Something special: Swinney says Tony Steward's season productive, 'needed'

Working his way back from his second ACL injury in as many years, sophomore LB led Tigers in special teams tackles

Clemson Tigers linebacker Tony Steward and Ball State Cardinals safety Joseph Fazio  go after a loose ball on an onsides kick in the second quarter.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Clemson Tigers linebacker Tony Steward and Ball State Cardinals safety Joseph Fazio go after a loose ball on an onsides kick in the second quarter.

Tony Steward gave the Tigers all he had, and in the process, he got exactly what he needed from his sophomore season.

Although the Tigers' former five-star linebacker signee saw just 73 snaps from scrimmage during the fall, Dabo Swinney sees Steward's 2012 season as an unqualified success as he worked his way back from his second ACL injury in two years and led Clemson in special teams tackles with a dozen.

"This was really Tony's first year," said Swinney of the former High School Butkus Award winner. "He didn't really have a senior year, and then he comes in as a freshman and is trying to play his way into being ready, and then he's out. He just barely missed being able to redshirt. So he's came into this year having not played a lot.

"This was a big year for him, because he was just happy to be back playing the game. It was a transition year for him, and he needed to be able to go out and do what he did."

Clemson's strength and experience at the 'Will' linebacker position had a lot to do with Steward's limited snaps from scrimmage, Swinney said.

"Tig Willard was hard to get off the field," said Swinney. "He's a fifth-year senior, and then Corico (Wright) was another guy who has been very productive for us - another senior. So Tony had to learn a little bit of patience."

Swinney said Steward made the most of every opportunity, on-field and off-field.

"The thing I love about Tony is that he took his situation and made the best of it," he said. "When you go into our meetings, Tony is asking questions, writing notes, and he's engaged. When we come in here for our team meetings, he's engaged and into it. Then he comes to practice and he works.

"He's on all our special teams, and he wanted to do all that. So I wasn't surprised at all that he ended up leading us in the special teams tackles."

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