CLEMSON – The veteran, well-known left tackle and the young, unproven center were asked the same tough questions, separately, without knowing ahead of time the scorching-hot topic of hazing would be broached.
And Brandon Thomas and Ryan Norton responded with nearly identical answers.
That’s how in tune two of Clemson’s offensive linemen are on the subject of bullying. In that it’s really not a subject at all for college football’s No. 8 team in the BCS Standings.
Thomas and Norton are busy guys, but during the Tigers’ off week they did casually follow the explosive reports coming out of the Miami Dolphins, as Pro Bowl left guard Richie Incognito has been suspended indefinitely for excessive hazing of second-year left tackle Jonathan Martin (who left the team in late October amid emotional distress.)
On Nov. 4, it was revealed Incognito left a graphic voice mail in April including racial slurs and a death threat. The reports of continued mistreatment and harassment have dominated the headlines ever since.
Meanwhile in Clemson, two starters on the unit most requiring teammates to rely upon each other kept up with some of the news.
Thomas, a fifth-year senior and 2012 all-ACC left tackle, and Norton, a sophomore center and the only new regular starter compared to last year’s line, each calmly stated nothing of the like happens at their school.
Both were offered the chance to speak off the record. Both were happy to publicize their comments.
“It doesn’t happen here. We’re a family. We consider everybody as family,” said Thomas, who has already graduated with a degree in secondary education. “If we were so-called bullies, it’d be playing around and stuff. We don’t consider bullying that serious here, because we just don’t see it. We’re family. We play around. We don’t have those problems here.”
Obviously, nobody outside the Clemson locker room truly knows everything that goes on in the Clemson locker room. Hearing from Thomas and Norton, however, it sounds like even wet willies and noogies would be of the rare variety – forget hate-filled slurs (contextual or not) and aggressive taunting.
Note the similarity in Norton’s answer, to what Thomas said, about 15 minutes apart and not in each other’s presence.
“Here at Clemson, I don’t see that at all. We’re a family here,” Norton said. “We look out for each other. We’ll throw a little playful jabs at each other, but nothing serious, nothing that, you know, would bring anybody to that point. And if they were bringing it to that point, we would correct it right there. So that’s not something I see as a big deal here.”
Rookie hazing has long been a controversial subject in football at all levels; Thomas said the veteran players hardly ever see the first-year players who are redshirting anyway, once summer workouts are concluded.
“They’re trying to get their bodies stronger; we’re trying to work on plays and watch film,” Thomas said. “So we don’t really get to see them that much.”
Norton replaced four-year starter Dalton Freeman this fall. So have the older guards and tackles done anything out of the ordinary to toughen him up?
“I haven’t received any of it. If anything, I’ve received encouragement,” Norton said. “I wouldn’t say they really tested me. They had confidence in me when I came in. That’s all I really needed. Like I said, we’re a family here. We treat each other like brothers. That’s the way it should be.”
The one inquiry giving Norton pause was trying to imagine how such disarray could not only happen within the bond of a football team, but why the remaining Dolphins would condone it.
“It’s a little hard to believe, um, but it’s really not my place to say what it is,” Norton said. “That’s their franchise, that’s their program, they can deal with it the way they want to. I just know here at Clemson, we’re not really anywhere close to that.”