The linebacker position was a big need for Clemson entering the 2019 recruiting cycle, with the Tigers set to lose several linebackers from their roster following this season.
Clemson certainly addressed that need, signing five linebackers during the early signing period on Dec. 19: Birmingham (Ala.) Jackson-Olin’s Vonta Bentley, Baton Rouge (La.) University Lab High’s Bryton Constantin, Malvern (Pa.) Prep’s Keith Maguire, Nashville (Tenn.) Christ Presbyterian Academy’s Kane Patterson and Swansea (S.C.)’s Greg Williams.
Clemson defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Brent Venables is thrilled with the group of new linebackers that the Tigers are bringing in.
“These guys are winners,” Venables said recently. “They’re ultra-focused, very serious. They love ball. They love the grind. Excellent students and all low-maintenance guys — everything that you enjoy going to the meeting room and the practice field and showing up on game day with. … These are guys that have zero prima donna in them, and these guys are grinders and they’re winners. They’re going to find a way at the end of the day to help make us better. They’re going to contribute to a culture and a locker room that are about those types of things. They’re going to continue that tradition and enhance it.”
Highest-rated among the aforementioned signees is Constantin (6-2, 210), a top-100 national prospect (No. 94) per Rivals. The unanimous four-star linebacker helped University Lab High to the state championships in both 2017 and 2018. In 2017, he recorded 104 tackles, 23 tackles for loss, six sacks, two caused fumbles and a pick-six en route to All-Metro MVP and 3A all-state honors.
Constantin played in the World Bowl in Mexico on Dec. 22 and will also compete in the Under Armour All-America Game in Orlando on Thursday.
“Bryton’s a guy that we identified a year ago in January,” Venables said. “He’s an instinctual, athletic linebacker that plays with a lot of passion and a lot of energy. He’s got good length to him. Still has to add some strength and some size to him, but he’s a worker. He’s also a starter on a really good basketball team, and he’s just a guy that loves to compete. He’s a great leader, and again, he’s going to be that guy that’s really loud because he just has so much personality and enthusiasm and love to compete.”
Constantin became the first linebacker commitment in Clemson’s 2019 class when he pledged on April 13. Exactly two weeks later, the Tigers landed another four-star linebacker commit in Maguire (6-2, 210).
Ranked as the best player in Pennsylvania by some services, Maguire had an outstanding senior season at Malvern Prep — an all-boys private school with a powerhouse football program — and led the team to its third straight Inter-AC Championship with 106 tackles, 18 tackles for loss, five sacks and four interceptions. He also had 313 yards rushing and 314 receiving yards on the offensive side of the ball and scored 14 total touchdowns.
Maguire was recently named the ALL-USA Defensive Player of the Year for the state of Pennsylvania by USA TODAY High School Sports.
“Real proud of Keith,” Venables said. “He’s another guy we identified… I remember I was on the ski slopes in Colorado last February, and as soon as signing day got over for the ’18 class, we identified Keith. (Clemson recruiting coordinator/QBs coach) Brandon Streeter had known his former high school coach and had recommended Keith, and then we got onto the video and kind of started the process from there. But Keith is another super, ultra-focused linebacker. Incredible instincts. Great hands. I think he had one of the top 10 catches on all of SportsCenter a year ago as a tight end. Just a terrific athlete and a tough guy and a guy that we’re thrilled to have.”
Like Maguire, Patterson (6-1, 225) made a big impact on both sides of the ball for Christ Presbyterian Academy in Nashville while leading the team to the state championship in Division II AA. The four-star prospect was named MVP of the state title game after rushing for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries and posting seven tackles on defense.
For his career, Patterson had 258 total tackles, including 38.5 tackles for loss, 13 of which were sacks. The 2019 All-American Bowl invitee also had 1,794 yards rushing and 42 rushing touchdowns during his career.
Patterson was originally committed to Ohio State before flipping to Clemson in early September.
“Another leader, captain,” Venables said. “Just checks every box – academics, his service to his community and his school.”
Not only did the Tigers sign linebackers from Louisiana, Pennsylvania and Tennessee, but they dipped into Alabama to land Bentley (6-0, 220) from Birmingham with the help of area recruiter Todd Bates.
Another four-star recruit, Bentley had a strong senior season with 118 totla tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and four passes broken up. He was named the Defensive Player of the Year in Birmingham.
“Bates went down and stole him one out of Alabama,” Venables said. “Vonta is a thumper, he’s a striker. He can really run. He’s got a great spirit to him. Very low-maintenance, very committed, loves the weight room, very powerful, plays fast… Just a very humble young guy that’s about all the right things. Takes care of his business. He’s not into the riff-raff and he’s a guy that can get sideline to sideline. So, really excited about Vonta and what he brings to the table.”
Last but not least, Clemson signed a talented prospect in Williams (6-4, 235), a native of Swansea who is considered one of the top linebackers in the Palmetto State. He logged 181 tackles over his final two seasons at Swansea High School and was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl in 2018.
Williams earned an offer from Clemson after competing at the Dabo Swinney Camp in June, then committed to the Tigers a couple of weeks later.
“He’s a guy that came to camp last year. I would say his best football’s still ahead of him,” Venables said. “Tre Lamar was a linebackers coach helping me out in camp when we worked out Greg. You put those two jokers next to each other, and Greg’s broader and probably longer by about four or five inches than Tre Lamar and his length. I really think that Greg can be a really big linebacker; he might grow out of it and put his hand in the dirt one day, which he would be a terrific athlete there doing that. So, we took Greg as an athlete that can do a lot of things.
“Really excited about Greg. He closes to the ball well, has excellent hips and can really run and has got good instincts. So, we get him polished up, we really think that he has a chance to be a really good player, and maybe in multiple roles.”
All five of the aforementioned signees are slated to enroll at Clemson this summer.