Tony Steward is getting used to feeling good again.
It's a bit of an otherworldly experience for the Tigers' junior linebacker, who over the past three years has endured ACL injuries to both knees - injuries that have so far prevented him fulfilling the potential that made him high school football's Butkus Award winner at Menendez High in St. Augustine, Fla.
"The last time I felt this good was my junior year in high school," Steward said earlier this week. "I don't feel like I have anything nagging me right now. It's nice not to have to worry about pain.
"It's awesome to just go all-out and play. I feel like I've got full support from everybody."
Where exactly Steward fits into the depth chart, he's not certain at this point. He came out of the spring listed No. 2 at the 'will' linebacker spot behind senior Spencer Shuey. He said that by cross-training the Tigers will have multiple options to fill their linebacker positions, and that he expects to be part of the mix.
Steward said he can foresee a situation in which depth allows coach Brent Venables to substitute freely, keeping fresh, aggressive linebackers on the field.
"I kind of feel like we're building toward that," Steward said. "I don't think we're exactly there yet, but I feel like we're getting there. We've got a lot of guys competing and making plays. I think that's what Coach Venables wants to see happen."
Steward said it took him some time to adjust to the new defensive scheme when Venables arrived at Clemson last year.
"When I first got into the scheme, I wasn't too sure," he said. "It took me a while to catch on. But now that I've learned it, it's a really good scheme and it's really built around the linebackers. The linebackers should be the ones making the plays.
"The biggest problem I had at first was with the different verbiage, and kind of understanding what some of the verbiage meant. Most of it was mental at first, but once I got into it, I was able to lock on and understand it."
Steward said the Tigers' linebackers are better, and he's confident the improvement will continue as the season progresses.
"I think a realistic scenario is that we get more and more comfortable with what we're doing, and better and better at what we're doing," Steward said. "Personally, I think the best thing for me right now is that I've learned to go on the next play, and not dwell on mistakes. I just try to correct them, move on to the next play, and do my job."