By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- What most Clemson fans may not know about star linebacker Tig Willard who has had a breakout season for the Tigers so far is that Willard was a four time state champion wrestler in high school and he believes that this may help him in tackling effectively.
“My experience wrestling has definitely helped my tackling technique,” Willard said. “I get low in my tackles and drop my hips, something I take from wrestling. Also I hear all of the time that my reflexes are quicker than normal, and I use my hands to take blocks so I take that from my wrestling as well.”
Willard, who tore a ligament in his elbow last season prior to the Auburn game, was out for the majority of the season or would have to play wearing a large brace, but now that he has completely gained the strength back in his left arm again he believes that the best is yet to come for him. What has changed for him this season that has led to a breakout year?
“Well last year I was kind of hurt, didn’t get much playing time, this year I learned the playbook more and learned why we do what we do. I’m able to play faster now, which is the main reason why I’m having such a good year so far.”
Although Willard tore a ligament in his elbow, which normally requires Tommy John surgery, Willard opted out of getting the surgery, instead has been lifting weights and continuing to rehab in order to strengthen the muscles around the torn ligament.”
Willard gained some strength back in his arm during last year’s Florida State game, however didn’t regain complete strength until this season’s summer session.
“It took me a while,” Willard said. “For a while I couldn’t lift my arm, do a push up, it was difficult. Now I can do everything with my left arm that I do with my right, and that’s helped me in my game, especially in tackling. When I got hurt, I was tackling a guy in practice, I was holding a guy up in a tackle and one of my teammates came up from behind. So that experience taught me that when I make a tackle I have to finish it off.”
Last season when Willard was injured, there wasn’t much depth at the linebacker position. However, this season, with several incoming freshmen linebackers making an immediate impact, Willard knew that he would have to step up his game, study the playbook and film even more in order to secure his job.
“All of our young guys are so good,” Willard said. “I’ve been very impressed with how they’ve learned the system quickly and how they’ve made an impact already.”
Freshman Stephone Anthony has caught a lot of eyes this season at middle linebacker quarterbacking the defense, and Willard couldn’t be happier in how Anthony’s played.
“Stephone’s amazing,” Willard said. “He plays with no fear, realizes that he’s going to make a few freshman mistakes but plays through them.”
As for Anthony’s pumped up style of reading coverages? Willard is definitely a fan.
“Sometimes it’s good to be pumped up and jumping around because the people in front of you and behind you have to hear you, so it’s good to get up on them, tap them, give signals, I like that from him. It shows that he has the ability to quarterback everybody and that he’s not just worried about his position.