched into Clemson’s championship rings, with the words “a little extra.”

“That’s often the difference between winning and losing,” Trump said, “just a little extra, isn’t that right, coach?”

Clemson brought about 180 people, said athletic director Dan Radakovich, who also came to the White House with LSU in 2004.

“They had a great assortment, a lot of food, everybody just really enjoyed the opportunity to have the East Wing of the White House as our little area for a couple of hours,” he said. “and certainly the opportunity to get into the Oval Office. It is the greatest home court advantage in the world, there’s no question about that.”

ESPN’s Heather Dinich and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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