LaVonta Bentley found out during pregame warmups that he’d be starting.
The hard-hitting redshirt sophomore linebacker was thrust into the starting lineup against Georgia Tech after Baylon Spector was ruled out due to knee inflammation.
Talking with reporters during Tuesday’s media availability, Bentley admitted that Spector told him to be ready. According to Bentley, Spector was “shaky” about his status heading into the week, so Bentley prepared as he usually does.
“Knowing Spec, he be trying to push through all the small tweaks that you have,” Bentley said Tuesday. “We talk in the meeting room daily. So, we had a conversation about if someone goes down, then you gotta be ready. So, we just be on each other about knowing what to do when that time presents itself.”
Bentley took first-team reps in the week of practice leading up to Ga. Tech, just in case Spector wouldn’t be able to play through his injury. When Spector was unable to go, that opportunity presented itself to Bentley.
“It was very important,” Bentley said when asked about receiving first-team reps. “The standard is the same. It shouldn’t be no drop-off when one person or the starter goes down. That’s what I look up to. You need to be consistent, play a great game so we can win.”
Bentley racked up a team-high 13 tackles, including a team-high three tackles for loss and a sack, en route to being named the ACC Linebacker of the Week. His performance helped Clemson’s defense hold an opponent without an offensive touchdown for the third straight week.
“I would say it was great,” he said when asked to evaluate his performance during Saturday’s win. “Supposed to make those plays and things like that…I had said the week before what I should do if I go out there and get that opportunity to play a lot. How many tackles? Write it down. I know I had said like 15 tackles I’d try to get…It was just crazy how everything worked out.”
“LaVonta, he’s just such a great example to everybody on the team in being ready,” Dabo Swinney said Tuesday. “He’s a redshirt sophomore. He comes in redshirts, he’s got a lot to learn…He’s got veteran guys in front of him. I always say, what are you doing when nobody’s paying attention? What are you doing when nobody’s watching? Are you preparing for your opportunity? Or are you just distracted?
“LaVonta is one of those guys where every rep is his rep. That’s the mentality he’s always had. Every rep is his rep, whether he’s in there or not. He’s always listening. He’s always paying attention. He is about his business. He’s definitely one of the most respected guys on this team. He’s that way in the weight room. He’s that way with his academics. He’s that way with his meetings. He’s that way with his practice habits. He’s just an incredibly committed young man. And when you have that and you’re talented, it’s just a matter of time. What a great example of being ready…He’s one of those guys who stays ready.”
While Bentley has had to be patient and wait his turn, he’s had the opportunity to learn from two consummate professionals in Spector and James Skalski. Two guys who know the standard and are quite familiar with what it takes to see the field from a preparational standpoint.
Who better for Bentley and his fellow linebackers to learn from?
“We always together. [When] practice is over with, we go up and watch film, Bentley said. “Making sure we know the little details about each play, what’s going on around us and then, they make sure that we know what’s going on. They know the playbook like the back of their hand, like a coach. They just help me and help the other linebackers that’s in the room.”
Bentley’s kept that next-man-up mentality, all while waiting in the wings. He said that it starts and ends with film study.
“Everything’s a process,” he added. “Stuff that we do off the field, not being in the room with Coach, just taking the time aside to study on your own. Have those guys like Spec and [Skalski], if I need something or need help on a play, I can go to ‘em and they’ll tell me right away. It’s just a little process just to know all those things and tackle it.”
Now, you may be asking yourself how a young man from Birmingham (Ala.) ended up at Clemson?
“I would say the family vibes that’s here,” Bentley said. “It’s just something different and also I wanted to get away from home. Bama’s like 45 minutes (away) and I just wanted to get outside, see things different. And, the coaches up here, they be real with me.”
Bentley was obviously recruited by both Alabama and Auburn. As a four-star recruit, he was ranked as the No. 16 inside linebacker and No. 10 prospect in the state of Alabama for the 2019 class, per the 247Sports Composite. While he grew up watching former Alabama linebacker Reuben Foster and emulates his playstyle, that didn’t keep Bentley from wanting to leave his home state.
He’s embraced the local atmosphere that Clemson has to offer and it’s paid off.