My Daddy Almost Played For Clemson

When my father, Jesse Reese Fant Jr., graduated from Pendleton High School, he suddenly found himself sort of spinning in space. He lived in LaFrance, SC, where the only possible job opportunity was the textile mill the small community surrounded. The mill was not hiring.

He had no transportation to try for a job in Anderson, almost 20 miles away. He was sitting around doing nothing, trying to figure out what his future was going to include.

One day he “caught the train up to Clemson”, where he at least could spend the day hanging around with other guys who had no prospects for a job.

He went to the pool room. To his surprise, the place was packed.

A couple of questions later, daddy realized the bulk of the crowd was Clemson College football players reporting early for fall practice. Having been a football player in high school, when the guys headed for practice, dad just went with them to see what they were going through.

At the field house, someone yelled LINE UP, and dad just fell in line. The players were being issued equipment, and without saying a word, he was issued pads and uniform. Daddy knew he was not really supposed to be getting equipment, or going to practice, but he didn’t see where it would hurt anything, so he just kept going with the flow.

Someone asked what position he played, and dad replied, ‘linebacker’. The coaches thought he was a first-year player reporting, and daddy was not going to tell them anything different.

He kept reporting to the two-a-day practices right up until the first day of classes.

That afternoon, when the players reported, daddy reported, too, but instead of putting on his uniform, he just sat there.

The head coach, Frank Howard saw him just sitting, and asked what the problem was. In those days, Clemson students wore military uniforms. Daddy wasn’t a student. He didn’t have a uniform. his football days were over.

After a long talk with coach Howard, daddy went home with prospects of a future. The coach had explained that there were no more scholarships available for the current year, but he would certainly be issued a full scholarship for the next season.

Then a few months later, on Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. World War II was in full swing.

The following year, when Clemson students reported for practice, one person was missing. Jesse Reese Fant Jr. was a Boatswain with the Merchant Marine, making trip after trip to Europe taking much-needed supplies to the war zones.

In 1943, daddy was guiding his ship back to the states, empty, ready to pick up another load, when a hole suddenly appeared in the side of his ship. A German submarine had torpedoed his ship. The crew went to the lifeboats and started rowing.

Instead of being in the North Atlantic Ocean with nothing for thousands of miles, all the crew had to do was row up less than a mile to the next ship in a convoy of over 100 ships. Everyone got on board and were ready to continue on to the United States.

But the submarine wasn’t through.

At dusk, that same say, that second ship was torpedoed. It was back to the lifeboats. Now two crews were rowing up to catch a ride on home. While rowing, daddy came up with a plan.

“Instead of just rowing to the next ship, why don’t we just keep rowing up to the second ship. That way we can get in some sleep before the next torpedo arrives, and we find ourselves out here rowing again.”

His idea was not acted on, but evidently the submarine was out of ammunition.

From there the convoy continued without any additional loss. Daddy was ‘dropped off in Newfoundland, where he spent almost two months waiting on the necessary papers allowing him back into the United States.

Once back, he was able to continue back to South Carolina on Survivor’s Leave, where he got to see his son (me) for the first time. After 30 days with the family, it was back to war, where he spent the next few years traveling back and forth to Europe, delivering supplies.

When the war was over, daddy returned to his family in Anderson. But he never made it back to the Clemson football practice field. Upon his return to civilian life, daddy entered politics, and the very next time he attended a Clemson football game, he went as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives.

After two terms in the legislature, he signed on with the newly formed South Carolina Tax Commission, where he spent the next 35 years before deciding to retire. When asked how he was going to spent his retirement years, daddy pointed out the big, comfortable swing on the front porch of his home.

“For the first two months, I am going to sit in that swing,” he said. “Then I am going to start swinging — slow.”