How Tanner Tessmann went from Clemson football recruit to starring for FC Dallas on his MLS debut

Tanner Tessmann - FC Dallas - on the dribble

After another hugely successful season for Clemson football, in which the Tigers made the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship for the fourth time in the last five years, head coach Dabo Swinney was taking a well-earned vacation.

Unbeknown to him while relaxing in Hawaii over the winter, Swinney and Clemson saw one of their recruits slip through their fingers. For a team as successful as the Tigers, such a scenario is far from a regular occurrence. As for where they lost him to, well, it's got to be a first. 

Clemson football (and soccer) recruit Tanner Tessmann will no longer be arriving on campus this summer. Instead, the once budding football kicker headed straight to MLS after signing a Homegrown contract with FC Dallas last Thursday.

“It’s funny, he was on vacation the whole time I was negotiating with Dallas, so he had no clue," Tessmann, 18, told Tuesday. "Then he came back, and my dad sees him every day, so he told him this is an opportunity for Tanner and we already made a decision. Then he tried to call me, but I was working out so I couldn't answer. And then he sent me this long text. Dabo knew he couldn’t say anything to change my decision, but he really wants what’s best for me and I really appreciate him trying to guide me. A lot of people wouldn’t do that, but he would. He came back and he was shocked, but ecstatic for me."

The Dallas contract ends – or at least puts a big, long pause on – Tessmann's nascent kicking career, which is comprised of exactly zero high school or college games and one camp. 

"Dadgummit I should've kept my mouth shut!" Swinney joked about losing Tessmann. " ... I'm happy for him, that's pretty amazing."

Tessmann is originally from Alabama but joined the FC Dallas academy when he was 14 years old. His family now lives in Clemson, S.C., and his dad works for Swinney's charity, Dabo's All In Team, so he was often around campus. The Tessmann family and Swinney go way back, and were close enough that they'd even vacation together. 

“My family lives in Clemson, in the off-time I go there," Tessmann said. "I'd watch the football team practice, then I’d kick a few balls sometimes after. Sometime in high school I was out there by myself kicking balls and Dabo was just kind of watching." 

Swinney was impressed with what he saw, as Tessmann launched field goals from 50 yards with either foot. He was growing physically, too, with the 6-foot-2 Tessman not exactly what comes to mind when you hear "kicker." Swinney has even said that Tessmann could have played Division I basketball or played safety for Clemson. He's just that kind of athlete. 

After watching that impromptu session, as well as watching Tessmann grow up, Swinney convinced him to attend a kicking camp.

"I went to a football kicking camp for a day and I really just outperformed everyone," Tessmann said nonchalantly. "It was weird because they do that every day, but I just came out and winged it. It was really special, I didn’t realize I had that talent. Dabo always knows what’s best.”

Before long, Tessmann had an offer to join the Clemson football team on top of his duties with the soccer team. 

“The kicking camp basically made it official," Tessmann said. "It would have been weird if a college coach was recruiting a player that they hadn’t seen kick. I don’t have football film. I don’t have any experience kicking. It’d be hard for him to say, 'Yeah, I’m going to give a full scholarship to this kicker who has no footage.'”

Being able to try his luck at both sports while attending Clemson was too good of an offer to pass up, until Dallas gave him the chance he's long sought out.

“Clemson would have been a great experience, I would have loved to go do that," Tessmann said. "But FC Dallas is my dream.”

It was a dream come true this weekend. 

When signing his Homegrown deal Thursday, Tessmann knew he had a chance to start in the club's 2020 opener. Sure enough, completing a remarkable few days, weeks and months, he did exactly that in a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Stadium. By sundown, social media lit up with praise for the teenager who assisted Paxton Pomykal's insurance goal and won more tackles (6) than anyone on the pitch. 

“Honestly, I wasn’t nervous at all in the buildup," he said. "When I was walking out the tunnel, I wasn’t nervous but I felt the energy. I guess you could say it’s butterflies, but it was more like ‘I’m made for this. This is what I’m supposed to do and I’m finally here.’ I tried to embrace it and live it up as much as I could. I had a great time.”

Tessmann's debut was the exclamation point on a wild journey.

“When I got called to preseason, I kind of just thought, 'Oh it’s because Brandon [Servania] is at [U.S. men's national team] camp and I’ll only be there for a couple of days,'" he said. "But I came with the mindset that I’m going to take someone’s position. I was hungry, every opportunity I got I tried to take it. I thank coach for giving me the opportunity to come.”

A couple of days became a few weeks, and a few weeks became a professional contract. Tessmann's brief football sojourn now confined to the past, his soccer journey is just beginning.

“For me, it was always soccer," Tessmann said. "There were a bunch of people talking about how this guy’s not serious, he just wanted to go have fun. No. I’ve been dedicated to this for a long time, soccer has been my career. I’ve had tunnel vision."