By Heath Bradley.
Tig Willard, a redshirt senior from Loris, South Carolina, is the elder statesman of the Clemson linebacker corps. Entering his 5th season at Clemson, Willard has become a model of consistency for a Clemson defense, a defense that has seen numerous changes during his time as a Tiger. The 2012 season will see Willard play for third defensive coordinator since arriving on campus in 2008. Willard redshirted the 2008 season, the last season of Vic Koenning being the defensive coordinator. Willard then spent the meat of his career playing for Kevin Steele who was also his position coach, and he will conclude his career playing for Brent Venables who will also serve as his position coach.
One thing that has not changed however has been his consistency and toughness. Since first stepping on the field in the 2009 season, Willard has been a player the coaches could trust on the field. A player who always kept to his assignment, and made plays when given the opportunity. In three years, Willard has recorded 112 tackles and 6.5 tackles for loss in 827 snaps over 40 career games. This means that Willard records a tackle on average every eight plays that he is on the field, making him a very effective player when he is on the field.
This final fall camp for Willard in a Tiger uniform included his final time putting on the full pads for the first time. “I am taking it as a chance to gain knowledge about the defense and making sure everyone on the team is real focused and playing hard.” For a player who has done this five times in a career, it has to have some sort of special meaning to it each time. Willard was very optimistic about how the defense looked in day one of full pads. “It felt good. I felt like everyone was out there energetic, fired up and ready to go.”
With a new coordinator, it means a new system, and potentially a new role for Willard on this Clemson defense. However, Willard was very close to the vest about his role on the defense. Wanting the nation to wait until game day to see how much different this Clemson defense would be under Brent Venables. “I feel like everyone did a good job over the summer studying film and the plays, everyone knows what to do. I am doing a lot of the same things but some things different, you guys will have to wait and see.”
With a new system and hungry talented players competing for playing time, Willard understands how important this fall camp is for him and his teammates. While he is currently listed as the starter, he is using his final camp as a chance to improve his game as well as his teammates. Willard knows that there will be a time when he will not be on the field in 2012, and he is working to help his teammates also become the best players they can be.
“Everyone is really good, the main thing is to keep everyone focused and playing hard every down. If I can get everyone with that mentality, It is not going to matter who is in the game because everyone is going to be playing on that same high level.”