By Tim Bourret
Every once in a while you run across a former Clemson athlete who in some ways had a better professional career than he did in college.
That was certainly the case with Dwight Clark, who only had 33 receptions for 571 yards in his four years at Clemson from 1975-78. He never made a first or second-team All-ACC squad.
In nine years with the San Francisco 49ers, Clark had 506 receptions for 6,750 yards and 48 touchdowns. He led the NFL in receptions, was All-Pro twice, played on two Super Bowl Championship teams, and had his number 87 retired by the 49ers.
Former Clemson defensive back Byron Maxwell had a solid Clemson career from 2007-10, helping the Tigers to four bowl games and the school's first Atlantic Division Championship in 2009. He finished his Clemson career with 24 passes defensed, including four interceptions.
Ironically, one of his four career interceptions at Clemson was against Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, his current teammate, when Wilson was the starting quarterback at NC State. Maxwell's pick led to a Clemson touchdown in a 43-23 Clemson victory in Raleigh in 2009.
Maxwell never missed a game in his four seasons and played 53 total, but started just eight. This Sunday he will start his eighth game this season for the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
It has been quite a ride for Maxwell, a ride that did not really start until the last five games of this regular season when he moved into the starting lineup. Since he became a starter he has four interceptions, the same amount he had in 53 games at Clemson.
The native of Fort Dorchester, SC had 13 passes broken up to go with those four interceptions and finished the year tied for 10th in the NFC in passes defensed with 17, quite an accomplishment for someone who started only five regular season games.
Maxwell has become a key member of the "Legion of Boom" the nickname given to the Seattle secondary that has 28 interceptions this year, five more than any other team in the NFL. Maxwell has contributed five takeaways to the Seahawks NFL leading 39. The Seahawks also lead the NFL in total defense, pass defense, yards per play, scoring defense and defensive passer rating.
Maxwell has a history of patience and it has paid off at the NFL level. Ranked as the #40 high school player in the nation by ESPN.com for the Clemson signee class of 2006, he suffered a torn ACL his senior year of high school and sat out the 2006 season at Clemson.
He became Clemson's best special teams player and reliable back up for the 2007, 2008 and 2009 seasons, then started eight games in 2010. In April of 2011 he was a sixth round draft choice of the Seahawks, the 173rd player taken. It just about resembled Clark's 10th round selection by San Francisco in 1979.
His first two years in the NFL he has been a backup and special teams player, being patient before he got his chance this year.
"At this point, he's well-prepared and he's playing as well as any corner in the NFL," said Seahawks leader Richard Sherman of Maxwell in a guest column on mmqb.com a couple of weeks ago.
Maxwell's breakout game came on December 15 when he had two interceptions in a dominating win over the New York Giants in New Jersey, the same stadium that will hold the Super Bowl this weekend.
"What is shows you is that Byron is challenging everything," said Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll after the game. "He is totally confident he can get it done."
Maxwell will be challenged in the Super Bowl as he will probably defend Broncos receiver Eric Decker, who at 6-3 and 214 pounds is much bigger than Maxwell. Decker has 33 touchdowns in the last four years.
Whatever the challenge, Maxwell will be ready, as he has been in each of his previous seven starting assignments. Seattle has won six of the seven including two playoff games. If Seattle gains victory Maxwell will be the first former Tiger to wear a Super Bowl Championship Ring since Anthony Waters won a ring with the New Orleans Saints for the 2009 season and the first former Tiger to start the Super Bowl for the championship team since James Trapp for Baltimore 13 years ago.