Maxwell's patience paying off for Tigers

Clemson defensive back and former Fort Dorchester standout Byron Maxwell (36) will get a chance this season to make a name for himself.

CLEMSON -- Byron Maxwell spent the last four seasons in obscurity at Clemson, relatively unknown even in his hometown of North Charleston.

"I'm not really a big deal around there because you've got (North Carolina defensive end) Robert Quinn and you've got (Cincinnati Bengals defensive end) Carlos Dunlap," Maxwell said, "which is cool, I'm cool with that."

Quinn, a fellow North Charleston product, is a projected first-round NFL pick next spring. Dunlap was a second-round pick in April. Maxwell will try to join them as a household name in his hometown this fall as he enters his senior season with a starting position job for the first time in his college career.

While the Tigers lost 80 combined starts at cornerback with the graduation of Crezdon Butler and Chris Chancellor, the Clemson football staff believes its latest crop of defensive backs might be more talented. Head coach Dabo Swinney said five Clemson defensive backs could eventually play in the NFL, and Clemson figures to often field at least five defensive backs in the season opener at 3:30 p.m. today against the North Texas spread offense.

This season of opportunity was almost prematurely tossed away by Maxwell, a four-star prospect out of Fort Dorchester High in 2006.

Maxwell had considered transferring from Clemson earlier in his career. He was frustrated with being stuck behind Chancellor, Butler and Marcus Gilchrist on the depth chart, frustrated he was unable to compete in 2006 as he rehabilitated from a torn ACL he suffered in high school.

"I was pretty close," said Maxwell of transferring. "It was frustrating ... My stepmother really wanted me to be here and graduate. I'm glad she made me stay."

His decision to stay could be critical this fall.

Among the corners, Maxwell is the most physically impressive at 6-1, 200 pounds. Defensive backs coach Charlie Harbison said in the spring that when the Tigers meet another Demaryius Thomas-type receiver, the super-sized target will often be Maxwell's assignment.

Thomas gave Clemson trouble throughout his career at Georgia Tech. In the last two seasons, he caught nine passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns in three games against the Tigers, usually isolated against a smaller Clemson corner.

Another physically impressive ACC receiver, Miami's 6-3 Leonard Hankerson, caught five passes for 87 yards and a score last season against Clemson.

Maxwell, who excels in press coverage, will allow Clemson to match up more favorably with teams featuring bigger receivers, such as Miami, North Carolina, Auburn and Boston College.

Swinney said Maxwell has a physical advantage over the departed Butler and Chancellor.

"He's got a big body," Swinney said. "He's a physical player. He can run as well as (Butler and Chancellor). He's just longer ... and he really likes to mix it up at the line of scrimmage.

"He has really, really worked hard in the offseason in specific areas he could improve in: flexibility, his body.

"He's had an excellent camp."

Swinney said that if Maxwell plays with consistent energy and focus, he could become a star, and a big deal to those in Clemson and North Charleston.

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com, check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow him on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).