By Schuyler Easterling // Athletic Communications
In the waning moments of the 2014 Orange Bowl, the tension in Sun Life Stadium was rising faster than high tide on nearby South Beach. With 1:27 remaining on the clock and Clemson clinging to a 40-35 lead over No. 6 Ohio State, the Buckeyes were given life by an untimely interception.
With the game in the balance, Clemson’s defense needed someone to rise to the challenge. Then, as he has so many other times throughout his career, Tiger linebacker Stephone Anthony happened to be in the right place at the right time. With one leaping, seemingly slow-motion snag, Anthony delivered the knockout blow to Ohio State in the form of a spectacular game-winning interception.
“The coaching staff made a great call and I just happened to be the man lucky enough to make the play,” recalled the always-humble Anthony with a shrug and flash of his trademark grin.
Although his late-game heroics in the Orange Bowl have left an indelible impression in the minds of all Clemson fans, it has been Anthony’s consistent playmaking ability and steely defense over the past four seasons that have endeared him to Tiger Nation.
But long before #42 was routinely bringing the Death Valley faithful to their feet, there was a boy from the small town of Polkton, N.C. with incredible athleticism, a love for football and a dream.
“Football has been such a huge part of my life,” stated Anthony. “I began playing ball when I was seven or eight years old. My older brother got my interest going in sports and my family was always supportive and encouraging of my athletic career. I worked hard and was blessed to draw the attention of Clemson in high school.”
Not only did Anthony turn the heads of Tiger Defensive Tackles Coach Dan Brooks and then-Clemson Defensive Coordinator Kevin Steele, he turned the heads of just about everyone in the country. Put simply, Anthony dominated the competition as a three-sport athlete at Anson High School.
A four-year starter, Anthony’s senior season culminated with 123 tackles, 16 tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions. Accolades and offers flooded the Anthony household.
He was named a USA Today First-Team All-American, Parade First-Team All-American and the No. 1 outside linebacker in the nation by ESPN.com. With invitations to the Shrine Bowl and Under Armour All-American Game, the battle for Anthony’s commitment was as intense as any in the country. On national signing day, Anthony chose Clemson over North Carolina and Virginia Tech, causing a celebration ruckus in Tigertown.
“I was looking for a place that fit me,” stated Anthony. “Clemson reminded me a lot of my hometown – a smaller town, but not too small and not too big. The people here are awesome. I knew Clemson was a place I could enjoy and fit in with the culture.”
Coincidentally, another top-rated linebacker recruit shared a similar outlook. Hailing from Hastings, Fla., Tony Steward signed with Clemson on the same day, solidifying one of the strongest linebacker classes in school history. Little did Anthony and Steward realize that their signed letters of intent would also solidify a lasting friendship.
“Tony’s like a brother to me,” admitted Anthony. “It just happened to be a coincidence that both of us ended up with Clemson on signing day. It was the beginning of a great friendship. We just hit it off. We started as roommates and now we’re out there competing to make this team and ourselves the best we can be.
“We take care of each other, look out for each other and we won’t let each other fail. Having the opportunity to play together is special. We’re committed to making our last season a great one.”
On Saturday, Anthony and the Tigers are looking to take another step closer to a great season by securing a win against the visiting Tar Heels from North Carolina. Not only is Saturday’s game a pivotal matchup in the ACC, it is a pivotal matchup for the Anthony family.
“As a native North Carolinian, this game splits my house down the middle,” laughed Anthony. “It’s a fun game to be a part of. I have some good friends wearing ‘Carolina Blue’ across the field from me. Having the chance to play against them is always great. Hopefully, I’ll be able to knock them around a little.”
The last time Clemson squared off with the Tar Heels, the freshman logged 27 snaps and notched three tackles en route to a 59-38 victory. Now a seasoned veteran and leader on the Tiger defense, Anthony is anchoring the 2014 linebacker corps.
“It’s crazy thinking the last time I lined up against North Carolina I was a freshman doing my best to learn the defense and contribute,” said Anthony. “Now, my role is completely different. I’m here to be a leader. I want to be able to positively impact the people around me, and especially mentor some of the younger guys.
“As a senior, my time at Clemson is just about over. It’s important for me to impart some wisdom on the culture of this program, what we’ve built at Clemson and what we need to accomplish. I was blessed enough to be a part of the 2011 ACC Championship team. I’ve tasted what it’s like to be a champion and it’s the best feeling. ‘Best is the standard,’ and I’m determined to help get Clemson there again.”
Defenses win championships, and for Anthony, that challenge suits him just fine. The hallmarks of great Clemson teams have long been tenacious defenses with dominating, bruising linebackers.
For a school with such a rich linebacker tradition that produced greats like Jeff Davis, Levon Kirkland and Keith Adams, Anthony’s presence on the field ensures the linebacker tradition at Clemson is staying strong.
In 2013, Anthony led Clemson in tackles with 131, including 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks. He was second on the team in tackles for loss behind All-American Vic Beasley. Seven times he led or tied for the team lead in tackles, including the Ohio State game when he had 11.
So far this season, Anthony has accumulated 18 tackles, including a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss. But it is not just the plays on the field that the defensive stalwart hopes to be remembered for after he graduates from Clemson.
“It’s natural that we all want to be remembered as great players,” added Anthony. “However, I’d like to leave something deeper here. I want Stephone Anthony to be remembered as Stephone Anthony.
“Remember my character, the hard work and the opportunities I’ve been blessed with. I don’t take what I’ve been given by God for granted. Every time I put on that uniform, I’m reminded how special it is to be a Clemson Tiger. I’m ready to make this last ride a memorable one.”
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