"When you start something," the elder Sapp said, "you finish it."
The former Tigers quarterback completed his four-year career. Then, he later kept a promise to his parents, returning to the classroom after a decade absence.
Sapp spoke about his perseverance Tuesday night at the Augusta Clemson Club banquet at Enterprise Mill. He also spoke about getting his degree in psychology while in his 30s.
"It opens doors for you," he said of getting a college diploma. "It puts you in a family of successful people."
The 37-year-old Sapp lived in Atlanta when he returned to college. He wrapped up a four-year NFL career and then worked as a vice president of client development in a sports agency. He needed one more year to finish his degree and headed off to Clemson, not expecting to stay.
Upon completion of his classwork in 2006, Sapp received an offer to work in the school's development office. He's been there ever since.
"I felt it was kind of a way to give back to Clemson," said Sapp, the school's director of major gifts.
A Jacksonville, Fla., native, Sapp played three seasons for the Tigers at quarterback, starting his freshman season. He then went through the routine of getting benched, starting and getting benched again. During his junior season, he moved to wide receiver just to get on the field.
At quarterback, Sapp recorded one of Clemson's top bowl memories. At the end of his sophomore year, he threw a 21-yard touchdown pass in the final minute to lift Clemson to a 14-13 win over Kentucky in the 1993 Peach Bowl.
That one play wasn't enough to save his starting job. So before his senior season, Sapp switched to defense. As an outside linebacker, he recorded 53 tackles, 11 tackles for loss and a team-leading 5.5 sacks.
In 1996, Sapp was drafted in the second round by San Diego. He played four seasons in the NFL with the Chargers and Arizona Cardinals. The outside linebacker started 15 of 63 games, recording 57 tackles and two sacks.
Sapp eventually returned to his college roots. These days, he's traveling all over the country raising money for Clemson in a bad economy.
And he also keeps a close watch on the football program -- he's a fan of coach Dabo Swinney -- as well as the entire athletic program.
"I'm pleased by Clemson athletics in its current state," Sapp said. "And I'm upbeat about the future."