Daniel sends 3 to Clemson, another to Gardner-Webb
By Eric Sprott
CENTRAL — The turnaround the Daniel High School football team enjoyed on the gridiron last fall has been well documented, and there’s little understating just how far the Lions came in the course of a year.
A season removed from a dreadful 2-9 campaign, they crafted an 11-win season that was complete with an appearance in the Class 4A Upper State championship game — a turnaround that won’t soon be forgotten in Central and its neighboring towns that feed into Daniel.
Among others, linebacker David Cote, wide receiver Hampton Earle, left guard Cambel Guffee and linebacker Matthew Maloney played crucial roles in the Lions’ bounce-back season, but now Daniel has to move forward without the four seniors, who were all recognized during a signing ceremony Wednesday as they prepare to head off to the collegiate level.
Cote, Earle and Maloney have all accepted preferred walk-on offers to play at Clemson, while Guffee will head to Gardner-Webb as a preferred walk-on as well, leaving huge holes for the Lions to fill.
“We’re losing four of the most productive kids we’ve had here in a long time, and what they brought off the field was much more important than anything they could have brought on the field,” Daniel head coach Jeff Fruster said. “You can’t put a price on leadership, so it’s going to be tough to try to replace that, but Clemson and Gardner-Webb are getting some great leadership, so you can take solace in that.”
Cote, Earle and Maloney continue a notable Daniel-to-Clemson pipeline, which has been flowing abundantly in recent years.
Cote — a Region I-4A all-region honoree who finished with 149 tackles, 20 tackles for loss and four sacks last season — follows in the footsteps of his brothers Kyle and Peter, both defensive backs who will soon receive their national championship rings after the Tigers’ perfect 15-0 season.
Kyle, a special-teams stalwart for Clemson, just finished his final season with the team, while Peter will be a redshirt sophomore in the fall, and David is happy to follow in the family tradition.
“It means a lot because of both of my brothers playing there, and I kind of feel like they paved the path for me,” he said. “But, it’s also kind of like a self victory, because it wasn’t all dependent on my brothers.”
And during his national signing day news conference Wednesday, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made sure to make mention of the Tigers’ newest Cote.
“This will be the third Cote boy to roll through here,” he said. “Kyle just finished up, and what a gritty player he was for us, and Peter’s in his journey right now. And now getting David, David’s big.”
Swinney also spoke highly of Maloney, who finished his senior year with 94 tackles, nine tackles for loss and three blocked kicks.
“What a great kid,” Swinney said. “I’ve known him since he was in elementary school and watched him grow up, and he’ll be a great addition to our program.”
Maloney’s journey to Clemson was a unique one, as he missed the entirety of his freshman year due to a hip injury, then was hampered his sophomore year with a bacterial infection that he said left his body completely depleted.
After getting back on the field as a junior, Maloney stood out enough in his one and only year as a starter last season to draw the preferred walk-on offer.
“After we played South Pointe, (Clemson defensive coordinator Brent) Venables talked to me and was kind of hyping me up a little bit,” he said. “(Clemson director of recruiting operations Thad) Turnipseed is close to my family, and he was like, ‘You should talk to coach Swinney about playing,’ and I was like, ‘that’d be amazing.’ He kind of set that up for me, and I’m so thankful for him.”
Like Cote, Maloney has a direct connection to the Clemson football program as well — his brother, Jacob, is a defensive student assistant coach for the Tigers.
Earle, meanwhile, will join a Clemson wide receiver room chock full of former Lions, including Carter Groomes, Max May, Drew Swinney and Will Swinney. He brings with him an impressive resume, having played in the Shrine Bowl to cap his high-school career after finishing with 53 catches for 740 yards and seven scores during his senior season.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” he said. “I’ve grown up going to Clemson games and watching them run down the Hill, so it’s been my dream forever. To really see it become reality is unreal.”
And all three Clemson-bound Lions are happy to be going together, as they share a tight bond heading into their next journey together.
“Hampton and Matthew are just great guys,” Cote said. “I’m just glad they’re the ones I get to share this journey with, because I’ve always considered them my best friends.”
Guffee, a three-year starter for the Lions after transferring from Pendleton, has no qualms about going it alone at Gardner-Webb, as he’s excited to tackle the next challenge ahead.
He’s also happy to leave behind a legacy being a part of the senior class that helped turn the tide after the 2-9 debacle of 2017.
“It means a lot, because I’ve been working hard for this since I was young, and this brings a reality to the dream I’m about to get to live out,” Guffee said. “It also feels good to know I was a part of that turnaround, and it was good to see all the hard work pay off finally after the troubles we went through.”
And like Fruster, Daniel athletic director Tommy Plumblee — who also serves as an assistant on the Lions’ football staff — had nothing but praise for Cote, Earle, Guffee and Maloney, whose contributions he said won’t soon be forgotten.
“Those four young men did a great job,” he said. “They chose to work hard this year and just kind of change some things. That’s a testament to how hard they’ve worked and their attitudes. They could have made a choice to go completely opposite, but they chose to do things the right way with a positive attitude.
“I’m excited about the chances they have, but I’m more excited about what kind of people they are and how that’s going to carry them through in life.”
For more coverage from Daniel’s national signing day ceremony, read Friday’s edition of The Journal.
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