CLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson running back Roderick McDowell has a favorite word.
It is a blessing he is even able to play football, after being born with clubfoot, a congenital birth defect that impacts the way people walk and run.
It is a blessing he is still at Clemson, after he thought about quitting.
It is a blessing he is now getting an opportunity to start for the Tigers, poised to replace Andre Ellington as the next 1,000-yard rusher at the school.
Have there been frustrations? Yes. Rocky patches? Absolutely. Down moments? Without a doubt. But McDowell says he always kept his faith that everything would work out for him.
"My coaches always tell me a hungry dog fights and me having that fight in me, that’s what keeps me going," McDowell said. "I had plenty of opportunities to leave but I decided to stay. And look where I am now. God blessed me with the opportunity to be in a position where I can be a top running back at a top program. Having Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins and a great offensive line and stuff like that to keep me motivated and keep me pushing -- what more can I ask for?"
McDowell underwent numerous operations on his right foot and leg as a child to correct the birth defect. His right foot is smaller than his left, but that has never kept him from participating in sports. Though he was always small for his age, he was faster than every kid on the playground or the baseball field.
In seventh grade, he started playing football. Not surprisingly, he was faster than everybody on that field, too. McDowell quickly became one of the top prospects in the state and settled on Clemson, a choice that left others scratching their heads.
"When I first got here, everybody was like, 'Why do you want to come here? They have C.J. Spiller, they have Jamie Harper, they have Andre Ellington,'" McDowell said. "In my mind, I was like if you want to be the best you have to surround yourself with the best so that’s what I did. I got a chance to compete, and now I got a chance to be that top running back and carry on the legacy of being a 1,000-yard rusher."
There is no question running back is a position in the spotlight with Ellington gone. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris does not expect to rely exclusively on McDowell the way he did on Ellington the past several seasons. Instead, the Tigers are going to go with a running-back-by-committee approach, relying on McDowell, D.J. Howard, Zac Brooks and perhaps some incoming freshmen.
The goal is to average more than 225 yards rushing on the ground per game.
"All those guys are going to have to pull their weight," Morris said.
McDowell is fine with that.
"Even though I’m a senior I’m not entitled to anything," McDowell said. "My mindset is I need D.J. and D.J. needs me. Me and D.J. go out there and compete our butts off. This offense is not based off a one-back system. Andre was successful because he had me and D.J. pushing him. There’s always a rotation so that’s how I feel about the competition this spring."
And how does he describe the waiting game he has played the past four years?
"A blessing," McDowell said. "People are thinking me waiting was a bad thing but look at me now. I’ve experienced a lot but I’m in a position that I can show people I’m still here. Roderick McDowell is going to carry the load. I’m going to make sure you all know who I am. So it’s been a blessing for me."