Reload not rebuild: Belmont native Tanner Muse steps in as Clemson’s defensive leader

When Tanner Muse stepped into the car on Wednesday with Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and John Simpson, he wasn’t prepared for the royal treatment that comes when traveling with his head coach.

Swinney is pampered, Muse said during ACC Media Day in Charlotte this week, and the treatment rubbed off on them.

“Somebody handed me my seat belt,” Muse said. “I’m like, ‘Well, I could have grabbed it, but thank you. I appreciate it.’”

In a way, this treatment is almost expected. Muse, a graduate safety, is a two-time national champion, playing crucial roles in both victories over Alabama in 2016 and 2018. But, he doesn’t let the fame — or those rare instances of special treatment — get to his head.

“I’m from the South — Belmont, North Carolina. I don’t get pampered,” Muse said. “My dad does not allow it. My mom tries to, and they always fuss and fight about it, about me and (his brother) Nick being babied all the time.”

At his core, Muse says he remains the same South Point High alum, unwavering in his drive to help others. Now, as much of Clemson’s defense either has graduated or gone on to the NFL, the 22-year-old must take on a larger leadership role as Clemson heads into the 2019 season to defend its title.

This past spring, Muse could’ve opted to skip his fourth year and enter the NFL draft. But he said he has a few things to work on, like man-to-man coverage.

“I have a lot more to prove as a player, and I think I’ve got a lot of things that I can work on and get better,” Muse said. “At the end of the day, it’ll increase my draft stock as well.”

He’ll enter this upcoming season with 164 career tackles and 1,252 snaps over 44 career games, which have included 24 starts.

Muse says he will use this year to step into a more vocal leadership role, holding his teammates accountable and vice versa, he said.

Many of the slew of younger players joining the defense gained experience during multiple blowout wins last year. Muse emphasized during ACC Media Day that Clemson doesn’t rebuild — they reload.

“We’re the attacking champions, we’re not defending,” he said. “We’re trying to get that next one. Anything we’ve done before, it doesn’t really matter. We don’t have those same guys anymore. So we’re always looking for what’s next.

“Like Coach Swinney says, the best is yet to come.”