Light comes on for young linebacker

CLEMSON – Jonathan Willard had been fighting throughout spring practice for his one interception.

And after making one during the first week of drills, he hit a dry spell.

But when it rains, it pours.

Willard had his shot at an interception hat-trick during Saturday's scrimmage in Death Valley. With two already to his name, ‘Tig' could have easily made a third during the two-minute drill. Willard batted down Tajh Boyd's deflected hail mary without an offensive player anywhere in site.

"I batted it down because it was the last play," Willard said, flashing a smile.

Boos from his colleagues on the defensive side of the ball followed.

"I felt if I tried to catch it and the offense caught it, I would have (really) messed up," Willard said. "Coach always said, ‘last play, bat it down.' So I did that. As I think about it, I should have caught it."

Coaches are taking notice of his play at the weak-side (WILL) linebacker spot this spring. Earlier this week, head coach Dabo Swinney spoke highly of the third-year sophomore.

"The guy I'm really excited about is Tig Willard," Swinney said. "He's having an excellent spring, not making a lot of mistakes.

Willard was in on 10 tackles in just 32 snaps in 2009. Three of those 10 were for loss.

With the departure of Kavell Conner, defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is also encouraged with what he's seen.

"The light switch came on for him," Steele said. "He's a totally different player. He's always had the ability—he's just grasped the concept of the defense."

Though he continues working with the first team defense all spring, Willard won't call himself the starter.

"Right now, nobody's a starter. That's my goal, for game time, me being in the starting 11," he said.

Three more practices and next Saturday's game are all that's left on the docket this spring and Willard's likely to be the leader in the clubhouse at WILL.

"This spring is all about getting better. I feel that I'm on the right path of doing that, but I know it's still a lot of work for me and our defense to get better," he said. Top Stories