CLEMSON — Tyler Shatley never kept count of how many positions he’s played on a football field.
There’s really only one position that humbles the hulking Clemson fifth-year senior: football player, which is what head coach Dabo Swinney proudly dubs Shatley.
Recruited as a fullback and defensive tackle, Shatley was also a tight end and punter at East Burke High School in Icard, N.C. The first half of his Clemson career was spent along the defensive line, making 30 tackles in 26 games from 2010-11.
Then he flipped to offense, starting all 13 games at right guard in 2012 despite never playing a down of offensive line in his life.
“I’d like to think I can help out the team any way I can,” Shatley said. “I try not to be selfish, because ultimately, it’s a lot more fun when you’re winning, so anything I can do to help the team win.”
Now? He was the first Tiger to definitively lock down his starting spot on the line, according to offensive coordinator Chad Morris, after a stellar fall camp.
“He’s a natural at it and looks like he’s played it his whole life,” Swinney said. “That’s the epitome of a football player. Put him somewhere, and he makes your team better. You sign guys like that every day; sign him and find a spot.”
The reasoning for sticking Shatley on offense was the Tigers’ wealth of depth at defensive tackle, a group including Josh Watson, Grady Jarrett, Carlos Watkins, DeShawn Williams and others.
The interior offensive line was a little shakier, so Shatley took on the challenge without complaining.
“Sometimes it can be nerve-racking because you’re learning something new,” Shatley said. “And you can’t build that confidence you need to cut loose and play, but I think I’ve got that confidence now.”
Shatley’s not the loudest mouth in front of the media. But he is regarded as a vocal leader along with all-ACC left tackle Brandon Thomas, the only two senior scholarship offensive linemen on the whole team.
“Really proud of Tyler Shatley in particular. I think he’s really become a rock for us,” Swinney said. “Brandon’s been very solid. But Tyler, last year, he was kind of the new kid on the block. Even though we looked at him like a leader, he had a lot to prove and a lot to figure out.
“Now, he’s very sure of himself, and he’s much more confident in his role, kind of like (four-year center) Dalton (Freeman) was last year.”
Because he played four positions well in high school — he rushed for 2,000 yards and 31 touchdowns his junior and senior years combined, made 51 tackles and averaged 40.7 yards a punt his final season — Shatley’s high school coach gave him some advice on his way to Clemson.
“He kind of mentioned, when you get to college, it’s not really where you want to play, it’s where they need you,” Shatley said. “Because they’ve got a ton of other guys that can play your spot.”
Shatley’s one of those rare talents in the classroom and the weight room. As a redshirt freshman, he won the team’s Vickery Hall academic award and was named “Power Hour” Strongman Champion during spring practice.
Last year, the 6-3, 300-pounder was tabbed a National Strength & Conditioning Association All-American and first academic All-ACC selection. Shatley graduated in May with a degree in civil engineering.
“He’s a winner. This guy, he’s passionate,” Morris said. “He’s rugged, he’s mean, he wants to be the guy that’s running the show up there. He’s more vocal than he’s ever been.”
Morris went so far as to say Shatley’s a perfect player to build an offensive line around.
“Because I know what he can do and what we’re capable of doing with him. He’s ‘that guy,’ ” Morris said.
“He gives everything he’s got on every play, and it means something to him.”