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Competitive Nature Keeps Keith Adams Ticking

Competitive Nature Keeps Keith Adams Ticking

Oct. 18, 2000

By Todd Lamb Asst. Sports Information DirectorThe Maryland Game Program – October 14, 2000

Following the 52-22 win at Duke on Sept. 30, Keith Adams returned to Clemson with the rest of the team and asked his roommate Robert Carswell if he wanted to go bowling. Carswell called his girlfriend and Adams called a friend of his and extended invitations to join them at the bowling alley.

Once there, the foursome split up into guys versus ladies. So it was Carswell and Adams vs. their female friends. The round, like most anything Adams does, was highly competitive and wasn’t decided until the final couple of frames.

“Keith and I just kept talking,” Carswell said. “We kept telling them, ‘We’re All-Americans. We’re always going to find a way to win.'” Adams, who had earlier in the day recorded sacks four, five and six of the season against the Blue Devils, came up with the game-winning strike.

“He’s just highly competitive,” Carswell said. “It came down to the last couple of frames and I told him we had to find a way to win. He’s right-handed, but he bowled a strike with his left hand to win the game.”

Competition is what makes Adams tick.

“Altroy Bodrick was my roommate last year and we had a lot of competition at playing a lot of video games,” Adams said. “He would beat me at some games and I would beat him in other games. We were always battling each other. In the spring, we would stay up way past our bed times playing games trying to beat one another.”

Working the game controls is one of Adams’ favorite activities off the football field and the activity continues this year with Adams’ other roommate, Rod Gardner.

“Keith and Rod are constantly in the other room, battling and yelling,” Carswell said of his roommates. “I’m in my bedroom thinking something is wrong out there, so I open the door and look real fast and they’re out there just playing a game. He’s just as competitive off the field as he is on the field.”

But Adams, in some ways, is a much different person off the field. “He’s pretty laid back,” Carswell said. “He’s a comedian. He’s old school because he wears a hat with a feather in it and wears alligator and snakeskin boots. He’s a funny guy and is very cool to hang out with.”

Don’t ask why he wears the hat and boots. “That’s just his style. That’s Keith,” Carswell explained. “That’s like asking, ‘why did he go out there and make all of those sacks?’ That is all part of the package that comes with Keith.”

Also a part of the package is Adams the linebacker. Adams led the nation a year ago with 186 tackles, an average of 15.5 per game. That total demolished the Clemson single season tackles record and he also topped the single game tackle chart with 27 in the regular season finale at South Carolina and 19 in the home loss to Florida State.

“He finds a way to get to the football,” Seminoles quarterback Chris Weinke said at the ACC Football Media Kickoff in July. “You’ve got to realize where he is on every play and block him on every possession. He’s quick enough to cover passes and tough enough to stop plays up the middle. He can be one of the best football players in America.”

In addition to his tackle numbers, he obliterated the school’s single-season sack record, eclipsing the previous mark of 10.5 by recording 16 during the team’s 12-game schedule. He also finished the year with 35 tackles for loss, which also led the nation.

In his most memorable game during his sophomore season, he registered four sacks (also a Clemson best) in the 58-7 win against Duke and was hoisted atop the shoulders of Carswell and Braxton K. Williams at the end of the third quarter.

All the broken records earned the 5-11, 220-pound linebacker the honor of ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He edged Florida State’s Corey Simon by three votes for the honor.

“He is the most competitive guy that you’ll ever be around,” Herrring said. “If there is a more competitive guy then you are probably looking at an exceptional football player and an exceptional person. His commitment, his drive and his energy are all directed and channeled into one of the fiercest competitors that you will ever know.”

Some of that may come from his father, Julius, who spent 16 seasons in the NFL playing on the defensive line for the New England Patriots, including the Super Bowl (XX) season of 1985-86, when the Pats were defeated by the Chicago Bears. That is the younger Adams’ first real memory of watching his father play. He was six at the time, sitting in the New Orleans Superdome watching. The older Adams remembers an even earlier time when a two-year-old would get upset when a game the two were watching on television ended.

“He always had a fascination for football,” Julius told the Raleigh News and Observer in August. “He would watch ‘Monday Night Football’ when he was two. If I turned the TV off, he would start crying. So I’d turn it back on, and he’d be all right, sit there and watch the game.”

Adams’ toughness undeniably comes from his father, though he was not blessed with his father’s size. Julius stands 6-4 and weighs 270 pounds while Keith plays at 5-11, 220 pounds. His speed comes from his mother, Pat, who was a nationally ranked collegiate sprinter at Texas Southern.

Adams loved running the football and dreamed of playing running back in college. In two years at Westlake High School, he rushed for more than 2,200 yards, including 1,500 yards as a junior. He was named the regional offensive player of the year. But Adams followed his father’s footsteps and also played on the defensive side of the ball.

He finished his senior campaign with 109 tackles, down slightly from the 113 tackles he amassed as a junior. He also had six sacks, caused four fumbles and recovered three fumbles. His defensive play earned him selection for the Georgia/Florida All-Star Game and there he played inside linebacker, coming up with six tackles.

His small frame shielded him from the spotlight of national major college recruiting. Adams grew up in the shadow of Georgia Tech and was a childhood fan of the Michigan Wolverines. Had he wanted to play running back, he could have gone to Louisville, but he opted for Clemson, which figured he would be a standout on special teams. Adams had his sights set on the possibility of becoming the next great linebacker to hail from Clemson.

“I think he is probably tired of talking about his size,” Herring said. “But I think he will be the first one to tell you that is always the motivation. It’s a unique credit to his character. That is why he commands the highest level of respect because of what he accomplishes at his size. You have to respect him. His actions demand that you respect him.”

