By William Qualkinbush
Two weeks ago, Shaq Anthony looked different during his interview session.
He was a part-time starter still trying to work back into the good graces of the Clemson coaching staff after seeing his productivity fall off both on the football field and in the classroom in 2012.
Anthony appeared timid, perhaps due to the skepticism—in many circles—about Anthony’s ability to consistently produce at right tackle throughout the rest of the schedule. No one knew when Gifford Timothy would come back to reclaim his starting spot.
That was two weeks ago.
On Monday, Anthony was all smiles as he spoke to reporters. His bright countenance was a result of a strong performance against Syracuse that led offensive coordinator Chad Morris to say it would take a strong effort from Timothy to get his job back once he returned from injury.
Essentially, Morris intimated the job was Anthony’s to lose, and the sophomore has no plans on allowing that to happen.
“When you work hard for something and finally earn what you’ve been working hard for, you don’t look back,” he said. “There’s no reason to look back. Looking back isn’t going to get you moving forward.”
Anthony’s well-documented struggles from a year ago have allowed him to relish this opportunity. He feels like a part of something now, which has not always necessarily been the case.
Having the upper hand in a head-to-head battle for playing time has affected Anthony in a positive way. He respects the competition and knows it has made him stronger and better equipped to handle his new responsibility.
“Everybody in there is working hard,” Anthony said of the offensive line group. “We’re family. We all love each other.”
Anthony knows he is one of the “new guys” on the starting line. He says he and Kalon Davis—currently filling in admirably for injured David Beasley at left guard—may have a target on their backs from opponents, but the confidence they share allows them to adjust and adapt on the fly and conduct themselves with confidence.
“When I think about that, I just laugh because it’s not going to do anything but make me better if they do it,” Anthony said. “The better competition I have, the better it is for me.”
Clemson’s offensive line faced a unique test against Syracuse. The Orange brought an extraordinary amount of pressure in the game, a challenge for even the most experienced front.
Anthony feels he and his teammates handled the adversity well, except for a couple of hiccups along the way. It was the kind of performance that could bode well moving forward against some stiff competition.
The task ahead might have intimidated Anthony in the past, but not now—not while he is laughing and joking with reporters, enjoying the moment. He looks comfortable in his own shoes now, perhaps the result of Dabo Swinney’s message when he first realized Clemson would need Anthony to be the man at right tackle.
“He asked me to take ownership of that position and step up,” Anthony said. “If I really want it, I need to earn it.”
Earn it, he has.