Humbled by the experience of losing his job midway through the 2012 season, Clemson middle linebacker Stephone Anthony learned not to take anything for granted.
The prohibitive favorite to begin the season at “mike backer” again, Anthony said he had no one to blame.
“It was difficult to adjust to,” he said Wednesday after Clemson’s first practice in full pads. “It humbles you but you just got to keep going.”
After modest contribution as the starter the first six games, Anthony lost the job during the Georgia Tech game to Spencer Shuey. Other than the Maryland game when they both started, his playing time gradually diminished to the point where he didn’t play a snap against South Carolina.
“Sometimes it takes a little inspiration to get the transformation you want,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “His inspiration was the sideline.”
Despite the stark reduction in action, Anthony finished fourth in total tackles, which begs the question. How good can the 6-foot-3, 245 pound junior from Pollton, N.C., be in the vortex of defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ scheme?
“He’s a great, great player, and it was great to see him respond the right way,” Swinney said. “He went back to work. He kind of lost his edge a little bit, was not quite as focused last year. I’m not sure he worked quite as hard as he needs to.”
Anthony said he was willing to do whatever it took to regain his coaches’ trust and his teammates’ respect. Ideally he and Shuey, a grad student, would be on the field together a good bit this season, giving Clemson two big, physical players at one of the most violent and active positions on a football field.
Shuey’s 93 tackles last season were second on the team and most among returning players. He also had six tackles for loss.
“I’ve learned you’re never as good as you think you are,” Anthony said. “Hard work, dedication, just putting in the time; extra running, whatever it takes.”
Swinney was not satisfied with how the defense began practice and he spread it on thick during a drill at the outset, but by the end of the session he began to see the group respond with Anthony in the thick of it.
“He’s been awesome,” Swinney said. “He had a great spring and a great camp and is becoming a leader out there that you expect.
“That guy right there is practicing like he’s on a mission.”