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Clemson Football Alum Lee Brice Talks Big Rivalry, Song He Wrote For His Team

Our Country

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Lee Brice on 'Jimmy Fallon' (Photo: NBC)

One can safely say that country musician Lee Brice has led something of a charmed life. The 33-year-old has achieved two tremendous--and fun--goals that most little boys in America dream of: He's played football for a major university, and he gets to rock out every night as part of his current occupation.

Brice started out on the sports trail with a scholarship to South Carolina's Clemson University, where he eventually had to drop off the team due to an injury. However, instead of getting discouraged, he decided to make music his path instead. He's also held Clemson near and dear to his heart all these years, being an avid fan of Tigers football every season--and even making some time to give back to his campus musically (read on, and you'll see the unique contribution he's making this year!).

Our Country had the opportunity to sit down with Brice just before November 17th's Clemson vs. North Carolina State game--and it appears our conversation brought Clemson luck, as they trounced the Wolfpack with a brilliant offensive strategy, winning 62-48. Next up? Clemson's main rivals, the University of South Carolina Gamecocks, on November 24. Brice is optimistic--read on and enjoy!

Our Country: Can you talk about the injury that ended your college football career--and brought you into your music career?

Lee Brice: I came in, and I was an invited walk-on. That first season I was actually a long snapper. I was snapping so much every day--I just kind of wanted to be 'the man'--and so basically I just kinda tore my elbow up snapping so much. I had to have surgery on it, and it never recovered. Still to this day, it hurts when I lock my arm out. It was my dream to make the team and play football for Clemson, so at least I was able to prove to myself that I could do that before I got hurt.

So, you were playing when Tommy Bowden was coach?

I was there for Tommy West's last year, and Tommy Bowden's first year. I actually really enjoyed when he came in. it seemed like that he really wanted to make sure that it didn't matter about politics, it didn't matter about anything--if you practiced well, you played. You earned your spot, and there was no politics involved. He was really true to that. I respected that.

Did you grow up in a Clemson family? Is that what influenced you to attend there?

Oh yeah, that's kind of the reason why I walked on there. I had scholarships, offers from the top, from a lot of other schools...[but] it was always where my heart was. It was a no-brainer for me.

Since you are from a Clemson family, I'm sure you heard plenty of talk about the year 1981--when the school won its sole national championship!

Oh yeah. That was our year. I was 2 years old, but...(laughs). Hopefully we can get ourselves another one, here, shortly!

Last year was a bit of a disappointment for Clemson fans, as they came out surprisingly strong in the beginning but then fell apart in the final four games. How do you feel about this year's season? Will the Tigers have a shot at the national championship again in the future?

I think we always have a shot. Even last season, there's so many tiny things that happened that changed the outcome. Football is such a sport where everything has to be right--everything you learn, you gotta execute during a game. But yeah, if we can pull that together every game, we've always got a chance! This year--Florida State, we could have won that game. We would have been, what, 10-0 right now? You never know.

Just curious--Clemson manages to do consistently well with recruiting. Given that in the same state you have a school in the very powerful SEC, how do you think Clemson manages to do so well despite being in a weaker conference?

I don't know what it is. I think obviously one thing--if the players ever do come to the campus, there is something about Clemson, something about the campus, the pride of football there, that is a very big attraction. It's not hard for me to say that because I grew up being a fan my whole life, but I can tell you now that those were the best days of my life, being there at Clemson. Just at the school, in general. I don't know how we do it, but every year we have different kind of recruits than anybody else in the country. The two campuses, USC and Clemson, are completely different--you're in the middle of the city, spread out all over the place, here at USC. At Clemson, it's all right there, it's a big family, and I think that's pretty attractive.

Back to this season. Clemson has a very big game coming up...against No. 1 rivals U of SC. Let's hear your thoughts on this year's matchup!

I'll tell you what. That game, you never know what's gonna happen. It doesn't matter if one team is 1 and 10, and one team's 10 and 1. It never matters when it comes to that game. It's really sad to see what happened to [Carolina running back Marcus] Lattimore--you hate to see that. (Lattimore is recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered in October.) But I think we got a good shot at winning. It's gonna make it a little easier for us. They're rockin' this year, the Gamecocks.

I understand you'll be getting the Clemson crowd pumping the night before?

I am playing a concert on Friday night, and it's so cool, because my whole purpose of being here at Clemson on that weekend was just to be able to go tailgate for one game this season. So then Clemson came back and actually wanted me to play a show--I was so excited, I'm gonna play Littlejohn [Coliseum] Friday night the day before the game. So I am PUMPED.

And, even better, I understand you've actually written a song specifically for the team?

It's really cool. When we decided to do this show, the athletic department got in touch with me and asked if I would write a song so they could play over the stadium before the team ran down the hill. I was honored obviously, and I sat down with a couple friends of mine--I really didn't want to write something cheesy, I wanted to write something rockin' that really brought the spirit of Clemson alive. So I just kind of reverted back to all the things I know about Clemson, and wrote a song called "Orange Empire." I'll actually get to hear it for the first time in the stadium on Friday. It'll be really cool!

One last question. The other week, I talked to your main rival, Darius Rucker--whom we all know is Carolina's No. 1 Gamecocks fan. Anything you'd like to say to him specifically about Saturday's game?!

Tell him they better scrap it up, 'cause we're coming for them, and he knows it! So don't be afraid! (Laughs)


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