CLEMSON – True freshman Shaq Lawson’s spring and fall camps gave defensive ends coach Marion Hobby a dilemma.
“Going in to the Georgia game, Marion came to me and said I got three starters,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney recalled. “He was struggling between Vic (Beasley), Corey (Crawford) and Shaq. I told him if it is a tie, then the tie goes to the veteran.”
Lawson performs under the lights
Being the odd man out was unfortunately nothing new for the Daniel product, who expected to enroll last fall but wasn’t cleared before the season’s start.
After enrolling in prep school Hargrave (Va.), he found out in November that he actually had qualified. It was just far too late.
“I just had to stick it out,” Lawson said. “I was really mad and frustrated after I found out that I was really qualified but I had to finish.”
He says he took the opportunity to learn from the military academy experience though.
“Prep school helped me a lot because it helped me be more of a man,” said Lawson. “It had me ready for college football.”
And ready he’s been, coming off a 2.5 tackles for loss performance at N.C. State last week. That was the highest Clemson single-game total for a true freshman since Da’Quan Bowers’ three in the 2008 Gator Bowl.
Swinney said Tuesday Lawson may just be his best d-lineman signee since taking over in TigerTown. His defensive coordinator says it all starts in practice.
“He loves to play. Believe or not, not everybody loves to play,” Brent Venables said. “Most guys don’t love to play. They might love to make the big play, but they don’t love to play or practice.
“He’s just a high-motor guy that loves to compete and is quick to the football. He can run, he can bend and change direction and he’s explosive and strong.”
Beasley is the only Tiger out-pacing Lawson in tackles for loss with five to his 4.5. He’s also posting the third-highest snap-to-tackle ratio on the d-line (one every 7.4 plays on the field).
“The more a young kid like him plays – he’ll make some mistakes along the way,” Venables said, “but he’s gaining in the confidence and aggressiveness and in his understanding. He’s getting more sure of himself and quicker with better pad level.”
Deacs’ Whitlock is a ‘nightmare': Looking through Wake Forest’s 2013 defensive personnel, Clemson’s head coach couldn’t believe his eyes, seeing the name Nikita Whitlock.
“I thought he was gone,” Swinney said. “I couldn’t believe he was still on the roster. I don’t think that guy is ever going to get out of this league. He is a nightmare. The guy is really a good football player.”
The 5-11, 250-pound senior Deacs noseguard shared ACC defensive lineman of the week honors with Clemson’s Beasley, totaling 14 tackles and three for loss at Army last week.
A four-year starter, Whitlock has been named second-team All-ACC each of the last two seasons with a combined 19.5 tackles for loss.
“He’s definitely one of the more aggressive players in the ACC,” Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd said. “He’s really a disruptive player. Every play he gives everything he has. He’s gained that respect in my eyes and is one of the more fearless players out there on the field.
Boyd expects Tiger 'freight train'
“It will be a challenge to see how we compete and I’m confident my guys will.”
Against the Tigers, the Texan native has posted 5.7 tackles a game with a sack. He leads the ACC currently with eight tackles for loss.
Tajh Boyd’s approaching milestones: Last week at N.C. State, Boyd threw for three touchdowns for a second time this season, which was his 16th career game with at least three passing scores.
The third-year starter sits two touchdown passes short of 100 and 173 total yards short of a Clemson total offense record (Charlie Whitehurst, 9,763 yards). With 409 yards, he will become only the third player in ACC history to top the 10,000 mark (Philip Rivers, N.C. State; Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech the others).
He has thrown 90 passes this season without an interception, and carrying over from a pick-less bowl game, Boyd is 23 attempts from the school record for passes sans interception (which Cullen Harper set from 2005-07 in his first 165 throws). He hasn’t accounted for any turnover in 304 Clemson offensive plays.
More in reach down the road, the Hampton, Va. native is aiming for a pair of ACC career records from N.C. State’s Rivers: 12 scores from the touchdown responsibility mark (112) and 16 from the touchdown pass record (95).