Confessions of a College Football DJ: Dropping a Beat in Death Valley

As the Clemson Tigers football team stood on the edge of the field Saturday prior to kick off against Texas A&M, there was a fervor and intensity that went beyond the 94-degree heat. It was palpable, coming off the players in waves, emanating high into the stands of Memorial Stadium and reaching every last fan.

But it wasn’t just invisible energy – it was the tangible tones coming from DJ Sha’s custom booth near the West stands outside the Tigers' locker room that was the source. Every player nodding his head along with the beat, every coach bobbing his shoulders with the bass, even head coach Dabo Swinney shuffling his feet in time with the song – they were the manifestation of music, a testament to the vibe both Swinney and Sha have created in Clemson.

“Music is a universal language – it gets the blood flowing a little bit,” exclaimed Swinney after Clemson’s 24-10 win over the Aggies.

“That’s the Valley – ain’t nothin' like it! That’s all I can say. Until you experience it, it’s hard to really describe. This is a special place, it’s unique. I see it all the time – when the Valley is rocking, you can count on some false starts along the way and some miscommunication and things like that. I can’t thank our fans enough, it was awesome.”

A special place indeed. Clemson is now 2-0 to start the 2019 season. The Tigers won their 17th consecutive game at Memorial Stadium, the second-longest home winning streak in Clemson history. And they have now won 38 of their last 39 games at home. Environment is an edge and Swinney, like most head coaches, is always in search of a new home-field advantage. Enter DJ Sha (pronounced Shay).

“It started out I was djing events for football prior to practice and prior to games and Coach Swinney was there having a good time, line dancing with the players and workers and he came up to me and asked ‘What do you think about djing practices and what not?’,” explained Sha.

“The practices went well and then they told me they wanted me to DJ games. It started with football and then basketball, volleyball and we started soccer – it’s a little bit of everything. Plus a lot of the Clemson family events.”

Swinney speaks highly of Sha and credits the culture change at Clemson in part to the addition of live music to practices and games.

“I told our people to find me a DJ, let’s liven up practice a little bit,” explained Swinney. “We brought him out for some camps and practices and I liked him. I mean because we were playing “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash five times in pre-game. I love some Johnny Cash, don’t get me wrong, but we needed to kind of change a little bit and liven it up some. So, we brought DJ Sha in there and he’s done a great job. He’s an awesome guy and the players love him.”

And we all know Swinney enjoys dancing like nobody is watching – there is a multitude of video evidence to support his affinity for 808’s and dance breaks. I mean it did inspire the #WeWinWeDance hashtag of 2018.

“This generation man – I mean I love music, I’ve got four or five songs I have to listen to every game coming in on the bus – but our players love music in the locker room, it's fun to see them celebrate and I like to get in there and have a little fun with them too,” admitted Swinney.

Swinney decided to keep his go-to songs close to the vest for now. But DJ Sha was able to share a few of the head coach’s requests over the years.

“He loves “Boogie Shoes” so if we are at certain family events I’ll throw that in for him here and there,” chuckled Sha. “And one day we were practicing and I think it was either Elvis’s birthday or the anniversary of his death, and Dabo came over before warmups and told me he wanted nothing but Elvis music. The players were looking at me like I was crazy but coach loved it.”

Music has a way of helping us lose ourselves in the moment. But how do you do that when the heat is literally on – the game against Texas A&M was the third-hottest in Clemson history and the second hottest at Death Valley, trailing only a 95-degree game against Troy on Sept. 3, 2011.

“When the players hear the music, it takes them to another level – I just really think it makes a difference,” shared Sha. “Like Saturday for example with the hot weather, I think the music helps take fans and players' minds off the heat.”

So, how does DJ Sha curate the Death Valley vibe?

“The first year, the music came from the athletic department, but after that it was more working with certain players,” said Sha. “At the time I started Deshaun Watson was here, so I would get with Deshaun and some of the defensive players and they would text me what they wanted to hear.”

Watson was a big Migos fan, Sha recalls. And last season, the big boys on the defensive line always wanted a little F.L.Y.

“Last year, “Swag Surfin’” was really big with Christian Wilkins and all those guys, they were always doing the dance,” Sha recalled. “But really it just changes week to week because a lot of things factor in, including the intangible. Fans don’t understand and sometimes I don’t even understand – one week “Swag Surfin’” will work because I tried it at a certain time during the game when we were up or we needed something to get us going. So it may work this week but next week I might play it in the fourth quarter around the same time and it gets that different response.”

This season, Sha is mixing it up, not only to appeal to a wider range of audience but also to integrate more of the team’s eclectic taste.

“This year I wanted to incorporate a little more rock music to keep everybody happy,” clarified Sha. “I know all of the players don’t listen to rock music – I’ve even incorporated Lecrae into the mix this year because I know a couple of the guys including Trevor Lawrence listen to a lot of gospel stuff. I try to get a feel for what they want.”

The notoriously well-coiffed quarterback clearly likes his music to match his mane. “Trevor Lawrence – he’s really chill, he’s just in his lane that’s why I throw on the Lecrae and stuff.”

But the most requested song-of-the-moment in Clemson – “Surf” by Young Thug feat. Gunna.

Sha takes his role on gameday very seriously, meticulously researching songs that the players request and editing together family-friendly mixes while still keeping the vibe right. It’s a delicate balance, but he has learned how to handle it from the best.

Sha credits the Tigers' staff for inspiring the gameday playlist. “That’s really helped me a lot, listening to Coach Swinney and even the other coaches speak in interviews about what they expect from the players and what they expect from the program – it’s really family oriented here. I try to stay along those same lines – whatever they expect from the players, I have to prep that way too.”

But preparation, like in life (and football) is only half the battle. Being able to rock with a live crowd is about instinct and at the end of the day DJ Sha has to Get Death Valley Crunk.

“It’s like this - If you are in a club somewhere and you hear your song you are going to rush to the dance floor,” explained DJ Sha. “I’ve rapped a couple of Clemson songs and a few of the players did “We Too Deep” a while back, so those players know those songs and when they hear them it just takes everything to another level. And if the music is loud and the energy is up and they get the win, then I feel like I won too.”

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