The times they are a changin'

CLEMSON – This time a year ago, Spencer Shuey was a relatively unknown backup linebacker. Funny how perception can change in 12 months' time, isn't it?

The arrival of Brent Venables as Clemson's defensive coordinator gave Shuey the one thing he desperately needed – opportunity.

The Tigers' senior linebacker has taken it and run with it. And tackled it. And then tackled it again.

Shuey has developed into a mainstay of Clemson's improving defense and a leader of the Tigers' linebacker corps. Tuesday, he won ACC Linebacker of the Week honors for his performance against Georgia – 12 tackles and a fumble recovery that led to a key touchdown in Clemson's 38-35 win over the then-No.5 Bulldogs.

"It's definitely a blessing and a great honor," Shuey said. "There's a lot of great linebackers from the ACC, and all over the country. To be recognized as one for a week, it's a great honor. I'm proud of it."

While Shuey has made the most of his chance, it might never have happened had Kevin Steele remained as Clemson's defensive coordinator. Shuey made 27 tackles as a sophomore, but got only 48 defensive snaps. 19 of those tackles came on special teams, showing his nose for action.

Opportunity came last Oct. 29 vs. Georgia Tech, with the Tigers hanging on for dear life against the Yellow Jackets' flexbone attack. Shuey's safety in the Jackets' end zone sparked a rally towards a key 47-31 win.

He started the following week against Virginia Tech and piled up 15 tackles – and hasn't looked back since. He has started each of Clemson's last eight games, making 81 tackles.

"Coach Venables is a great guy," Shuey said. " I've loved it ever since he came here. He and I have been able to build a great relationship, and I've been able to dedicate myself more to football, get more locked on, train more with my body. I think it was just, overall, me getting more committed, being able to play. Me and Venables have been able to build a great relationship and get along very well."

Shuey has also developed a solid partnership with the guy he replaced last fall – former five-star recruit Stephone Anthony. This spring, Anthony moved back into his old middle linebacker spot while Shuey moved outside to "Will," replacing the graduated Tig Willard.

"They don't talk about it near as much on defense but I definitely feel like it's a big thing out there, being able to feel comfortable and trust the guy next to you is a huge thing in football," he said. "Me and Stephone have been able to build that chemistry. When there's 80,000 people out there, you can't hear each other and the defensive line can't hear your call, to have multiple guys out there, being on the same page definitely helps out."

Saturday's 12:30 p.m. matchup against FCS foe South Carolina State will be only Shuey's ninth career start, and he knows he and his defensive mates have "a lot to improve on."

"We made our own mistakes (against Georgia), and even great teams learn from the games they win. We have to go back and always strive to be better, critique everything. Never get complacent, find a way to get better. Try to find something to get better at."

For Shuey, his biggest mistake was clear – allowing Todd Gurley's 75-yard touchdown run midway through the first quarter.

"I take responsibility for that long touchdown," he said. " I got a little wide, a little flat-footed and got kicked out by the fullback and it was definitely my play to make, I definitely take responsibility for that."

Shuey says he has "next play" mentality, good or bad, which helped him recover from the Gurley touchdown.

This week, he's focusing on solid preparation and better communication with his teammates, even though it's unlikely that Death Valley will be as loud as it was Saturday night.

"Definitely, there were a few plays where there was a corner, a linebacker or a defensive lineman didn't get the call and that's something we need to work on," he said. "Make sure everyone's checking the sideline, making the adjustments and getting locked on. Trying to hear each other over the loud fans. That's definitely something we're going to have to improve on."

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