From the archives of Gatorsports: Muschamp showed sports aptitude at early age

Published: Monday, December 13, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, December 12, 2010 at 8:45 p.m.

Originally published: Friday, Oct. 11, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.


Will Muschamp (34) in 1985. (Photo courtesy of Oak Hall School)

Those who knew Will Muschamp as a child had no doubt he was going to be a college athlete.

After all, he was a kid so much bigger and faster than everyone else as a sixth-grader, that when it came time to divide the P.E. classes at Martha Manson Academy into two football teams, Muschamp played quarterback for both sides. It wouldn't have been fair, otherwise.

And a year later, in 1985, when he arrived at Oak Hall, Muschamp and four others his age tried out for the varsity football team (there was no JV). After a couple of weeks, the scrawny quartet was told by coach John Clifford they might be better served playing at the Boys Club, but they'd be welcomed back as eighth-graders.

However, Muschamp, already about 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, was an instant starter.

And Clifford not only saw a young man with tremendous ability, but one who also had an aptitude for understanding the nuances of the game.

"I knew he was going to be a coach from the beginning," said Clifford, now P.K. Yonge's coach/athletic director. "He was pretty much groomed from a young age. His family was very sports-oriented, with his father (Larry) being a former coach. Plus, when Will's two older brothers (Pat and Mike) played for me, they'd take film home and break it down. I had Will start doing that when he was in the eighth grade.

"He was different than most in that not only was he able to enjoy the game, he was able to analyze it, too."

Clifford knew what he was talking about, as now, after a playing career that saw him recover from a nasty broken leg late in his junior season (at the Darlington School in Rome, Ga.) to become a starting safety for the University of Georgia, Muschamp has been a graduate assistant at Auburn (1995-97), outside linebackers coach at Jacksonville State (1997), secondary coach at West Georgia (1998), secondary coach at Eastern Kentucky (1999), defensive coordinator at Valdosta State (2000), linebackers coach at LSU last year and now, after a promotion on March 4, the Tigers' defensive coordinator.

"I've been very fortunate in that I've been in the right place at the right time and known the right people," said Muschamp, 31, who used to walk to games at Florida Field every weekend as a kid. "Because of that, opportunities have come to me. And at each stop I've been, I've taken little pieces that have helped me develop. The truth is, I still learn things every day."

That shows in the performance of his unit, which leads the SEC in pass defense (115.6 yards-a-game), run defense (86.4 yards) and scoring defense (11.2 points).

But Muschamp admits that 4-1 LSU's opponents so far — Virginia Tech, The Citadel, Miami (Ohio), Mississippi State and Louisiana-Lafayette — are all somewhat one-dimensional, something he won't see Saturday when the Tigers visit Florida (4-2).

"I believe Rex Grossman is the best quarterback in our conference," Muschamp said. "Earnest Graham is as good as any back, and Taylor Jacobs is the best receiver. So, they pose a ton of challenges in all areas."

But challenges are something Muschamp is used to overcoming.

"Will's a worker," Larry Muschamp said. "He's in the office at (5) every morning and has made himself what he is.

"I remember before he broke his leg in high school, 60 or 70 schools had made contact, but after, the phone didn't ring. But he walked on at Georgia, earned a scholarship and made himself an important contributor. That's just the way he is."

In Baton Rouge, Muschamp meets with head coach Nick Saban (known as a defensive specialist) numerous times each week to discuss game plans, but on Saturdays, aside from occasional pow-wows, Muschamp calls everything. And down the road — who knows? — the experience he has gained in this and his previous stops could make him a head coaching candidate.

"Maybe someday," Muschamp said. "I think everybody would love that opportunity, but I'm enjoying the role I'm in right now. I'm pretty happy."

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