CLEMSON — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney was shocked on Sept. 17 when Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Cumbie handed him a box of handwritten letters from every Bulldog player for Tigers defensive tackle Bryan Bresee.

After that act of kindness toward Bresee, who had just lost his 15-year-old sister, Ella, to brain cancer, Clemson fans have been moved to show appreciation for Cumbie and Louisiana Tech.

According to Taylor Cross, director of development for the Louisiana Tech Athletic Club, more than 320 donations to the club have been received from Tiger fans as of Sept. 23.

Many of those gifts have been for $11, an homage to Bresee’s jersey number.

The donations, Cross said, are being marked with “Ella Strong,” or “Clemson fan.” Some Tiger fans have even called the LTAC’s office to make their gift and pass along words of appreciation.

“We are overwhelmed by and completely in awe of the generosity of the Clemson fanbase,” Cross said in an email. “Their outpouring of love just goes to show that football is family and sometimes there are things far bigger than wins and losses.”

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This is a heartwarming result from a tragic situation.

Ella, who battled brain cancer for a year and a half, was slated to be honored at Clemson’s home opener versus Furman on Sept. 10, but had to be airlifted to a hospital in Washington, D.C., before the game was played.

Bryan, who went back to Maryland to be alongside his family, shared news of Ella’s death on the morning of Sept. 15.

It just so happens, according to an article from the Lincoln Parrish Journal, that Louisiana Tech punter Patrick Rea lost his little sister, Pippa, to brain cancer when he was 12.

Before the Bulldogs left for the airport on Sept. 16, Rea approached Cumbie about reaching out to Bryan Bresee.

Cumbie spoke to the team that night, per the Journal’s report, and told them about his plan to wear an “Ella Strong” T-shirt pregame to support the family. He also encouraged his players to write letters to Bryan and his family.

Everybody on the team wrote one. Cumbie handed Swinney the box of letters after the game, including one from Cumbie, which touched the Tigers’ coach.

“Man, that’s everything that’s good about college football,” Swinney said in his postgame press conference. “I’ve never met Coach Cumbie, but I’ll be a fan of his for the rest of his career.”

Dabo Swinney, Clemson football mourn passing of Bryan Bresee's sister Ella

Swinney had no ties to Cumbie, a former Texas Tech quarterback and offensive coordinator, before that game. But the bond between both coaches and their programs has only continued to build, leading to donations directly from Clemson fans to Louisiana Tech.

The money raised by LTAC goes to supporting the Bulldogs’ athletic programs.

“Whether they ever meet or not,” Cross said, “I think the bond forged between Bryan and Tech’s Patrick Rea through these hapless circumstances will stand forever.”

Follow Jon Blau on Twitter @Jon_Blau. Plus, receive the latest updates on Clemson athletics, straight to your inbox, by subscribing to The Tiger Take.


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