Clemson backup linebacker Keith Maguire tries to practice every day with a sense of urgency and prepare each week as if he is a starter so if his number gets called in a game, he will be ready to perform up to the Tigers’ standard at his position.
That mindset paid off for Maguire last Saturday at Virginia Tech, as the redshirt freshman stepped up when asked to play a bigger role after starting linebacker James Skalski and reserve backer Jake Venables both left the game because of injuries.
Maguire recorded a career-high five tackles, including three solo stops, and also forced a fumble in the second half of the Tigers’ 45-10 win over the Hokies that clinched Clemson’s spot in the ACC Championship Game for the sixth straight year.
“Every week, we work extra hard on preparing, no matter what happens,” Maguire said this week. “And we do that just in case something like that happens – a few linebackers go down, and you’ve got to be ready and you’re expected to perform just as well as the starters.
“So, every week, just bringing that sense of urgency and being prepared in case our number gets called. Definitely this year just because you never know if someone’s going to test positive (for COVID-19) or contact tracing or anything like that. So every year, but this year especially, we’ve got to be more focused and ready to go in whenever we need to.”
Maguire’s fellow redshirt freshman linebacker, LaVonta Bentley, also stepped up in the absence of Skalski and Venables, posting four tackles and 1.5 sacks in the victory over the Hokies at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. Sophomore linebacker Kane Patterson also chipped in a couple of tackles including one for loss.
Maguire credited defensive coordinator Brent Venables, as well as the work ethic of the linebacker unit as a whole, for helping young guys like him, Bentley and Patterson be ready to play well when called upon.
“I think that you’ve got to give credit to Coach V for how hard he works and making sure we’re prepared,” Maguire said, “and just us a linebackers corps overall because I know we’re always in the film room together, always trying to get better as a group, and I think it showed this Saturday in the game that we all push each other to be better, and it’s been showing up in the games.”
After logging a couple of tackles (one for loss) and an interception in nine defensive snaps across four games while redshirting as a true freshman in 2019, Maguire has played in nine of the Tigers’ 10 games this season and tallied 15 tackles along the way.
The former four-star prospect from Malvern Preparatory School in Pennsylvania feels he benefited from the redshirt year as it allowed him to grow as a player and learn from veteran linebackers like Skalski, Chad Smith and Isaiah Simmons.
“It was a good experience, with how the defense works and just really learning college football overall – learning how to be a better linebacker, more knowledgeable and just seeing what it takes to be great,” Maguire said. “We had a great group of linebackers last year with Jamie and Chad and Isaiah, and they really showed the young guys like myself and LaVonta and Kane the way and just showed us how to act, how to play, how to work off the field, and we’re just trying every day to get better and hopefully play like them.”
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