The Long Road Back

CLEMSON - Last school year was so bad for Tramaine Billie that he had to fight off two potential career-ending situations. First, there was the broken ankle he suffered last August and then there were the academic problems that hovered over him all fall, spring and summer.

But somehow, the redshirt senior linebacker managed to fight his way through and he now stands poised to be one of the central figures on a defensive squad that looks to be pretty solid.

However, it wasn't easy, especially when it came to the classroom.

Billie got way behind in the fall with his class work following his ankle injury and as a result, he was held out of spring practice so he could concentrate solely on school. He then entered the first session of summer school with a realistic chance of being academically ineligible for the 2007 season.

However he buckled down, studied and he is now finally in the midst of preseason camp.

"There was a little bit of pressure because I was a little behind because of last fall with being in the situation I was in and not playing," Billie said of his classroom problems. "It was little stressful. But I felt like I could pull it out. I had a lot of support and it made it a little easier."

Last fall wasn't exactly a picnic, either, for the Eastover, S.C., native. He broke his ankle in practice on August 18 and seriously thought about not redshirting his final season and playing the team's final four or five games.

In hindsight, he realized it would have been a major mistake.

"It was a tough decision," Billie said. "It was pretty close not to redshirt and coming back. I really wasn't thinking about my health. I just wanted to get back on the field and help my team win a championship.

"I've never sat out before, so it was hard. It was real close, but I'm glad I came back. It allowed me the opportunity to get my degree and help the team be successful this year and give me the opportunity to get ready for the next level."

With all of that said, he took a major risk in choosing not to play because his grades had slipped dramatically and he was to the point where it seemed like a foregone conclusion that he was going to be ruled academically ineligible for 2007.

"There was a little bit of pressure because I was a little behind because of last fall with being in the situation I was in and not playing," Billie said of his classroom problems. "It was little stressful. But I felt like I could pull it out. I had a lot of support and it made it a little easier."
Making matters worse was the fact that as each day passed Billie became more depressed about his grades, which made them drop even more. At one point, he actually felt he wouldn't be back.

"It was real hard for me," he said. "I felt like people couldn't depend on me and I felt really down on myself. I had to pick myself up and find something positive about it."

Billie looked to what was most familiar to him for help. He said he did an awful lot of praying and that his mother provided the words of inspiration, as well as a kick in the pants to help him through the tough times.

"I doubted myself a lot," Billie said. "Sometimes I doubted myself too much and I started slipping in the classroom and didn't focus right. I didn't want to come around practice and I didn't want to be around the football team. Just a lot of things went wrong for me and it set me back a little bit.

"But she's always been there for me. She's always been there from when I was in elementary school to high school. She's always one that I can talk to."

Also motivating Billie, oddly enough, was all the criticism and talk by the media, his teammates and coaches that he wasn't going to make it.

"It did get on my nerves a little bit because I felt like people didn't have my back and that they really didn't believe in me," he said. "I felt like I had to prove them wrong and I felt like that made me a stronger person more than anything."

Billie made it through the spring and first session of summer school. He then cruised through the second session of summer school to earn his eligibility for this season and keep on track to graduate on schedule.

Billie said he should be able to graduate in December, but added if he doesn't all he will have to do in the spring is do an internship, which shouldn't be much of an issue, and he will get his degree in May.

10 days into preseason camp, Billie's ankle is for the most part is all healed. There are some small, lingering problems. But they should get better in time.

"I feel good," he said. "I'm out there running. Some cutting here and there might aggravate it a little bit, but it's OK."

With the injury and academic situation all behind him, Billie is also able to do the one thing he loves most and that's concentrate on football and make it his main focus once again.

"Oh, yeah, it feels good," he said. "I'm just concentrating on football and help getting my team ready and get everybody on the same level and everybody on the same page so we can have a successful season this year.

"I've been here for five years and I've done seen a lot of things and played against a lot of teams. I'm just trying to help the defense as much as I can and give them that strength to being a blitzing defense back like we were they year before last and be more intense."

And rest assured that should things start going bad once again, Mother Billie will be there with kindness and her boot to help right the ship and get her son to where he needs to be.

"She'll talk to me, but she'll get on me if she has to," Billie said. "She's always on me. I'm 23 years old and she's still on me. She's always going to be like that to be sure that I always doing the right thing."

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