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Swinney appreciates respect from fan bases

By Alex Maminakis

The Journal

NEW ORLEANS — As Dabo Swinney walked down Bourbon Street on his first night in New Orleans this week, he got plenty of love from the fans — of both Clemson and Alabama.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney looks on at practice this week in New Orleans. (Rex Brown photo)

The Clemson head coach, and Alabama native and alum, will coach against the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide on Monday for the third straight year in the College Football Playoff, this time in the Sugar Bowl (8:45 p.m., ESPN), after beating Alabama for the national title last season. But, as he explained Sunday, the Alabama fan base has been very respectful of him and his teams, and he knows a few reasons why.

“Alabama people respect good football. And I think that they know that we’ve got a good football team, and we’re going to compete,” Swinney said. “So I think, at the end of the day, there’s a healthy respect on both sides. And for Clemson people, I mean, they know

I’m a two-time graduate of Alabama…Danny Ford is from Alabama. Charlie Pell is from Alabama. Hootie Ingram is from Alabama. Frank Howard is from Alabama. There’s been a ton of coaches that have coached at both schools. So there’s just these unique ties, relationships that cross over.”

New Orleans and Bourbon Street have been crawling with fans of both programs all week, and come Monday they will fill the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to watch their teams battle it out for a trip to the national championship in Atlanta.

“People come from all over to see us play. And I just think that we’re very fortunate, obviously, to be at Clemson and Alabama, to have fan bases that are going to show up,” Swinney said. “This will be an awesome environment. And people pay a lot of money to get tickets. And they’re just passionate about it. And, when you have a job that other people are passionate about, I mean, that’s a blessing. It’s awesome to be a part of that.”

Swinney explains choice to practice at Tulane

As the higher seed in Monday’s Sugar Bowl, No. 1 Clemson had the choice of where to practice for the week in New Orleans — in the Superdome or on the campus of Tulane University.

Swinney chose to practice at Tulane, and he explained he did because it seemed like it would be less distracting and more comfortable for his players.

“You know, the Dome is huge, first of all,” Swinney said. “Just like (Saturday’s media day), you go down there and you spend all of your time kind of looking around. I just wanted a little smaller environment.”

Swinney also admitted that practicing at Tulane was sentimental to him, because that’s where he practiced as a member of the Alabama football team when the Crimson Tide prepared for the 1992 Sugar Bowl against Miami — a 34-13 national championship win for Alabama.

“To be honest with you, that’s where we practiced in ’92 as well. We practiced at Tulane. And that’s what I had in my mind, so it was great,” Swinney said. “It was a very good practice setup for us… I wanted to kind of keep it as much like home as I could and have a really good focused setting.”

Kicking game not a concern

Since taking over Clemson’s place-kicking duties in the fourth week of the season after Greg Huegel’s season-ending injury, Alex Spence has hit 58.3 percent of his field goal attempts.

The redshirt junior kicker from Florence is 7-for-12 on field goal tries this season and 41-for-43 on extra points with 14 touchbacks on 53 kickoffs.

Spence has had Swinney’s full support and confidence this season — even when the Tigers added walk-on kicker Drew Costa to the mix — and the head coach doesn’t think his Spence will struggle in the high-pressure game on Monday night.

“(Spence) has been great since Costa joined the team for whatever reason. And he has made big kicks,” Swinney said.

“He made a kick, I think, down there in South Carolina and made a 46-yarder against Miami. He has hit six out of his last seven. So, yeah, he has practiced really well…But really the whole back end of the season he has kind of hit his stride, so he is prepared and ready to go do the job.”