Clemson was there from the beginning. Now Nyles Pinckney has decided to make Death Valley his ultimate destination.
The Whale Branch defensive lineman ended a summer of anticipation Friday afternoon, capping a Warriors pep rally by briefly reaching for a South Carolina ballcap before grabbing the one with the orange tiger paw.
"They saw something in me when nobody else did," said Pinckney, the Island Packet and Beaufort Gazette's 2014 defensive player of the year. "I really like what Coach (Dabo) Swinney's trying to do around there.
"Every time I go up there, they make me feel welcome. They show me something new every time I go up there."
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Clemson had been first among suitors, telling him as a freshman that he'd have a scholarship waiting. South Carolina had made a strong push in recent months for the consensus four-star prospect, with Georgia and Georgia Tech hats also on the table.
In the end, though, any sleepless nights ended with Pinckney feeling most at peace about the Tigers.
"All the schools have something I like," he said, "but I decided Clemson is the best place for me. They have all the things I need, and they really are planning to help me get better as a man and a player."
The 290-pound prospect finally locked in his decision around noon Friday, calling Swinney to tell him he was coming. "He said he was going out for a jog," Pinckney said. "He told me he's probably going to run the fastest mile he's ever run in his life."
At least Swinney knew the outcome. Pinckney's parents, Anthony and Ramona, were kept in the dark until he made a play for the hats.
"I kind of scared them by going to the South Carolina hat," Pinckney said.
Told the he moved too quickly to make it convincing, the player said: "I was kind of nervous and wanted to get it over with. Let my mom breathe. My mom's really happy right now."
Pinckney's parents had been hoping for the Tigers all along, pulling Clemson hats from underneath the table to complement their son's.
"That's where we wanted him to go," Anthony Pinckney said. "I just put (the hats) in there and if he didn't go, it would have just stayed there."
Ramona Pinckney said: "It's a sense of relief. We're just glad. We're looking forward to seeing him on that field."
Pinckney, ranked 129th among Class of 2016 recruits by Rivals.com, said he'd fulfill graduation requirements in December and enroll at Clemson for the spring semester. He had 11 scholarship offers to choose among -- all from ACC or SEC schools, including Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Miami and North Carolina.
Pinckney recorded nine sacks and 27 tackles for loss as a junior, with an astounding 10 forced fumbles, eight fumble recoveries and three blocked field goals. One year earlier, he had four sacks and 26 TFLs, with a blocked punt and two defensive touchdowns.
"We've enjoyed you being here," coach Jerry Hatcher told him during the pep rally. "But we've still got a long way to go."
The Warriors reached the second round of the Class 2-A playoffs last year, ending the season at 7-5.
Whatever happens this season, Pinckney can enter the season at peace about the chapter that follows. More than once, he brought up a bond with Swinney that goes beyond the practice field and weight room.
"He really made me feel welcome, and I believe everything he says," Pinckney said. "He was just telling me how he is as a man, and what his plans are to make his players better Christians, men and football players."