"The Clemson Family" is a popular phrase that is used often. To outsiders, it may seem overused, but to those who are a part of it, it is a true descriptor of the power and beauty of the bond that Clemson Tigers share. It can also apply to those families with multiple generations of Tigers, and senior offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt belongs to one such family.
Not only is Hyatt a current starter for the football team, his uncle, Dan Benish, was also a starter during his time on the Clemson football team, however, Benish played defensive tackle. The two share a special bond, not just as Tiger players, past and present, but as uncle and nephew.
"We are really close," said Hyatt. "He has always helped me through everything. He has a lot of experience, so I’m taking what he’s learned and his knowledge to help me make decisions.”
According to Benish, his relationship with Hyatt has “ebbed and flowed through the years as Mitch was growing up.” However, Benish echoed Hyatt’s sentiments of their close relationship.
“When he was younger, he didn’t have much of a father figure, so I was that role and I was his coach," explained Benish. "Now, as he’s gotten older and has matured through his career, it’s more of an advisor role and still an uncle cheering him on.”
Hyatt and Benish also share another special connection...national championships. Benish was a member of Clemson’s 1981 national championship team, and Hyatt was a member of the 2016 national title team.
“It was surreal," said Hyatt. "Being there in 2015 and getting back there in 2016 and finishing through and actually being able to win it all, it was a surreal experience, because seeing how all your hard work paid off...it was awesome.”
Benish shared similar sentiments on his championship experience.
“At that time, it was something that was never done before, and we were cutting new ground. It was kind of unexpected. We knew we were a good team, but starting the season out, we weren’t ranked. The expectations weren’t there. The hard work and the hope and all that stuff was there, but the expectations were to go out and take one game at a time and see what happens. And one game at a time led to 12 victories and a win over Nebraska. It was a special time for me and my teammates.”
It was also special for Benish to see Hyatt be a part of his own national championship team. For Benish, seeing Hyatt’s love of the game grow into completed dreams with a scholarship and starting as a first-year freshman was also special, but it all culminated into the championship.
“It was truly a special moment when he won that national championship, because it’s something I’ve told him, that you can’t explain it to anyone what it feels like to do something like that, but when you do it, you’re going to know exactly what I was talking about. He told me that he had that moment where at the end of the game when they were lining up just to kill the clock, on that last play he said, ‘That’s what my uncle was talking about.’ It was really something special, especially him telling me that.”
Though the two can agree on many things, from how great football is to their love of Clemson, there is one major area of disagreement between them...which championship team is better. Hyatt naturally believes his 2016 team is the better team, stating that if the two teams played, his 2016 squad “would definitely win.”
Benish, on the other hand, unsurprisingly gives the edge to his 1981 championship squad. For Benish, it is no indisputable, stating his team would win in a game and is better.
“Hands down...it’s not even close. I told Mitch he couldn’t have blocked us. They play patty ball up here these days. They don’t line up with their hands in the dirt and come flying off the ball like we used to. They had a good team, but it was nowhere close to us.”
Though Hyatt is part of a Clemson football family, he quickly made a name for himself during his freshman season, starting on the offensive line immediately. Hyatt earned the first of his three All-ACC selections that season, moving up from third team his freshman year to second team the next year and first team as a junior. Hyatt has also captured multiple All-America selections from various outlets, including two different first-team freshman All-America honors.
Hyatt spoke fondly of all of the honors he has received, but he was also quick to deflect praise to his teammates.
“It’s always nice to get recognized. I always know it’s not just me. I’ve always had some guys next to me helping me out, especially Taylor (Hearn) and Eric Mac Lain my freshman year. Those guys were really a big part of me getting those honors. It’s good for me, but also for them.”
Outside of football, Hyatt likes to play disc golf, especially with his roommates, and he also plays the ukulele. This skill was actually discovered after he planned a beach trip with some friends.
“They said, ‘We should get a ukulele and learn how to play it.’ So we got a cheap one, learned how to play it and I ended up being the best at it. And my mom ended up getting me a pretty nice one, and I play it whenever I’m in the mood. I’m actually not great at it, but I know what I’m doing.”
As for the 2018 season, Hyatt is excited for what the team is capable of and has learned from the team’s disappointing loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl that ended Clemson’s 2017 season.
“We have a lot of guys coming back and guys coming back just to show what we can do this year. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see where this team goes. After that game, it showed that we can get beat on any given day, and we need to come to play every game.”
The 2018 season looks bright for the Tigers and Hyatt, who is returning for his senior season. He has excelled on the gridiron and is right at home as a member of the Clemson Family, which truly runs deep.