P.A.W. Journey develops Clemson football players into well-rounded leaders

As a Clemson University football player, all eyes are on you, both on and off the field.

Under such scrutiny, the players must learn how to manage the responsibilities of being student-athletes and preparing for life after college.

Jeff Davis understands the challenges. He played for the Clemson from 1978 to ’81. Known as “The Judge,” Davis was an All-American linebacker for the Tigers and captained the team during its 1981 national championship season.

In 2009, Davis returned to Clemson as head coach Dabo Swinney’s first hire to form a new program focused on student-athlete development and leadership.

“It was exciting for me because I didn’t feel like I left school with everything,” Davis said. “I felt like there were some things that I still could have learned.”

P.A.W. Journey — an acronym for “Passionate About Winning” — was formalized in 2017. The program emphasizes personal growth, life skills and professional development. It consists of four pillars Striped, CU in Life; 5th Quarter; and Overtime. Each focuses on a key aspect of a player’s experience — as a student, an athlete and after graduation.

Seeking personal growth

Under the Striped pillar, players identify a sense of purpose and work toward personal growth while learning to use their influence.

“We talk about being first-class men and we talk about being world-class leaders,” said Davis, who oversees Striped. “We want our men to be men of character, men of confidence and men of conviction.”

Various initiatives are offered, including one-on-one mentorship sessions with Davis, an annual player symposium and group meetings led by guest speakers.

While Davis and the rest of the program’s staff are available for support, players can also turn to their teammates who are P.A.W. Journey ambassadors. The ambassadors act as a leadership committee for the team and are committed to the development of their fellow teammates.

“P.A.W. Journey is really just the bridge. It’s the bridge between on-the-field to off-the-field, from school to professional world, and I think that’s why it’s just so important for us,” said Will Putnam, an ambassador and fifth-year senior center for the Tigers.

While working on their personal development, players are also shaping their individual brands. This can be beneficial for those interested in earning money from their name, image and likeness.

Since the NCAA name, image and likeness policy was enacted in 2021, players have the right to make deals and be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness to promote products or services. Clemson football offers many resources to help players navigate such deals, including a name, image and likeness coordinator, a comprehensive support program called Reign, and a new branding institute.

Jeuel Davis is director of life skills and community service, and also the daughter of Jeff Davis. She said P.A.W. Journey takes a comprehensive approach to helping players develop their brand. The program strives to convey the importance of how a player’s character and authentic self affects their image.

Jeff Davis uses the phrase “man makes the brand” to explain the concept.

“They want to be with you because humanity is important, excellence is important, hard work is important,” Jeff Davis said. “That’s what they want people to think about their products when you are representing and when you’re representing their companies.”

Utilizing life skills

The CU in Life pillar focuses on educating players on life skills and encouraging community service.

“We talk about them as transferrable skills,” Jeuel Davis said. “So we talk about them as skills that you might not realize you’re mastering and utilizing on a daily basis for football and that you can transfer to areas of your life outside of football, and vice versa.”

Players develop and learn how to apply skills through seminars, workshops, internships, travel and mentorship opportunities conducted through the pillar. Some of these tools include:

  • Financial literacy
  • Mental health practices
  • Professionalism
  • Brand management
  • Networking
  • Media training

Sheridan Jones, a P.A.W. ambassador and fifth-year senior cornerback, said the program helped him develop his public-speaking skills.

“The drive that they put into us to make us know that we’re here for a reason, we have all the tools and they’re just there to help us bring it out of us — I feel like they do that in a great way,” Jones said.

Players are also encouraged to complete community service and volunteer for causes they are passionate about. They can participate in the team’s service event or go on P.A.W. Journey’s annual service trip abroad.

Pursuing professional development

P.A.W. Journey’s 5th Quarter pillar focuses on professional development and career opportunities outside of football.

Rashard Hall, director of career and professional development, said the players are able to explore different paths and learn the skills needed to succeed.

“We’re developing the fundamentals and the techniques of trying to win a career championship, if you will,” Hall said. “We’re going to start with the basics of resume preparation, and interview preparation, and LinkedIn, and those kind of things.”

Players also participate in career fairs and networking events.

Micro-internships and experimental learning opportunities are available to help players gain experience in a professional-employment setting. Jones explained he completed micro-internships with Adobe and Cisco and took a weeklong trip to Los Angeles to meet various business professionals.

“Coming into Clemson, all I really knew was football,” Jones said. “Going through those micro-internships and going on the P.A.W. Journey business week … helped me to figure out what things I do like outside of football.”

Continuing the connection

A player’s journey with P.A.W. Journey doesn’t end once they leave school. Under the program’s Overtime pillar, Clemson football alumni receive support for continued growth.

An alumni retreat is offered to former players to help with their personal and professional development. Events and award ceremonies are also held throughout the year to bring alumni together.

The program also offers opportunities for the alumni to connect with current student-athletes. Antoine McClain, director of former player engagement and development, explained that alums offer a unique insight into life after college.

Making a lasting impact

The goal for P.A.W. Journey is to see players progress each year. The staff is creating a curriculum that outlines goals for personal and professional development.

Jeuel Davis said the curriculum will also help package P.A.W. Journey for other organizations to use as a model.

“We have a lot of organizations that reach out to us who want to learn about P.A.W. Journey, who want to learn about how we’ve become successes and what we’ve done,” she said.

The program is also working to secure an $11 million endowment. Jeff Davis said they are currently halfway to meeting the goal.

“If we’re going to continue to write the story, we want to keep building,” Jeff Davis said. “When young men leave here, they say Clemson is different. They say Clemson is going to challenge you as a man and as a leader.”

Four P.A.W. pillars

Each of the four pillars of P.A.W. Journey has specific aims to help develop the football scholar-athletes.

  • Striped: Character, Confidence and Conviction
  • C.U. in Life: Educate, Empower and Engage
  • 5th Quarter: Preparation, Passion, Purpose
  • Overtime: Celebration, Connection and Commitment

What is name, image and likeness?

Name, image, likeness: The right for student-athletes to control and be compensated for the use of their name, image and likeness for products or services.

Off-field recognition

The PAT Award — an acronym for “Point After Touchdown” — is awarded each month to one Clemson football player who is an exemplary citizen, student and athlete. One player is also recognized as the PAT Man of the Year for his overall leadership, civic engagement, ethics and demeanor.

Second sport

Did you know that golf is considered a life skill? While it is a technically and mentally challenging sport, golf also offers an opportunity to make connections and network. P.A.W. Journey co-created a curriculum and offers lessons to help players develop their golf skills.

Professional development

P.A.W. Journey’s 5th Quarter pillar helps players set up business opportunities with various company partners including:

  • Google
  • Lima One Capital
  • Northwestern Mutual
  • Coca-Cola
  • Adobe
  • Cisco
  • “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”

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