Clemson Football

Phil Mafah embraces his opportunity and the confidence that comes with it

November 19, 2022


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Clemson running back Phil Mafah rushed for a career-high 106 yards on ten carries to lead the Tigers rushing attack in the 31-16 win over Louisville. It was Mafah's first 100-yard rushing game, and he reached that milestone with his final carry, a 29-yard touchdown run.

There was a lot for "Mafah Man" as coaches and teammates call him, to admire and memorialize from last Saturday's performance, but one play gets the nod. 

"Yeah, that was definitely one to remember," the 6'1, 230-pound sophomore said about the fourth-quarter 13-yard run, which resulted in a first down and a mob of defenders and offensive linemen at the Louisville 43-yard line. "I've never had a play that long," added Mafah. "I just kept moving my feet and waiting for the whistle and I guess everyone was just pushing the pile. The guys, the O-line, were doing a good job at that. So it was one of my favorite plays of all time for sure."

Head coach Dabo Swinney was asked about the run and the recent play of Mafah during Tuesday's press conference. 

"The play was 15.07 [seconds]," stated Swinney. "Ross and I timed it. I don't know if there's a longer play in college football than that, maybe this year. I don't know who keeps up with that. There's your physicality, and then he made a lot of runs where he just ran over a guy, ran through linebackers, ran through safeties. So I think a lot of it is just his confidence now."

Mafah spent his freshman season taking advantage of his opportunities behind classmate Will Shipley and junior Kobe Pace after three running backs, Chez Mellusi, Lyn-J Dixon, and Michel Dukes, left the program.

Coming into 2022, Shipley and Pace were expected to carry the load with Mafah as the third option. However, with Pace slowed by a high ankle sprain and out for five consecutive games, it's been the Shipley and Mafah show. 

Shipley has 899 rushing yards, and Mafah has 400. Shipley, a former prep sprinter, uses his speed to get up the field and wide but can power through tackles as well. Mafah is a big back who can spin past defenders or plow through them on any given play. 

The roommates have similarities in their running styles, but they are polar opposites in other ways.

While Shipley, known as a fiery leader among peers and coaches, has celebrated touchdowns with arms raised to implore the crowd to cheer and even did a "Death Valley leap" into the stands, Mafah, called a soft-spoken person by Swinney, might hug and high five a few teammates after a score before heading to the sideline.

"I guess opposites attract," said Mafah when asked to describe their friendship. "I'm pretty chill. He's chill, too, but he can be really intense, as you said. He's a great dude. Great friend. Great guy. So there's no difference in that and I just treat him like my brother honestly. It's my brother. That's how I see him."

In consecutive home wins over Syracuse and Louisville, the duo combined for 203 rushing yards (Shipley added 97 yards to the 106 by Mafah) against the Cards, and 266 yards, with Shipley hitting the century mark and a career-high (172) and Mafah six yards (94) shy of 100 yards himself against the Cuse.

On the season, Shipley is the leader in yards, touchdowns (12 to 3), and carries (154 to 76). 

So why did Mafah join Shipley at Clemson knowing that he likely had to share the backfield duties for three to four years? 

"I think all these guys know that there's not gonna just be one back, really anywhere," explained Swinney. "Rarely do you see that? Most of these teams play multiple backs. The teams that are very successful in the end, they've got multiple backs. And so you even see that mostly in the NFL too.

"It's good to be able to have a one-two punch where you got guys that you can play in any situation, but Mafah just knew what he wanted to do, and he's doing it."

With the passing offense regressing, the running backs have been asked to take on a heavier workload and they have produced. 

"CJ [Spiller] has done an awesome job with that room," noted Swinney. "Those backs are prepared every week. They're the best part of our team right now, I think. Those guys, you just know what you're gonna get week in and week out - Just toughness, physicality relentless effort. So that's a good situation for us."

Mafah was told what Swinney said about the running backs' room and expressed what it means to him and the group to hear those words. 

"It just brings the whole room confidence," he said. "Just knowing that the head man has trust in us. Just makes us want to keep going hard. Keep going hard for the team. Keep pushing the guys. It just shows that we have a responsibility to be the standard-- hold the standard. We love that responsibility."

"I definitely feel like my confidence has taken a rise; seeing the hard work pay off is definitely rewarding," Mafah added. "So I have no choice but to get more confident."

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Phil Mafah embraces his opportunity and the confidence that comes with it

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