CLEMSON — There's a fine line between being the man and being a madman, and Brandon Maye straddles it daily.

"He's got a lot of anger when he hits the field, which is a good thing," said Clemson assistant David Blackwell, Maye's position coach. "But he's got to find a way to channel it the right way."

Finding the delicate balance between psyched and psycho can be difficult in a game built largely on aggression, and Maye represents one of the best examples of that.

"I just like playing with a lot of emotion," was his explanation after the Tigers wrapped up practice Wednesday.

"It's been a challenge, trying to convert all that into really being able to play within the scheme."

Clemson's staff is hoping Maye successfully conquers that challenge between now and Aug. 30, when the Tigers open the season against Alabama in Atlanta.

Maye, a redshirt freshman middle linebacker from Mobile, Ala., will get his first college snap. And odds are, he'll be starting.

"He's not ready now, but if he continues to work, I'll be more comfortable," said head coach Tommy Bowden. "But you're never really (comfortable) starting somebody in a game of that magnitude who's never played."

Blackwell, who's entering his sixth season with the Tigers, said Maye reminds him of former Clemson linebacker Anthony Waters. The most common trait is the hair-trigger temper that can flare at any time.

Waters, who exhausted his eligibility in 2006, eventually learned to channel his rage and became a star. Now Blackwell is hoping Maye can replicate that example.

"We've got to have thick skin," Blackwell said. "Right now, he's got thin skin. He lets a bad play affect him too much. So when he messes up, he takes it personal. And he's got to learn to let it go.

"Anthony was much like that as a young player. It's just something we've got to kind of harness, his intensity and his volatileness. You don't want to get rid of it. You just want to harness it and funnel it in the right direction. It's a learning experience for him."

Maye considers himself lucky to be experiencing life in a Clemson uniform. Halfway through his senior year at Davidson High in Mobile, he had two scholarship offers he considered firm: Southern Mississippi and South Carolina.

The Gamecocks backed off before he and a teammate were scheduled to take a visit to Columbia. Then the Golden Eagles pulled away, leaving Alabama State as Maye's only remaining option.

"I was in tears," he said.

But a few weeks before signing day, Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning obtained film of Maye. He liked what he saw and made an offer.

Maye stood out in practice as a redshirt last season and had a productive spring. But his progression at middle linebacker was accelerated in May, when would-be senior Cortney Vincent was kicked off the team. Also, Antonio Clay is expected to transfer and use his final year of eligibility elsewhere.

No one doubts the 6-2, 225-pound Maye is capable of becoming a standout player; the only question is when.

"We don't have another year-and-a-half for him to continue to mature and get the reps," Koenning said. "We've got three weeks."

To hold on to the starting job, Maye will have to battle freshman Stanley Hunter, senior Josh Miller and his temper. With an embarrassed laugh Wednesday, he recalled a moment from earlier this week when it got the best of him.

"Right after the play, I got tangled up with a couple of offensive linemen," he said. "They wanted to hold on to me late, and I had to fight them."

He says he's confident he'll be able to fight that urge once the lights come on inside the Georgia Dome.

"I'm starting to walk that line right now, now that I'm having to focus in on all the plays and stuff," he said. "Right now, it's crazy. The play's going through my head, and at the same time I'm trying to make the play without knowing that I've got to play within the scheme.

"So I'm learning."

This and that

Left guard David Smith said he's confident he'll be at full speed by Monday at the latest. Smith hasn't practiced after suffering a dislocated big toe during voluntary workouts ... Receiver Jacoby Ford (ankle) said he's back to full speed and will play in Saturday's scrimmage … Tight end Michael Palmer (pulled hamstring) missed Wednesday's practice ... Receiver Xavier Dye (bruised shoulder) remains limited ... Running back Rendrick Taylor missed practice to attend to personal matters ... Bowden said after Wednesday's practice that live punting and kicking is "not real good right now." ... Bowden said the defensive front seven lacks leadership and he's counting on a veteran or two to provide it ... The Tigers dealt with final exams and 100-degree temperatures Wednesday. Today: their first two-a-day.