Former Clemson linebacker Jonathan Willard is getting national praise as a highway hero today after rescuing a family – complete with a dog – from a burning car Tuesday. Willard was on I-40 in Tennessee headed from his home in Loris to Tennessee Titans training camp.

“I saw this car in front of me, and it had all kinds of black smoke coming out of it,” Willard told “I tried to speed up and get up next to the car to let them know the car was on fire.”

Willard is a rookie free agent with the Titans. He led Clemson with 95 tackles and 10.5 tackles for loss in 2012.

Willard said he saw the car in flames and honked his horn to alert a female driver. Three children and a dog also were in the car, and all occupants escaped safely.

“When she pulled over, the car was really on fire at that point,” Willard said. “The driver, she acted like she was in some kind of daze or something. She told me that she didn’t stop because she didn’t think it was her car that was on fire. Another guy stopped, and we managed to get the kids and the dog out and get them to safety, and then I finally got the woman out.”