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Best Male Athlete: Phil Mafah

Toby Corriston
Clemson running back Phil Mafah (7) had four touchdowns in the Tigers’ win over Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Dec. 29, 2023, in Jacksonville, Florida, to earn the title of MVP.

If you paid any attention to the last few games of Clemson football this past season, it was nearly impossible to watch them without noticing Phil Mafah, this year’s Best Male Athlete.

The 6-foot-1, 230-pound running back had his best season with the Tigers yet, rushing for a career-high 965 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Four of those touchdowns came during the final game of the season in the Tigers’ win over Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl. Mafah returned to the end zone time and time again in Clemson’s come-from-behind victory against the Wildcats, including the game-winner with 17 seconds remaining in the contest.

Three of his touchdowns came in the fourth quarter alone. Not only did he set a program record for most touchdowns in a bowl game, but he also earned the Gator Bowl’s Most Valuable Player honor after the matchup.

The rising senior has been part of a package deal in the Tigers’ offense for quite some time, as his pairing with fellow running back Will Shipley over the past three seasons has made up Clemson’s two-headed monster in the run game.

But when first-stringer Shipley was sidelined with a head injury in the middle of the season, Mafah had his chance to shine, and he delivered.

The Loganville, Georgia, native exploded in his first start of the season against Notre Dame, rushing for a career-high 186 yards and two touchdowns off 36 carries, which tied a program record for rushing attempts in a single game. The tailback’s first score came on a 41-yard rush into the end zone when the junior tailback outran three Irish defenders in the open field to score the game’s first touchdown.

“I knew going into the game that I’d probably have to take a bigger load,” Mafah said. “So I just came in with the mindset that whatever amount of carries I get, I’m just going to try to make the most out of every one.”

“He knew what his role was going to have to be; I challenged him all week, and he was ready,” head coach Dabo Swinney said of Mafah.

Despite a stretch of performances that would have likely guaranteed the Clemson standout a selection during the upcoming NFL draft, Mafah decided to forego professional football for one more year, returning to the Tigers for his final season as the starting running back.

Fans will not have to wait long to see the standout tailback back in action, as he and the Tigers will play in Clemson’s spring game on April 6.

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About the Contributors
Griffin Barfield, Asst. Sports Editor
Toby Corriston, Asst. Photo Editor
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