Coming to Tigerillustrated.com this week
After his freshman year of high school in Salina, Kan., Brent Venables stood 6 foot and 190 pounds.
That's pretty big for that age. Big enough to play varsity football for Salina South High School. Big enough for him to start carrying himself with some confidence.
And big enough to whip his stepfather's ass.
Tell Thomas Brent Venables that you've heard bits and pieces of his life story, ask him if he's willing to tell it to you and to the world, and you'd better have some time.
Time for him to get through the all-consuming grind of a national championship football season, time for him to get through recruiting and then through the first few weeks of spring practice.
And then, once spring break arrives and college football's top assistant coach is ready to sit down and tell it from the very beginning to now, be sure to block off a few hours as Tigerillustrated.com did when we visited with the coach over the last couple of weeks.
Also, come prepared to have the hairs stand up on the back of your neck and the goosebumps rise from your forearms -- and maybe even to wipe away a tear or two -- as Venables tells a gripping story of obstacles overcome.
When Venables was 2 years old, the youngest of three brothers, their father decided he didn't want to be a father or a husband anymore. So he left.
That triggered a move from Florida to Kansas for a mother, Nancy, and her three boys.
It also triggered a succession of abusive stepfathers as Nancy decided that family dysfunction tied with the husbands' income was worth keeping the family from going homeless.
Venables remembers when times were so tough that the family was on food stamps and a lot of meals consisted of government cheese between two pieces of bread. He remembers spending a lot of nights at the homes of friends because the electricity was turned off, or because the latest man of the house was beating up on his mom or his brothers.
He remembers crying himself to sleep at night, hoping a new day would bring a better life.
So there came a time when Venables was finally in position to make things better.
By the end of Brent's ninth-grade year, Nancy was on stepfather No. 3. His name was Jim, and just like the previous two he was fond of alcohol and getting physical.
Venables remembers it was a Saturday evening that summer, about 5 or 6, when someone told him Jim hit Nancy the previous night at a bar.
So he hopped into a buddy's car and they went through town looking for Jim.
"I remember thinking that this was a moment that was way overdue," Venables said. "I remember telling myself: 'This is going to stop now. I'm big enough and old enough that I'm going to help my mom. I'm going to give her a way out.'"
They found Jim at a bar, and Nancy was there too.
He walked up to Jim and asked him if he put his hands on his mother.
"Yes," Jim responded. "What are you going to do about it?"
Venables: "So I beat him up in front of all his buddies. And that was pretty much the end of that relationship."
This is but one of the snapshots from a captivating story that goes so much deeper than what we see of Venables on fall Saturdays.
He has made Clemson into the definition of consistently great defense, but rich football success only partially defines a man who is in the happily-ever-after section of a tumultuous life.
Venables' gyrations and shouting from the sideline might give the impression that coming up with a stop on third-and-7 is the biggest thing in the world.
Not even close.
Starting Monday in part one of this multi-day series, as we officially celebrate 20 years online, Venables shares his life story with Tigerillustrated.com.
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