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The mournful and joyful story behind Clemson's first and foremost softball recruit

Pitcher Logan Caymol never thought she'd be able to sign with Clemson softball. She was wrong. Courtesy Logan Caymol

Logan Caymol watched longingly as her older teammates -- all smiles, balloons and caps -- signed national letters of intent to play softball at their dream schools.

Caymol had already written that possibility off. Not the signing part. She was one of the top pitchers in the country at Georgia's Buford High School, so that part was pretty much guaranteed. It was the part about signing with her dream school that Caymol didn't think could come true.

A third-generation Clemson fan, Caymol had been visiting the university ever since she could remember. Her parents, Angie and Mateo, met while attending Clemson. Her grandfather, Billy Ammons, played quarterback for famed head coach Frank Howard in the 1960s. More recently, the Clemson family was there for her immediate family, providing support through devastating times.

But there was no softball program at Clemson, so Caymol, as a high school freshman in 2014, committed to play at Tennessee. Her blood ran orange after all, just a few shades deeper.

Then, an announcement last March from Clemson athletic director Dan Radakovich got that orange blood pumping. The Tigers would be adding a softball program that would begin its first season in the 2019-20 academic year.

"When they announced their program, I got really excited," Caymol said. "But I knew that de-committing [from Tennessee] would be really hard."

That September, the family flew to Tennessee to discuss Caymol's future. Co-head coaches Karen and Ralph Weekly understood Caymol's decision and even offered to call Clemson on her behalf.

But word traveled fast, and when Radakovich found out, he promptly invited the family to campus for an unofficial visit on homecoming weekend.

Clemson had yet to hire a head coach, so Radakovich offered Caymol a scholarship to become the first Clemson softball player.

On Nov. 8, Caymol took to social media and said she was de-committing from Tennessee and choosing to sign with Clemson. The 2016 Georgia Athletic Coaches Association 5A Pitcher of the Year had been holding in her excitement secretly for a while. Caymol had actually alerted Clemson that she would commit before John Rittman was named head coach.

"It is a unique situation, but obviously we are very blessed to have her in our program," Rittman said about finding out Clemson had already landed its ace when he interviewed for the job. Rittman was announced as the program's first coach on Nov. 3.

On the weekend of Nov. 12, Caymol took her official visit to the university. It wasn't a typical official visit. There were no past or current players to serve as a host, so Caymol spent her visit as she had spent many Saturdays in Clemson -- with her family at a football game. It was then when Rittman grasped the significance that Clemson holds in the family's heart.

In December 2015, a car accident took the life of Caymol's youngest brother, Drew. It left her second-youngest brother, Matthew, and her father seriously injured.

While the family mourned the loss of Drew, Matthew continued his recovery. That same month, Clemson's football team won the ACC championship and landed a spot in the College Football Playoff, where the Tigers defeated Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl to earn a spot in the national championship game.

On the way back from the playoff game, former Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd ran into Logan and some family members in an airport. They shared with him their heartbreak and gave Boyd a bracelet that read "Caymol Strong."

"For Matty to be right here with her watching it, and Drew watching over her, I am sure she is going to excel." Tajh Boyd

Boyd had always been Matthew and Logan's favorite Clemson player.

Later, Boyd visited Matthew at Henrietta Egleston Hospital for Children in Atlanta. He took along memorabilia for the Caymols and swapped stories from the gridiron with the former Tigers quarterback in the Caymol family.

"Sometimes the best thing you can do for somebody is not say anything and just be there with them. Just be still in the present, and that's what we did," Boyd said.

He wanted to lift the family's spirit while taking a piece of the Clemson family to the hospital room. Boyd also spoke with Logan about her softball career and remembers wishing back then that Clemson had a team for her.

Two years later, Boyd is congratulating Caymol for continuing her family's Clemson legacy. Of all the congratulations Caymol got for becoming Clemson's first official player, it was Boyd's that stood out.

"He has been there for us and it is just amazing that he would just reach out and do that stuff for us," Caymol said.

Boyd admits that he gets chills when he thinks of how special it is that Caymol's dreams of playing softball for Clemson and honoring her family's tradition are all coming to fruition.

"I know she wears her family as a badge of honor. ... For Matty to be right here with her watching it, and Drew watching over her, I am sure she is going to excel. They just have a special family, so I am excited to watch her journey," Boyd said. "She's got orange all in her blood. It's deep."

For Rittman, Caymol's commitment to the program serves as the perfect building block. As he puts together the first class of Clemson softball players, Rittman wanted to start with pitching. Caymol not only fills that void, but she also embodies the values Rittman aims to find in all his players.

"We want to win championships here, but we want to do it the right way," Rittman said. "One of our core values is going to be family, and not only the Clemson family, but incorporating all of our players' families into our program."

Caymol's commitment also helped Rittman fill out a few other spots on his roster. Two of her Buford teammates, catcher Hannah-Jo Hyatt and shortstop Arielle Oda, joined her for the official visit -- they were on the sidelines for the Clemson-Florida State football game -- and decided the Tigers were right for them, too.

The Buford trio is joined by outfielder Kyndall Murray from Clute, Texas, and pitcher/utility player Shelby Kelley from Louisville, Kentucky, who have all received scholarships. As the program continues to take shape, Rittman is thrilled that the core of his team already has established a strong chemistry.

Caymol is certainly excited to continue taking the field with her best friends, whom she won three state championships with.

"It is just so exciting because they have been my best friends all throughout high school and I get to continue my career with them," Caymol said. "Especially Hannah-Jo because she has been catching me for four years. She's already going to know my pitches."

The five signees will enter their freshman year at Clemson as 2018-19 redshirts with the ability to practice and access to the athletic staff, but without the pressure to play in a game for the first year. Rittman sees it as a great opportunity for his players to get acclimated to college life and course loads before the inaugural season of Clemson softball begins. He also sees it as a way for his initial signing class to become deeply ingrained in the creation of Clemson softball as the facilities, uniforms, equipment and staff members will continue to be acquired.

Come fall, Caymol will continue to help write the history of the new team at the university that brought her family together. But in in a small way, Caymol finds comfort in believing her commitment serves, too, as a way to honor her late brother.

"I always wanted to fulfill his dreams," Caymol said. "And I know he always dreamed of Clemson."