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CLEMSON - Walk into the main lobby of Clemson's new Allen N. Reeves Football Complex, and the area dedicated to the P.A.W. Journey is likely one of the first things you'll see.
That's not by accident.
While the Clemson football team is competing for championships on the field, the Tigers have also placed an emphasis on developing their players as young men off the field.
That's what P.A.W. - or Passionate About Winning - Journey is all about.
P.A.W. Journey, developed by Clemson to work exclusively with football players, consists of three main pillars:
Striped, which focuses on personal growth
C.U. in Life, which focuses on life skills and community service
5th Quarter, which focuses on career and professional development
Much like the new football complex has set a standard for college athletic facilities, Clemson expects P.A.W. Journey to be a model for how college sports teams work with athletes off the field.
"No one in this country is even close to having a program like the P.A.W Journey program, and that's our challenge," said Thad Turnipseed, Clemson's director of football recruiting and external affairs. "It's not about the building. They can build buildings, but they need to put the money and the resources in the P.A.W. Journey program that we just did, because that's what's going to make us great, way more than this building is going to make us great."
The visionary behind P.A.W. Journey is Jeff Davis, Clemson's director of football player relations and external affairs. A former Tiger linebacker, Davis has worked directly with the football team in an off-field capacity since Dabo Swinney was hired as head coach in 2008.
"I think that everything that I've done has culminated at P.A.W. Journey," said Davis, the founder of the program. "I've been doing aspects of P.A.W. Journey from the day Coach Swinney hired me."
Davis, who leads the Striped pillar of the program, now has a team to help him develop Clemson's football players as men.
Jessie Carroll, who previously served as Clemson's recruiting operations coordinator, now leads the C.U. In Life pillar. Allison Waymyers, who was hired in July to be Clemson's director of career and professional development, leads the 5th Quarter pillar. Reggie Pleasant, a life coach and spiritual adviser for the team, also has an office in the P.A.W. Journey area, though his services are paid for by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Davis' goal, he says, is for the Tigers to "earn their stripes" by maturing as people. He draws from his own experiences, both as a player at Clemson and in the NFL and from life after football, to try to set an example for the next generation.
"How I communicate, how I treat people, how I impact my community, all those things are important and so for our young men, I want them to understand those things," Davis said. "I want them to understand that they need to be independent thinkers. I need them to understand that they need to be able to stand on their own two feet.
"P.A.W. Journey is an opportunity for us to teach many of those attributes, many of those life skills so that they can not only represent themselves, but they can also represent this university in a great manner."
Although it is a requirement for all Division I athletic departments to have a life skills program, Carroll expects the C.U. in Life program to go above and beyond the requirements to prepare Clemson football players for the responsibilities of adult life.
"We're really focused on teaching them those skills that they can use," Carroll said. "When you leave, how do you buy a house? How do you manage your finances? How do you make a budget? How do you manage stress?"
In addition to teaching life skills and arranging community service opportunities for the team, Carroll also oversees the Tigerhood program, which gives players the option of being paired with a personal, professional or spiritual mentor.
Waymyers said her pillar is called the 5th Quarter because her goal is to prepare players for life after football. She helps put players on post-football career paths by doing things such as coordinating internships and meetings with executives and helping players put together resumes and LinkedIn pages.
"The really impactful part of my job, really what makes my day, is helping them understand that the skills that they have on the field can transfer off the field," Waymyers said. "A lot of schools, they just want to push football 24/7, and your finish line is the NFL. Here in P.A.W. Journey, we're teaching them that their finish line is literally the rest of your life ... so after you retire (from football), then what?"
In addition to helping players choose post-football careers for themselves, Waymyers works with employers to show them benefits of hiring football players, which she said has opened up job opportunities for players.
"What I've done is pitch to companies that we're helping to solve the education-to-workforce pipeline. We're giving you diverse candidates that can thrive in a competitive environment," Waymyers said. "Now companies that were only looking at Ivy League schools, they're looking at D-I football players. That culture shift that we've been able to create has been awesome."
Davis, Carroll and Waymyers agree the objective of P.A.W. Journey is to help Clemson football players become leaders in everything they do.
Carroll says the P.A.W. Journey team strives to take a different approach than coaches would when working with the football players.
"The biggest thing we wanted was to be different than what they get on the other side of the building," Carroll said. "We want to be different than the mindset of you're a guy in a jersey. We want to look at them as a man."
That's not to say, though, that P.A.W. Journey doesn't correlate with what Swinney and his staff are doing. Davis was Swinney's first hire back in 2008, and P.A.W. Journey is an extension of his vision for his players and his program.
"Coach Swinney is the reason we have this program," Carroll said. "If we did not have a coach like him, P.A.W. Journey would not exist at all."
Between carving out space for it in the new football complex and hiring full-time staff members to be a part of it, Clemson has made a significant investment in P.A.W. Journey. The people in charge of leading the program say they are committed to making it worth the investment.
"I'm protective of these players and I really want what's right for them. It's not about money for me," Waymyers said. "If you're only doing this for selfish reasons, it's not going to work."
Carroll says she expects the program to be a "game-changer." Davis expects the program to have a reach that goes well beyond Clemson's walls.
"One of the things that I really love about Clemson is that we are cutting-edge. It is our hope to lead not only our student-athletes, but to lead this industry. And we think that we have something that's very special," Davis said. "We're hoping that what we are doing, that others will be able to do, because it will empower their student-athletes to be the example, to embrace a lifestyle of winning and also to give back not only to their alma maters, but to give back to their society and their country."
Follow Dan Hope on Twitter @Dan_Hope
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