CLEMSON — Following his first career start two weeks ago, Shaq Anthony made his way to his parents’ tailgate outside Memorial Stadium.
Almost immediately, his father, Vernie, pulled the Clemson redshirt freshman right tackle aside.
“Son, I’m proud of you,” Vernie said, according to Shaq. “There were four times I saw you messed up. I don’t want to be your worst critic, I don’t know what the play was, but there were four times I was concerned about you.”
Vernie’s concern is well-placed; he took advantage of many offensive line mistakes as a Clemson defensive tackle who was part of the Tigers’ only national title team in 1981 as a reserve behind William Perry.
He served as Shaq’s personal coach through grade school and middle school, and now watches from a distance as his son works his way through his first season of college football.
Shaq Anthony started against Ball State and Furman in place of injured starter Gifford Timothy, and while Timothy is expected to start Saturday at No.4 Florida State, Anthony should see significant action.
“The tools he’s given me and that my mother has given me, there’s no words to express how much I’ve grown because of them,” Anthony said. “I appreciate the coaching he’s given.”
Taking constructive coaching has earned Anthony more playing time. Following a redshirt season last fall, Anthony admitted that he was forced to reexamine his mindset this spring.
“I wasn’t as focused on taking coaching,” he said. “There were a lot of things I thought I knew about, because I could always make up for it with my athleticism. Sitting down, talking to (offensive coordinator Chad) Morris, (offensive line) coach (Robbie) Caldwell, I said I was going to bring a different edge in camp, as far as toughness and taking all you guys’ coaching.
“I’ve been taking coaching, technique, and critiquing myself with coach Caldwell. That’s what’s given me the best opportunity to be where I’m at right now.”
Following four years in Wren’s pass-happy system, college has been a major adjustment. Morris’ offense is rooted in a tough, physical run game, which meant Anthony had to add another dimension to his game.
“That was a challenge, but that’s what I came here for was to be challenged,” he said. “I love the grind. I come here to get better, and that’s what I’m focused on.”
Over a year into Morris’ system, Anthony says he actually enjoys run-blocking. At 6-foot-4, 275 pounds, he is undersized but physical for a tackle.
“Being aggressive, that’s something I’ve been working on, some people have challenged me from the standpoint of people that view my play from high school to now,” he said. “For me it’s just being as aggressive as I can be. I’m undersized at tackle right now, so I’m just making sure I’m making up for my size with my toughness, aggressiveness, knowing the plays, continuing to go to the whistle. That’s something I take to heart, because my father has always been on me about it.”
Following Timothy’s surgery to repair a torn knee meniscus in early August, Anthony served as the starter while Timothy rehabbed. However, Anthony “hit the wall,” in Swinney’s words, and Timothy regained the job for the opener against Auburn.
Junior left tackle Brandon Thomas says now that Anthony has embraced the big picture, his game has improved.
“I think he’s come along well,” Thomas said. “He’s progressed to where he can start and he can help us out.”
Vernie tells his son he needs to listen to Morris and Caldwell, but he’s still willing to offer his advice when needed.
Following last week’s win over Furman, Shaq made his way to his family’s tailgate again. There, Vernie awaited his son’s arrival.
“You did a much better job, son,” he said. “This time, there were only three mistakes.”