CLEMSON — Sometime next week it will dawn on hundreds of highly-recruited college freshmen theyll never play a down of football this season.
Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey, one-time star at South Mecklenburg High in Charlotte, wants those kids to know how lucky they are to redshirt.
It may not seem like it now, but youll be thankful for this one day when you look back, said Shuey, now a graduate student in his final season of eligibility.
Youll realize you didnt waste a year just playing special teams. Its definitely better to concentrate on yourself, to get stronger and faster, and then youll get the chance to excel.
For Shuey that chance took a long time; 3 1/2 years into his tenure as a Tiger he made his first start, at home against Virginia Tech. He blew up the Hokies that day, with 15 tackles, 2.5 for loss, and Clemson won 38-17.
Now hes an established starter the Tigers top returning tackler with 93 in the 2012 season. Hes completed his business degree, having twice made the ACC academic honor roll. And hes playing for eighth-ranked Clemson, which opens at home against fifth-ranked Georgia Aug. 31 (8 p.m., WSOC-TV).
Hes willed himself into the player he is now, said second-year Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. Ive never had to ask him to do something twice.
Venables was coaching at Oklahoma during Shueys first three seasons, so he doesnt know why Shuey didnt play more. But it was obvious within weeks of Venables arrival that Shuey was the sort of quick study he needed to turn around the defense.
He picks things up a lot quicker than some guys, Venables said. He kept answering every question in our unit meetings. Finally I had to say, Youve got it, Spencer. Now give someone else a turn.
Shuey would like a chance to play in the NFL, but hes in no hurry to rush on to the next step. Thats the lesson in his past four years.
Waiting his turn
For every Sammy Watkins, the wide receiver who starred for the Tigers as a true freshman, there are 10 Shueys: A player good enough to earn an athletic scholarship, but still a long way physically and mentally from playing right away.
Shuey was a star on South Mecks football team, most valuable player on the baseball team and a letterman in basketball. A good student, too, he had a handful of choices among major-college programs in the Carolinas.
It became clear during his freshman preseason that a redshirt was coming. That made sense, but it was still an adjustment.
Its definitely a shock, coming from a senior in high school, where youre top dog, Shuey said. Its up to the coaches to decide when youre ready to play. Unfortunately for me it didnt happen until late in my junior year.
That became an occasional distraction the feeling he was getting lost on so talented a roster. He played 29 games for the Tigers, mostly on special teams, before ever getting a start.
There are definitely some days when you get down and say, That day will never come. Shuey recalled. Youve got to push that aside and think, Ill get better today and I will get my shot. Its about proving they can trust you.
He haunted the film room. As much game video as the Tigers watch in groups, Shuey supplemented that with three sessions each lasting 30 to 60 minutes on his own weekly.
He discovered the issue wasnt just time watching game video, but understanding what to look for:
Id never really watched film to the extent we do here. As a freshman, you basically watch it as a spectator instead of breaking it down, Shuey said. As a senior you catch up on all the little keys, the formation tendencies.
Shueys strength is technically sound tackling. Hes still learning how not to be fooled by play-action fakes, not to get caught rushing up-field in what become passing plays.
One of the things four years at Clemson taught him is smart football isnt hero football.
Playing smart is not trying to do someone elses job. Its understanding your responsibility, Shuey said. Its studying film its definitely an advantage when you sense what offensive play is coming. You get a jump on the ball when you know where its coming.