Nov. 20, 2006
By Sanford Rogers
This Saturday, Clemson and South Carolina will take to the turf at Frank Howard Field to renew one of college football’s most-storied rivalries. For many people in this state, in towns ranging from Fork to Fountain Inn and Inman to Irmo, the Clemson-South Carolina gameday is one of the most important days of the year.
For this writer, who will witness his 25th Clemson-South Carolina contest today, a Tiger win had always meant the difference between happiness and sadness for the following 365 days. However, that attitude has changed dramatically after visiting with Clemson senior linebacker Anthony Waters. Waters, with his actions on and off the field of play, has demonstrated there are things in life much more important than the outcome of a football game.
To know Waters you have to begin with a visit to the quaint town of Lake View, SC. Located at the intersection of Highway 9 and Highway 41 on the South Carolina/North Carolina border some 256 miles from Clemson, the town is known for its never-ending tobacco fields, and undying support for Lake View High School and its athletic squads.
For Waters, Lake View is where he started to become the man he is today.
“Growing up in Lake View was a great experience,” recalled Waters. “I also lived in Lumberton, NC and Mullins, SC, but Lake View is where I began my football career and is where so many people have played an important role in my life. I can’t say enough about the people there. They have always been there for me and supported me in every way.”
Any resident of Lake View is quick to point to the success of the Wild Gator football team. The Class A school has eight state titles in football through the years. The old joke about being able to rob the bank at the time of a Friday night high school football game is certainly applicable to Lake View. The environment is one that Waters recalls fondly.
“Football is what Lake View breathes,” remembered Waters. “When those lights come on Friday night, there is nothing like it. You’ve got everyone in the town from Mayor Boston Page to the smallest kid yelling for you. Looking back on it, Lake View reminds me of Clemson in a lot of ways. The love and support of the entire community is something I will always remember.”
When Waters looks back on his development as a person and as a football player, there is no shortage of mentors from Dillon County.
Lake View High School Head Football Coach Jewell McLaurin, a Clemson letterman in 1969 and 1970, Kip Herlong, the head baseball coach at Lake View High, and football Assistant Coaches Kenny Rogers and Daryl King all have a special place in his heart.
“I don’t think there is any chance I would be where I am today without these men,” stated Waters. “My family life was not the best when I was growing up, but these coaches were all like fathers to me.
“Coach McLaurin was always there for me. He stayed on me to be the best I could be. Coach Herlong and his entire family have been great to me. He really showed me the whole picture about life being more than football. Coach Rogers provided me with discipline. I knew if I got into trouble, I would have to face him. No one wants to be on his bad side.
“Coach King was the guy who pushed me to get bigger and stronger. When I was working out, he was right there beside me pushing me to do more. I don’t think I could have played for better coaches or better people than the ones I had at Lake View.”
McLaurin, who will guide the South Carolina Shrine Bowl squad in December, could not be more proud of his former star.
“Anthony Waters is a success story,” said McLaurin. “As a sophomore, he was a slender guy. But, he got in the weightroom and was as dedicated as any player I’ve coached. Not only does he possess a great deal of talent, he has a real desire to win. That is something that comes from inside.”
Waters’ talent was on display for everyone to see at Lake View. He led the Wild Gators in rushing, receiving, and tackles as a senior, and was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl. In that contest, he accumulated eight tackles. Those numbers make it easy to understand why he was listed as one of the top-100 players in the country by numerous recruiting services.
Choosing a college is a difficult decision for any student-athlete. While Waters had offers from Auburn, Georgia Tech, and Maryland among others, the decision came down to one that most of the Palmetto State’s top players have to decide between…Clemson and South Carolina. He credits former Tiger Assistant Mike O’Cain, now Virginia Tech’s quarterbacks coach, for being the determining factor in donning the orange and purple.
“I had grown up a South Carolina fan,” admitted Waters. “It came down to Clemson and South Carolina. I had trouble with the SAT, but Clemson and Coach O’Cain never gave up on me. He would call me every week and tell me to keep working hard, and things would work out. He is a great man. I owe him a lot for sticking with me.”
O’Cain recalls Waters and the recruiting process six years ago. More importantly, he does not forget how hard #40 worked to come to Tigertown.
“In Anthony’s case, I saw how hard he worked to get the test score needed to qualify,” said O’Cain. “With the type of hard work Anthony displayed to be eligible for admission at Clemson, there was no doubt in my mind that he was going to be a success on the field and in the classroom.
“Anthony Waters is the reason that you want to be in coaching. He is a young man that has overcome so much to be where he is today. I’m really proud to say that I know Anthony Waters. I’m a better person because of him.”
Waters continued to work hard after making his way to Clemson. Following a red-shirt season, he played a key role on the special teams in 2003, with nine of his 35 tackles coming in a special teams role, helping the Tigers to a top-25 season. He continued his progress in 2004, starting all 11 games at linebacker. His best individual game was against Georgia Tech, as he had 10 tackles in just 69 snaps.
Prior to the 2005 season, there was much talk about who would replace ACC Defensive Player-of-the-Year LeRoy Hill at middle linebacker. Waters, who had heard the talk throughout the spring and summer, was determined to be that replacement.