Well, Adams is now a junior and has proved his skeptics wrong. He entered the season as a top candidate for the Butkus Award, presented annually to the top linebacker, and for the Bronko Nagurski Award, presented to the top defensive player. He was a preseason first-team All-American by seven different publications and was the preseason national defensive player of the year according to the Blue Ribbon College Football Preview. Adams enjoyed hearing of all the accolades, but what he really wants is for the team to win.

“What he accomplished last year was probably a dream career for most three- or four-year linebackers, let alone a one-year linebacker,” Herring acknowledged. “After last year, I think he’s almost a victim of people’s expectations of even bigger and better things. He is playing within the framework of our system. He is very unselfish. I can assure you that all he cares about is ‘does the team win?’ That is the bottom line. Whether or not Keith comes up with the same numbers he had last year, I would be shocked if he could do that.

“The opportunities are not going to be there and we have other players making plays before he gets there. Last year it was all him. I think, keeping this in perspective, he is still there. He’s still Keith. He’s still motoring. He’s still getting after it and he still brings the attitude.”

The next closest tackler to Adams’ 186 a year ago was fellow linebacker Chad Carson who finished the year with 144. Carswell, a free safety had 129, but no one else had more than 69. It was a team that averaged 98.2 tackles per game and those three defenders accounted for 38.1 tackles per game.

This season, the Tiger defense is tackling more, up seven tackles per game (105.2) from where the team finished in 1999. Adams and Carson lead the team together in tackles heading into the N.C. State game last week with 56 tackles apiece. Another three players had at least 30 tackles and another two had 26 or more going into the game against the Wolfpack.

Carson had a career game against The Citadel, recording 18 tackles vs. the Bulldogs. Adams had just nine that game, but Clemson won 38-0. Against Wake Forest, Adams had 16 tackles. He had six games last year with 16 or more tackles.

Yet, the Clemson defense is getting the job done and is leading the nation in total defense, giving up only 199.2 yards per game.

Herring’s squad is also holding opposing quarterbacks to a 74.48 efficiency rating, the best in the country. Clemson only surrendered 48 points in its first five games, an average of 9.6 points a contest, the sixth lowest total in NCAA Division I play.

“I think the one reason that we are playing as well as we are right now is because of all the team unity that we have,” Adams said.

“Friends want to go out and compete with others and the competition that we have with one another really pushes us to go out there on the field and play better.”

That is why members of the defense go to dinner together and hang out together playing video games, going bowling or watching ‘Monday Night Football.’

“That is something that has really benefited our defense this year,” Adams added. “The other guys on defense help motivate me to perform the way I do.”

Carswell says it goes both ways – it is just that the humble Adams won’t talk about his impact on the team.

“When Keith is not in the game, I’m not going to say there is a drop off, but when he comes back into a game, he is definitely the spark plug. I look at him and he looks at me when we’re in on a third-down play. One of us needs to make a play.”

“Keith brings an attitude,” Herring emphasized. “He exudes confidence. It just oozes off of him onto other people he is around. He is an individual that is totally committed and driven. Put in consistency with all those intangibles and you have the make up of a very special person.”

Adams is indeed a special person, wearing his faith on his sleeve. He is a member of Clemson’s LIFE Line program, a leadership organization within the football team that is prominently involved in community outreach in such projects as Habitat for Humanity, High Five Day and Helping Hands. Adams is also involved with the “Call Me Mister” program – a program that recruits African-American males to become elementary school teachers – that is headed up at Clemson by former Tiger linebacker Jeff Davis. Adam’s also gives one of the four football tickets he receives for each home game to a student at his former high school near Atlanta.

All these things make it hard for everyone, especially those on the other side of the ball, to understand how he can be so dominant and unrelenting in pursuit.

“He is very explosive,” Herring said. “He has tremendous burst. He has great closure on the ball. It’s very instinctive and very natural for him.”

“Those last two yards before he closes in on an offensive player, that is what is amazing – that explosion right at the point of contact,” Carswell said.

“Against Duke, true the stadium wasn’t very loud, but I’m way back, maybe 30 yards back in the secondary, and Keith came up and hit their quarterback (D. Bryant) and I heard the echo come all the way back to where I was. I immediately ran up to him and told him that it was a great hit. That explosion he has, I’ve never seen anyone with that kind of power.

“Anthony Simmons had that one-yard burst right before the point of contact. Keith reminds me a little bit of him.”

Carswell played with Simmons his freshman year before Simmons, also a finalist for the Butkus Award, left Clemson early to become the 15th overall draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 1998. He played for three seasons at Clemson finishing second on the school’s career tackles list with 486 and led the ACC in tackles as a sophomore and junior. Simmons, who was 6-1, 225 pounds when he played at Clemson, was a first-team All-ACC selection all three years, joining Levon Kirkland and William Perry as the school’s only three-time honorees.

There are other similarities between Adams and Simmons. Just like there was with Simmons, there is talk about Adams’ future in the NFL. Both are considered small for their position, but both play with tremendous heart.

“Anthony Simmons is a great linebacker and so is Keith Adams,” Herring said. “But they are different and to say that one is more valuable than the other, that is not fair to either one. They have a couple of unique intangibles and that is that great players have tremendous drive, commitment and motivation. They have great attitudes.”

Adams’ attitude is what helps him excel in life and what could eventually lead him to a professional football career.

“I don’t think there is any doubt that he plays like an NFL-caliber linebacker,” Herring said. “Whether or not the coaches or scouts see it in his future, that is going to be up to them. I know he would be on my football team. You are always going to get something positive because something positive always comes from him in the way he plays.”

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