LaVonta Bentley had the best game of his young career at Clemson last Saturday in the third-ranked Tigers’ 52-17 victory over Pittsburgh.
On Senior Day at Death Valley, it was the redshirt freshman linebacker who showed up in a big way on the defensive side of the ball late in the contest, recording his second sack of the season – the second of his career – in the fourth quarter and later adding the first forced fumble of his career in the final period.
“To be honest, I was just trying to go along with the game plan,” Bentley said of his performance vs. Pitt. “I know I’m physical, so I was just trying to make each play that I could get and opportunity.”
After smacking Pittsburgh running back Daniel Carter in the backfield with less than a minute left in the game, Bentley at first didn’t realize he had just caused the ball to pop free from Carter’s grasp. But then he saw fellow linebacker Kane Patterson scoop the fumble up near Clemson’s 45-yard line and nearly take it to the house for a touchdown before being stopped just shy of the goal line.
“I was excited,” Bentley said of the forced turnover. “I didn’t know that the guy fumbled, so it was just crazy when he picked the ball up. I thought he scored, and afterwards, it was just crazy how everyone was excited for him and all that.”
Bentley is used to making big plays, having provided them regularly during his high school career at P.D. Jackson-Olin High School in Alabama. The Birmingham native had a strong senior year in 2018 with 118 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and four pass breakups.
A highly sought-after player during the recruiting process, the former four-star prospect and nation’s No. 8 inside linebacker per ESPN had offers to play for Alabama, Auburn, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Oregon and a bunch of other major programs.
But Bentley was drawn to Clemson and desired to go there in part because of the Tigers’ P.A.W. Journey (Passionate About Winning) program that develops its student-athletes through personal growth, life skills and professional development.
Bentley is a part of the T.A.P. non-profit organization, which aims to provide opportunities for promising inner-city students that lack financial resources, and he wanted to continue giving back to the community as a Tiger.
“I’d say the family feel and also P.A.W. Journey because of the community service and stuff like that,” Bentley said of what attracted him to Clemson. “Because I’m in T.A.P., which means ‘Together Assisting People,’ and that’s similar to giving back and helping out the community. And this program, P.A.W. Journey, helps with life skills and community service as well, and we have a great program here. The coaches welcome you in with open arms and help you out with anything. So, that’s really what drew me in.”
Bentley saw limited action as a true freshman last season, playing only 10 snaps over four games while redshirting. But instead of pouting about the lack of playing time, he put his head down, learned from defensive coordinator Brent Venables and veteran leaders like linebacker James Skalski, and in his own words, just tried to “trust the process.”
Now, Bentley – who has 11 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks, in 53 defensive snaps across six games so far this year – is starting to see his patience and hard work behind the scenes pay off on the field.
“Things are different from high school, but when I got here, I just buckled down,” Bentley said. “I saw how everything was, so I really wasn’t down about it because I’m staying humble.
“I always say ‘trust the process,’ and that’s what I tell all the other guys. That’s something that I go by because I know every day is a process. I learn from my mistakes, and that’s how my mistakes will build up and I can just keep learning from them, and that will get me on the field quicker so that I know I won’t do this mistake. But it’s just staying humble and being patient. I know God’s timing will come around.”
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