By Will Vandervort.
To be great, you have to work at it. Few know this better than Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett and Stephone Anthony. Clemson’s three defensive leaders have seen their defense go from the laughing stock of the College Football World at the end of the 2011 season to being considered one of the best returning in 2014.
Why? Because they never stop working.
In 2011, Beasley was seldom used. In fact, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney threatened to move him to running back because he felt like they could not afford to waste Beasley’s athletic ability anymore.
Like Beasley, Jarrett was seldom used in 2011 and played only nine snaps during the Tigers’ embarrassing show in the 2012 Orange Bowl Classic against West Virginia.
Anthony, who was five-star recruit from Polkton, N.C., played the most of the three though he did it as a backup as he tried to turn potential into ability. He had 32 tackles in 292 snaps, including six tackles for loss and two sacks.
“We have to put the work in to be great,” Anthony said. “If we are not putting the work in, we will not be great. People can say all they want to say about us but if we are not working, we are not going to be that.”
The Clemson defense has put the necessary work in the last two years under defensive coordinator Brent Venables to be better. After being laughed off the field following the 70 points they gave up to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl , the Tigers bounced back to be one of the best defenses in the country by the end of 2013.
In 2013, the Tigers returned to the Orange Bowl Classic and they physically beat up an Ohio State team that is known for its physicality.
Clemson finished the year ranked 24th nationally in scoring defense, 25th in total defense, 16th in pass defense, 19th in pass efficiency defense, 10th in forced turnovers, 13th in interceptions, fifth in third down defense, 13th in sacks and first in tackles for loss.
“It is really exciting having everybody back,” Jarrett said. “We are all seniors now and we still have something to prove. We are hungry. We feel like it is going to be a really special year for us and everybody across the board and for our future.”
In all, the Tigers return seven starters on defense this year and 27 lettermen. Twelve of the 27 players that are back lettered along the defensive line, including Beasley and Jarrett, who had All-American and All-ACC caliber seasons.
“It is always good to have a couple of guys back. You got the old veterans so we have to put the work in, get the scheme down and see what we got,” Anthony said.
Along with Anthony at linebacker, Beasley and Jarrett are already being tabbed as preseason All-ACC and All-American players.
“This is a big year for us. We are trying to go out on top. We just have to lead the team not just to be better, but lead them and put them on our backs,” Jarrett said.
That is the leadership Venables says he is looking for from his veteran players.
“We need them all to be able to do it. That’s what good leaders do,” he said. “It is not just them. It is more than just them, but you feel much more comfortable knowing that out of this group of guys we are going to be just fine that way.”
Venables says Jarrett is the model of consistency when it comes to putting the necessary work together in order to be one of the best.
“It is his commitment to work and his commitment to doing things right every day. He is the model of consistency,” the Clemson coach said. “He has toughness and an edge. He is always bringing that motor and that attitude.
“I said it a year ago we really like to play together in that group. We had good chemistry and played with good effort. Sometimes when your best players play with the best effort, it is easy for other guys to follow suit. Hopefully, he will continue to bring that to the table.”
Jarrett says there are always things he and his teammates can do to get better.
“I feel like there are things that I can add to my workouts,” he said. “I can come out here and do a couple of bag drills, focus on my hands – there is always something else and something to learn from so I’m just looking for the next thing that can challenge me and I can continue working.”