Clelin Ferrell talks expectations, perceived pressure headed into rookie season

Like most good stories, it gets told a lot.

And while the precise details of the story might change depending on who you ask, the facts that are rock solid are as follows: Head Coach Dabo Swinney took his Clemson Tigers football team to the movies one day, and after the flick ended, all the players exited the theater – save one, Clelin Ferrell.

Instead of heading back to campus with the rest of his teammates, Ferrell stuck around, and cleaned up the theater, picking up cups, trash, and other assorted items that for one reason or another didn't find their way to the trashcan.

"I remember that whole instance," said Ferrell. "We do a pretty good job of cleaning up after ourselves, it was kind of a very big thing, because we kind of had a motto that just said, when you walk past a problem, and you see it, the way that you handle it – whether you fix it or don't fix it – that determines your culture. For me, it's always about doing the little things, and not walking past a problem when you see it, because leaving things unsaid or unchecked can be detrimental to your whole entire organization, program, team, whatever."

This story – a personal favorite of Coach Swinney's –has followed Ferrell from his time in South Carolina to the present as a member of the Oakland Raiders, and while purely on the surface, cleaning up after your teammates seems like the compassionate and thoughtful thing to do, for the Raiders first-round draft pick, that moment in time represented something bigger.

"Just being a man of integrity, of class, was something that's always been big to me, and thank God that my head coach at Clemson, Dabo Swinney, really instilled that in me," Ferrell said. "So me being a leader on the team, that was just something where I was trying to clean up after the guys. I think it was a funny movie, and popcorn was everywhere, so you had to clean up the bags, the cups, slushies everywhere. It was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it."

Another dirty job that Ferrell will be asked to handle is revitalizing a Raiders defensive line that struggled to get after the quarterback in 2018. And while he certainly won't be asked to do all the heavy lifting alone, both Head Coach Jon Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock have said how they want Ferrell to step up and fill a leadership role on the line.

But for a rookie player, just a few months removed from winning a National Championship, does Ferrell now find himself having to strike a balance between wanting to be a vocal leader, while also recognizing that he's still at the start of his NFL journey?

"It's all about perspective," Ferrell explained. "For me, I hear people talking about how they want guys to be vocal leaders, well, for me, I'll just be Clelin, and Clelin just happens to be a guy who is highly motivated, highly energetic, very communicative, is a vocal guy. It's not really me trying to be something, it's really just me being myself, and that's all that Mike [Mayock], and Coach Gruden, and Coach Buckner have asked of me. I guess they just see those qualities in me, so it's just a blessing, man."

He continued, "I'll just always be myself, and I just know that whatever situation, I'm just a guy who wants what's best for the team, and wants what's best for me and my teammates. Those characteristics just come out in me, but I'm always trying to be myself, and not try to be something I'm not, for sure."

Hunter Renfrow was Ferrell's teammate at Clemson, and during their time playing in college, the shifty wide receiver saw up close and personal the effect that the No. 4 overall pick can have on his teammates.

Get an exclusive look as the 2019 rookie class arrives at Raiders HQ for Rookie Minicamp.

"The thing with Clelin is he's just a very welcoming guy," Renfrow said. "He brings people together, and obviously he has a lot of talent, but what makes him special is being able to rally the guys in the locker room, and rally his teammates, and say, 'Alright, come with me. This is how we're going to do it. This is how we're going to have success.' I've had a first row seat of it the past four years at Clemson, and I'm just so excited for Raider Nation to see what he has in store."

Ferrell, along with fellow first rounders Josh Jacobs and Jonathan Abram, have been called "foundational" players by Mayock, and while having that type of expectation attached to a young player as soon as they enter the building could be daunting for some, Ferrell doesn't see it that way at all.

"As far as the pressure, that's the biggest thing – I feel like that's what got me to this point, is just me being myself," he said. "I don't have to worry about any expectations, nobody's expectations for me are higher than my own, so I don't' see stuff as challenges, or pressure points. I see them as opportunities, and I'm excited. I can't wait to go out and prove myself to myself, because those are the only opinions that really matter for sure."