CLEMSON - Vic Beasley was present on the field last Thursday at Clemson's Pro Day.
BOYS BACK IN TOWN
Career stats for Clemson's two senior defenders who held off the NFL for one more year:
Vic Beasley, DE (35 games, 13 starts)
31 tackles for loss, 21 sacks, 20 QB pressures
Needs 7.5 sacks to surpass Michael Dean Perry and Gaines Adams as school sacks leader
Stephone Anthony, LB (39 games, 23 starts)
240 tackles, 24 TFLs, 7 sacks
Needs 134 tackles to crack Clemson's all-time top 10 list (Anthony had 131 last year)
OK, not exactly. He stood on the sideline, joining the hundreds of observers inside the Tigers' practice facility as Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Bashaud Breeland and 16 others auditioned for NFL scouts, coaches and general managers.
Beasley endured more than enough pondering two months ago about his future - it took the All-American defensive end right up to the declaration deadline to make a decision. As compensation, he shed the "what if" thoughts as he watched his former mates chase their dreams, which he very nearly would have been doing.
"Nah, it didn't even cross my mind," Beasley said after Clemson's spring practice Friday. "I'm happy that I came back. Satisfied."
It probably wasn't much of a surprise based on his January consternation, but when asked in hindsight how much he waffled on whether to return to Clemson for his senior year - he was a projected NFL draft second-round prospect had he left - Beasley twice said, "I was very close."
"But I'm happy. I'm happy I made the decision to stay," he added. "I'm happy I'm here helping these guys and having a chance to get my degree."
Beasley wasn't the Tigers' only defender opting for one more year. Linebacker Stephone Anthony could have followed Watkins, Breeland and Martavis Bryant from the junior class out the door, but unlike Beasley, his draft stock wasn't quite so lofty.
"It was pretty much the best decision for me," Anthony said. "After talking it over with my family and sitting down, talking about it for an hour or two, I thought that was the right decision to make, and came on back."
So goes the safe storyline: Beasley and Anthony are the local-boy heroes, swooping in to save the day and keep the arrow pointed up for Clemson's defense. Except that's not how defensive coordinator Brent Venables sees it.
"I've had guys that have come back and they felt like everybody owed them something for coming back," Venables said. "Like they ever went anywhere in the first place.
"They lost the edge. And they underperformed big-time. That can affect your program in a bad way."
Beasley and Anthony are well-liked by their teammates, but last year they had position mates who served as captains, like defensive tackle Grady Jarrett and linebacker Spencer Shuey. Jarrett is back, Shuey is not.
"Sometimes, the older guy, he's a meathead - he comes in there and he's not a very good leader; he hasn't ever been a good leader," Venables said. "Just because he's old doesn't mean now suddenly he becomes a good leader."
Therein lies the challenge for a player like the soft-spoken Beasley, who still weighs 235 pounds though his coaches want him to play next fall around 250. Beasley, whose 13 sacks ranked third in the country in 2013, wants to improve his tackling and run-stopping abilities.
Just like Boyd and Watkins before him, it's inevitable he'll be asked constantly about his attention to the next level.
"Man, I'm going into this year trying to be a better player. I know I'm gonna get questions about the NFL - the NFL's going to be there," Beasley said. "I'm focusing on what I can help right now, and that's becoming a better player for Clemson University, pushing guys behind me and pushing the guys on the offensive side."
Venables said he didn't have too much discussion with his senior-to-be defenders regarding their decisions, though he's on record as agreeing with head coach Dabo Swinney that guys who aren't automatic first-rounders should stay in school.
"They've got to come back for the team, and be hungry, and be great," Venables said. "Not to have one last crack at it, you know? To see if they can be an All-American, they've got to be selfless."