“I used the question about who would replace Leroy as motivation,” remembered Waters. “The year before, the same question was being asked about who would replace John Leake. I knew if I worked as hard as I could, I could be the guy who the coaches could count on.”
The coming-out party came early in the 2005 season for Waters. After a win in the opening game against #17 Texas A&M, the Tigers traveled to Maryland to face a Terrapin defense led by linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. Following a Tiger victory, the media and Clemson coaches took note of his performance that saw him tally 14 tackles, including a career-high 4.5 tackles for loss. Following the contest, he earned defensive player-of-the-game honors from the Clemson coaches.
“Going into that game at Maryland, I was determined to make a name for myself,” said Waters. “Everyone knew what a great player D’Qwell Jackson was. Having a game like I had put me on the radar and gave me a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. It also let the coaches know that they could count on me to be a leader.”
His performance did more than put him on the radar…it catapulted him to a year when he led the nation’s 11th-best scoring defense in tackles. His 9.9 tackles per game was third-best in the ACC.
A season like Waters had in 2005 led to questions about the possibility of declaring for the NFL draft. The allure of earning a large paycheck and fulfilling a dream of playing at the next level was considered. But in the end, the desire to achieve an even bigger goal won out.
“Last January, I didn’t spend too much time thinking about the NFL,” stated Waters. “When I made my SAT score coming out of high school, I made it a goal to earn a degree from Clemson. Football does not work out for everyone. To have the opportunity to get a free education and not take advantage of it was something I was not going to do.
“Earning my degree means so much to me and my family. We have not had the greatest of times during my life. Me graduating from college means so much to them. My mother Lynette means the world to me. I want to do anything I can to make her life better. I have eight brothers and sisters (Travis, Cody, Tasha, Henrí, Jaquanna, Keivonte, Darius, Diayah). They mean everything to me. By me earning a degree from Clemson, it shows what you can do if you don’t give up.”
After seeing what he had overcome in his life, every Tiger fan hoped and dreamed for the storyline of 2006 to be about a stellar senior year. Preseason acclaim came early, with his name appearing on the Bednarik Award and Bronko Nagurski Award preseason lists. He was also a preseason All-America candidate by the Football Writers Association.
But late in the third quarter of the season-opener against Florida Atlantic, a non-contact knee injury took the breath away from Waters’ coaches, teammates, and fans. Death Valley may have never have been quieter when he hobbled off the field.
“I told Danny Poole (Clemson director of sports medicine) there was no way I was coming off the field on a cart,” said Waters. “My mom, grandmother, and godmother were all in the stands. I knew the injury was bad, but I didn’t want them to worry about me more than they had to. I don’t think I will ever forget how the crowd cheered for me then. That is what makes Clemson so special.”
While his playing career at Clemson ended against the Owls, the goals of graduation and playing in the NFL are within reach. He is more than busy spending his time rehabbing his knee for three hours a day while completing his internship with the Clemson sports information office (his final class before earning a sports management degree in December). But before making the jump to the pro ranks, he has proved to be an integral member of the 2006 squad, albeit from the sidelines.
Just seven days after the injury, he was on the sidelines in Chestnut Hill, MA trying to guide the younger Tiger defenders against Boston College.
“I take it as a compliment that Coach Bowden has allowed me to travel with the team,” said Waters. “Somewhere in my career, I did something that let him see me as a leader. Even though I can’t play, I know that I can help the younger guys. I still see myself as a leader on this team.”
Sophomore linebacker Antonio Clay is one of those players who values his leadership. He is quick to credit Waters with his progression this season.
“Anthony is a great leader,” said Clay. “Even though he is not able to be on the field, he is right there encouraging me and telling me what I need to do. I’m a better player because of him.”
Clemson fans appreciate the leadership that Waters has displayed on the sidelines this year. But fans of all teams (even Gamecocks) should appreciate the leadership that Waters has displayed away from the Clemson campus.
Anytime that he returns to the Pee Dee region of South Carolina, there is a good chance one will find him speaking at the elementary school, middle school, or high school in Lake View. His message is one that will pay dividends for years to come.
“I try to show my face as much as possible at the schools and tell them what they can accomplish, no matter what you come from,” said Waters. “I’m an example of what you can do if you work hard and have people who are willing to help you. I can’t thank people enough for what they have done for me.”
McLaurin knows that Waters has made a difference. “Anthony is very gracious to come back and speak to the kids,” said McLaurin. “I have told our young men that you can’t run down the Hill or play anywhere in college without working hard in school. He is an example of that. Years from now, there are kids that will be better because of him.”
Waters continues to remember where he came from. Prior to this season on a trip home, he visited one of Lake View’s most loyal fans, Greg Moody, a middle-aged man who suffers from Down Syndrome. Waters happens to be Moody’s favorite player. Just before returning to Clemson for his final season, he stopped by Moody’s home and presented him with one of his old Clemson game jerseys.
Yes, it has been a trying year for Anthony Waters. But, he has it all in the proper perspective.
Sanford Rogers worked in the Clemson Sports Information Office from 1989-93 and now works in sales in Greenville, SC.
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