CLEMSON — On a perfect, sun-splashed late Saturday afternoon in Memorial Stadium, Mike Bellamy displayed his true yin and yang.
The Tao of Bellamy, if you will.
Midway through the first quarter of the Orange and White game, Clemson’s sophomore tailback caught a swing pass from quarterback Tajh Boyd near the left sideline and made an ankle-breaking juke on defensive back Travis Blanks which brought to mind C.J. Spiller’s oh-no-he-didn’t move on a Georgia Tech linebacker six years ago and a few yards down the same sideline.
A few series later, Bellamy broke through for a 23-yard gain, but carried the ball like a loaf of bread, away from his body. It was punched away and recovered by linebacker Justin Parker.
A tantalizing step forward, a frustrating step back.
It sums up Bellamy’s much-hyped, much-analyzed college career. His positive actions have been neutralized by head-scratching negative moments, which led to a pair of suspensions that nearly ended his Clemson tenure last winter.
Although he just completed, by all accounts, a very positive spring, those close to him wonder which personality will show up – and if he can ever fulfill the massive potential afforded by his five-star status.
“There’s several of them,” Binky Waldrop, Bellamy’s coach at Charlotte (Fla.) High School, said. “He has the capability of being a very loyal, very good kid. And hopefully he will learn to have that personality a lot of the time. Not just some of the time.”
Getting a handle on Mike Bellamy is difficult. Access to him has been limited, even by Dabo Swinney’s newly-enacted, more restrictive media guidelines. He has been made available to reporters only three times – after his college debut against Troy, following last October’s 23-3 win at Virginia Tech and on a brief teleconference the following week.
Despite repeated requests, he was not made available this spring, and likely won’t speak with reporters until preseason practice in August, at the earliest.
During a phone conversation last week, Waldrop painted the picture of a determined young man who had little foundation in his personal life before arriving at Clemson.
“His life, from the day he’s been born, hasn’t had a lot of structure in it,” said Waldrop.
He said Bellamy’s parents have not been involved much in his life, but declined to explain further.
“There have been many places he’s lived, he’s had many guardians or parents. Fortunately for him, his grandmother got to him before he started his freshman year of high school, got him out of where he was. She’s a very loving lady, very supportive and did a great job with him. She probably saved his life.”
On the field, everything came easily for Bellamy at Charlotte High. He had 7,329 yards and 110 touchdowns in four years, breaking a Florida career touchdown mark previously held by Miami tailback Tyrone Moss.
As a senior, he had 1,933 yards and 36 touchdowns, despite being pulled at halftime six times due to Charlotte’s huge leads.
“He could score anytime he touched the ball in high school,” Waldrop said. “…Everything was easy for him in high school. He was the man.”
That wasn’t the case at Clemson, where he had to deal with bigger, faster defenders lined up across from him and established players like Andre Ellington in front of him.
Bellamy’s first collegiate carry went for a 75-yard touchdown against Troy, and his 31-yard touchdown run iced the program’s biggest road win in recent memory at Virginia Tech.
But he struggled with ball control and mouth control.
Following the Virginia Tech win, he told reporters that he was happy with his role in the offense, then popped off about playing time on Facebook, earning himself a seat on the bench for the first half against Boston College.
“It’s easy to have a great attitude, great character when things are going well,” Waldrop said. “You face a little adversity, how do you handle that? He’s been through tough things that he hasn’t handled well up there.”
His troubles deepened in early December. Hours before Clemson won its first ACC title in 20 years with another rout of the Hokies, Bellamy was sent home from Charlotte and subsequently suspended for the Orange Bowl for violation of team rules.
“He has not been as focused as I’d like him to be,” Swinney said at the time. “We have to try and get him dialed back in.”
While his teammates prepared for Clemson’s first BCS trip, Bellamy quietly finished his exams and went back to Punta Gorda, Fla., for a contemplative break.
Waldrop said Bellamy “stayed away” from his old coach, but the two did talk, albeit briefly.
“Obviously I didn’t give him a big hug and tell him great job,” Waldrop said. “He didn’t like everything I had to say.”
Waldrop said Bellamy never considered transferring from Clemson, saying he loved the coaches, fans and atmosphere.
“I don’t think he wanted to go anywhere else,” he said. “I don’t think he’d make it. Giving in and giving up, he didn’t do that. There was never any hesitation on his part.”
Bellamy went back to Clemson and earned his way back on Swinney’s spring roster.
By all accounts, it was a solid spring. When reporters saw him, he was smiling and laughing with teammates, and contributing big plays - like a 75-yard screen pass touchdown in a recent scrimmage.
Coaches want him to gain weight and improve his pass-blocking abilities, but his game-breaking skills remain, and they are spectacular.
“He’s been steady,” Swinney said. “The biggest thing is, he’s come to work every day. He’s been focused in practice every day and he’s engaged. He’s just keeping his mouth shut and I’d say he’s been steady.
“That’s all you can ask for right now. I’m proud of the progress he’s made. He’s been fun to be around, he’s been encouraging. Hopefully he’ll continue to make progress.”
Over spring break, Waldrop saw much the same thing.
“He’ll always be a work in progress, but I haven’t seen him this relaxed and happy, mature-acting in, ever,” he said. “I’m happy with the things he said. He seems like he’s got his head on straight and wants to be part of what they’re doing up there, which is pretty special, obviously.”
So is Mike Bellamy – assuming he can harness the side of him everyone wants to see.
“It’s easy for everyone to act right, do the right things, say the right things when things are going really well,” Waldrop said. “You get a little older, that ain’t what life is like. But he’s had to deal with an awful lot in his life. For him to be where he is right now? It’s close to being a miracle.”