In a sport of bullies, he was known for being bullied.
On a team that is unbeaten, he was known as the biggest loser.
Yet, when Alabama plays Clemson on Monday night in a College Football Playoff national championship battle filled with powerful linemen and skilled runners, this defenseless punter should be known as the toughest.
His name is Andy Teasdall and he plays for Clemson, and he was recently involved in two disparate plays that cut into the complicated heart of college football.
He was the player who was publicly grabbed and harangued last month by Coach Dabo Swinney in a nationally scorned sideline tantrum after he unilaterally tried and failed on a fake punt attempt during Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship victory over North Carolina.
From embarrassed to embraced, from ripped to revered, from boss’ target to teacher’s pet, Teasdall has traveled a crazy journey in a strikingly short time. It is a trip taken often by marginal unpaid athletes at the mercy of angry millionaire coaches, yet it is one that Teasdall has handled with uncommon dignity and grace.
While Monday’s title game will showcase the stars and the confetti and all the glory of big-time college football. Teasdall, 22, is a reminder of the strength found in the majority of players who live on the other side.
He made the team from a tryout. He has had a scholarship for only one season. He will earn no money off Monday’s billion-dollar game. He has no voice, yet through his quiet resilience, he has spoken loudly.
It’s been a crazy journey, from walk-on to the national championship game.
“It’s been a crazy journey, from walk-on to the national championship game,’' Teasdall said at Saturday’s media day. “I’m so lucky, all I ever wanted to do was play college sports, didn’t know or care what sport, just wanted to play something.’'
The former high school lacrosse star from Winston-Salem, N.C., is the kind of kid who feels blessed, not entitled, to play college football. He is the kind of kid who has a much smaller margin for error because of his precarious position on the team. He is the kind of kid who coaches always seem to be scolding.
This dynamic was taken to a new and nauseating level last month in the ACC title game against North Carolina. Late in the second quarter, on fourth and 15 from the Clemson 30, with the Tigers leading, 14-9, Teasdall took the snap and, instead of punting, inexplicably tried to run for a first down. He gained only four yards. The Tigers gave the ball to the Tar Heels and the game’s momentum immediately changed.
“It was a reaction play, I rolled to the right and everyone else was running right, so I ran to the left,’' said Teasdall, a redshirt junior. “I made a mistake. When it happened I was just kind of like, ‘Why did I do that?’ ''
When Teasdall reached the sidelines, Swinney, whose national perception had been one of a loose and lovable leader, quickly turned nasty. With the nation watching, Swinney screamed at Teasdall, grabbed his shirt and screamed some more, then followed him to the bench and kept screaming at him.
All the while, Teasdall said nothing, did nothing, simply sat down and stared straight ahead while his coach raged. Yet inside, he admitted, it was tearing him up.
After the game, which Clemson won, 45-37, Swinney continued to drag his punter under the bus. In words that coaches would never use on their star quarterbacks or defensive linemen, he continued to try to embarrass the punter.
“That was no fake punt, that was Teasdall kind of losing his mind,’' Swinney said after the game, the coach pulling down $3.3 million piling on the unpaid student-athlete. “I mean, like, he went crazy on me. ... I don’t have an answer for it.’'
This weekend the narrative continued, Teasdall showing calm maturity and the coach continuing to act childish.
“I’ve been yelled at before, this just happened to be on national television,’' Teasdall said while repeatedly offering unconditional support of the coach. “People thought maybe he went a little overboard, but it’s football, it’s a tough sport, and I wasn’t in a position to talk back.’'
Swinney was not quite as contemplative or compassionate. In fact, when I asked him about his punter’s toughness during Saturday’s media-day news conference from a small stage, he raised his voice again.
“What’s he been through?’' he said.
I mentioned him overcoming the embarrassment of being scolded on national TV.
“So what. Give me a break,’' Swinney said. “Lots of players get yelled at on national TV. Does Bill Belichick ever yell at anybody? Does Coach [Nick] Saban ever yell at anybody? People dramatize that. You don’t know anything what I said to him, just because I was speaking loud, I’m not sitting here talking about his mom or things like that. It’s a joke. He got yelled at. So what. Give me a break. He hasn’t been through anything. He’s been to Miami Beach [Orange Bowl], he’s been in school at Clemson, he’s traveled to Arizona, he’s in a nice hotel, life is good.’'
Interestingly, as quickly as he threw his punter under the bus, Swinney reached down and pulled him out and begged him for help in the semifinals against Oklahoma. Early in second quarter, on fourth and four around midfield and Clemson trailing, 7-3, Teasdall faked a punt on a planned play and threw a 31-yard pass to massive defensive tackle Christian Wilkins for a first down that led to the Tigers’ first touchdown in a 37-17 victory.
“He’s a tough guy, he didn’t blink once after that ACC championship game, he tuned everything out,’' said Jim Brown, Clemson’s long snapper. “Then he comes back, and we dial it up, and we do it big.’'
Teasdall truly never thought twice about his coach trusting him after ripping him. Before this season, Teasdall had not thrown a pass since freshman intramurals, yet he never thought about that either.
“It happened so quickly, I just kind of reacted to it,’' Teasdall said. “I’m sure people were thinking, ‘Oh no, what’s this kid doing again?’ Thankfully, it turned out successful.’'
Here’s guessing there will be no fake punts in the championship game, although Alabama will be prepared for one. By now, the world knows that the defenseless punter cannot be pushed around.
“It’s been so cool to see how he’s handled the adversity he’s experienced,’' said Teasdall’s older brother Jack. “I’d be lying if I told you that watching that video doesn’t make me uncomfortable. But the way my brother has handled himself on and off the field, it’s been just a great ending for him.’'
Swinney ended Saturday’s news conference rant about Teasdall by turning his toward the next questioner and muttering, “Unbelievable.’'
He’s right. And he’s wrong.