From coach to starter, Hutchinson helped Tigers

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Bobby Hutchinson's mind was made up.

He wanted to be a football coach, not a career backup offensive lineman.

Former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden and offensive line coach Brad Scott made it happen, but there was one caveat: If there were too many injuries, Hutchinson -- the only senior offensive lineman on scholarship -- was back in the game.

Hutchinson agreed, and went to work as a student assistant coach.

During summer camp, he taught the younger linemen fundamentals like footwork and hand placement. During team drills, he would go to the scout team, and make sure they were lined up right. He even sat in on a few coaches' meetings. During the season opener against Alabama, Hutchinson watched one side of the line while Scott watched the other.

"It was a great experience," Hutchinson said. "I wouldn't trade that for anything."

Except for maybe a starting role.

Hutchinson, a fifth-year senior, certainly didn't think both would be possible this season. After an abundance of injuries crippled the Tigers' offensive line and any hopes of winning the ACC title, Clemson's coaching staff had little choice but to turn to their dependable backup. Now, as Hutchinson prepares to play his final game in Death Valley on Saturday against rival South Carolina, he'll do so having played two very important roles for the Tigers -- student coach and starting center.

"It hit me really at the Boston College game," Hutchinson said. "I wasn't expecting to start that game and then coach Scott said we're going to make some decisions and some movement, and that's when it finally hit me. In a span of a couple months, I was able to be a student coach and at the same time come back, get into shape and start. It's been fun."

Getting back into shape wasn't. In fact, Hutchinson said he still isn't quite there. He gained 10 pounds. He was about 310 before camp started, now he's at 320.

"It takes you so long to gain your conditioning level and work yourself into shape, and at the same time, you can lose it in two or three days," he said. "Especially being off for a month ... that was the toughest part."

Hutchinson has played well enough that it has allowed Thomas Austin to shift to guard. The improvement and much-needed stability on the offensive line has been the difference for Clemson in recent weeks. Clemson had seven different starting offensive line combinations through the first 11 games, but have used the same one in all three of interim head coach Dabo Swinney's wins.

Hutchinson entered the starting lineup for the Maryland game at guard and Clemson had its best rushing performance of the year against an ACC opponent. He moved to starting center for the Boston College game, Swinney's first win as head coach, and the Tigers beat BC for the first time since 1958.

Swinney said "you cannot say enough about Bobby Hutchinson."

"This young man has worked his tail off," Swinney said. "He's really like having a coach out on the field. His snaps have been great, his awareness, his checks at the line and setting our protections for the running game. He has given us every ounce of what he has every week and has really brought a stabilizing factor to us in there."