With Clemson in a three defensive-lineman look, Orange quarterback Terrel Hunt gets loose on a scramble. Jarrett is cut and trips, seemingly well out of the play. But he gets up, sprints across the field – and helps linebacker Stephone Anthony make the tackle on Hunt.
“That’s Grady Jarrett,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s the best way I can describe him. That’s the way he is every day, the way he’s been since he got here. He plays with a chip on his shoulder and he’s become a great leader for us.”
That attitude helps explain why Jarrett, a junior defensive tackle, has become a leader for Clemson’s improving defense. He’ll play a huge role Saturday when No.3 Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) welcomes Boston College and the nation’s top rusher, senior tailback Andre Williams.
“Grady Jarrett is the heart and soul of our defense,” Swinney said. “He sets the standard for everyone.”
When Jarrett was asked to recount the play in question, he said “effort is always a great equalizer.”
“I was out there by myself at defensive tackle, I tripped and then I went and got a piece of the tackle at the end. I’m always hustling to the ball because you never know what can happen. The ball might pop out, or he might stay up and I’ve got to get him down. I just feel like if he’s a reasonable distance from me, I can get him and get a little piece of the action.”
Jarrett has been hustling since he arrived at Clemson, always a bit undersized, underrated. When he signed with the Tigers, he was rated by Scout.com as the nation’s No.41 defensive tackle prospect, not a heralded five-star commitment. At 6-foot-1, 290 pounds, he’s still a little undersized for his position.
How do you explain his transformation into one of the ACC’s top defensive tackles? Hustle.
“I think it’s something that’s always been in me, playing with great effort,” he said. “ I take pride in it. If I see myself not giving good effort on film, I’ll feel really bad about it. It’s always on my mind getting to the ball. I don’t want to be known as someone who’s a slacker or not known for getting to the ball.
“Even if I feel like I’m getting tired, I tell myself I’ve got to keep going. That’s how I train through the offseason and if I am tired, I’m not going to tell you I’m tired. That’s my mindset and it’s really helped me over these past years, something I’m still developing.”
That’s in both practice and games, he said.
“It means a lot to me, something I take great pride in, coming to work every day, trying to help my teammates,” he said. “Coming to work with a good mindset that I’ve got to keep focused on where we want to end up. As long as I’m doing my job, coming with a hard edge every day, I believe others will follow.”
Jarrett has NFL ties – his biological father is five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jessie Tuggle, and he calls future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis his “uncle” although the two aren’t related by blood; Lewis has served as Jarrett’s workout partner the past few offseasons.
However, Jarrett says his success stands on its own.
“Since I’ve done sports, I’ve been very prideful of my performance,” he said. “Just because I had other people who played in the NFL or people that did that, it was motivation but it wasn’t my sole motivation. I just wanted to do the best that I can and I always believed in myself and my abilities. Their success and their abilities, they can’t control how I play on the field. I’ve got to put in my work on the field.”
Through five games, Jarrett has 32 tackles, third on the Tigers’ roster. His 4.5 tackles for loss is tied for third with Spencer Shuey behind Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson.
He is an excellent run-stopper but is working to make himself an all-around threat.
“I feel like I’ve always been a pretty disruptive player,” he said. “Me in my size, my position, they probably feel like I’m just a run-stuffer. But I feel like I can do everything pretty good. I still feel like I’ve got to get better in every area. I’ve got a lot of quarterback pressures but I’d like to get some sacks. I’ve got to get there a little faster. So I’ve still got a lot of work to do. Get good penetration. It’s not as simple as being a run-stuffer.”
His quest for improvement, in other words, is as relentless as his on-field style.
“I just think he loves to play,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s relentless in how he practices and shows up. He’s very focused, very driven, very humble. There’s not a day he wakes up, I bet you, that he believes that he’s arrived. He’s a fighter with a chip on his shoulder. He takes ownership and has responsibilities and really thrives in that role.”