Tig ready to bounce at WILL

CLEMSON - Jonathan 'Tig' Willard is up for the challenge of making Clemson the best run defense in the country.

The goal was put into action by starting middle linebacker Corico Hawkins, who planned to issue to the challenge to the rest of his teammates. Not long after Hawkins' vision was unveiled during Monday's afternoon interviews in the West End Zone, Willard sounded like he was ready to get to work in the season opener against North Texas.

"That is a big challenge for us. But as linebackers, that's what we do, we stop the run," Willard said. "That's our number one job. We're going to take our job to the up, top-notch—just to see that happen."

It was later announced on Tuesday evening that Willard's co-starter at weak-side linebacker, Brandon Maye, would undergo arthroscopic knee surgery on Wednesday.

Any questions as to who would start at WILL against the Mean Green on Saturday were put to bed.

Before the announcement, Willard spoke about the competition between him and Maye.

"We've been going off each other's energy. We've just been bouncing off of each other," Willard said.

At that point, he believed the competition was a toss-up. Respective strengths and weaknesses were evened out by the others'.

"Because of us being so competitive towards each other, we kind of balance it out," Willard said.

A redshirt sophomore, he feels a lot more comfortable now than at this time last season.

"I've been able to study the playbook more. With that, I'm able to play faster. I'm able to tell others what to do, as far as me knowing what to do," Willard said. "That's my main thing—knowing what to do and what others do, so I'm able to react off of what they do."

With just 32 snaps to his name in 2009, Willard still managed to pick up 10 tackles—three of them for loss.

The former Scout.com three-star and four-time South Carolina state wrestling champion has a unique ability to contort his body in ways unimaginable to Clemson defensive coordinator Kevin Steele. At the West End Zone on Tuesday, he said Willard could "leave this room going through a key hole."

"I don't know whether that comes from wrestling or growing up in the Pee Dee. I'm not sure which. "Maybe a combination of both."

Willard's strong, too. He picked up the Strength Training Award for linebackers during spring practice.

"I say it affectionately, but he's country strong. He's the guy that would be strong whether he's lifting a tractor engine to put back in the tractor or whether he's in the weight room," Steele said. "He's just naturally strong."
And Willard gets to flex those muscles on Saturday at 3:30.

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