When Kelly Bryant takes his first snap for No. 5 Clemson on Saturday against Kent State, he will become just the second South Carolinian in the last 199 games to start at quarterback for the Tigers.
Willy Korn, from Duncan, started for Clemson in Dabo Swinney’s first game as the interim head coach against Georgia Tech in 2008, before being injured on his first pass attempt. You have to go all the way back to Woodrow Dantzler’s last game in a Clemson uniform to find another signal-caller from the Palmetto State under center for the Tigers.
“It means a lot being from South Carolina and being the guy and going out there on Saturday and starting,” Bryant said. “It says a lot. Now, and hopefully, it can open up more opportunities for guys from South Carolina to be the quarterback. If they can see me, then I can be their example. They know they can come in here and play as well.”
It’s fitting Dantzler, who is from Orangeburg, was the last South Carolinian to start and finish a game for the Tigers.
The former First-Team All-ACC quarterback is one of Bryant’s mentors and a good friend.
“He has been checking in on me. Just seeing how I am doing,” Bryant said. “How I am preparing. Just dropping off words of encouragement as well, stuff like that.”
Dantzler knows as well as anyone the highs and the lows of being a quarterback at Clemson. Though he set countless records in his career, including the first player in FBS history to throw for 2,000 yards and run for a 1,000 in the same season. He did it twice in fact, once in 2000 and again in 2001.
However, Dantlzer also felt the scrutiny from the fans and media when he and his teams did not always live up to expectations.
Since Bryant was named the starter by Swinney, Dantzler has checked in from time to time with Clemson’s new quarterback just to see how he was preparing and to give him some words of encouragement.
“All eyes are going to be on me,” Bryant recalled from some of Dantzler’s advice. “I’m the quarterback. Now you have to be prepared, probably more than anyone on the whole team. When things are going good, everyone is going to look at you and praise you.
“But how are you going to respond when the criticism comes which comes with the job as well? Just handing both situations is something he has been preaching to me and throwing in my ear.”
Bryant first met Dantzler a few years back while working one of Swinney’s camps. The two instantly connected and have been friends ever since.
“He seems like he is a lot like me. He has a lot of energy,” Bryant said. “He loves what he does. I know he had success here. Maybe by getting close to him, maybe he can give me a few pointers.”
Dantzler had a lot of success at Clemson as he set countless records during his four seasons in Tigertown. He is arguably one of the greatest quarterbacks the program has ever had as he ranks fourth in school history in passing yards (6,037), sixth in pass attempts (796), fifth in completions (460), seventh in completion percentage (57.8), fifth in passing touchdowns (41), seventh in interceptions avoidance (3.02) and fifth in passing efficiency (132.5).
Dantzler also ranks ninth all time in rushing yards (2,761) and rushing touchdowns (27). His 8,798 total yards rank fourth all time and his 68 total touchdowns rank third all time.
“I watched a couple of highlights. The guy was electric,” Bryant said. “He made plays with his feet as well as with his arm. He just came here and did what was asked of him and more. It was just awesome to see him and then have that relationship where I can just shoot him a text. He is right there. I have him in my circle and that is all I really need.”
Of course Dantzler’s last game came in the 2001 Humanitarian Bowl where he torched Louisiana Tech for 218 yards and four touchdowns on 15 of 23 attempts with no interceptions in the Tigers’ 49-24 victory, still the most points ever scored by a Clemson team in a bowl game. He also rushed for 57 yards in that snowy game.
“I can see myself in him,” Bryant said. “It was just the way he played and the style of game that he had. He was that dual-threat (quarterback) where the defense had to worry about his arm as well as his feet. If you focus on one, then he could get you with the other so watching his highlights reminds me of myself as well.”
The best advice Bryant said Dantzler gave him was to just play with confidence and be the leader he knows he can be.
“He said I have to step out of that comfort zone,” Bryant recalled. “You are coming into a new role. You are getting the opportunity to be the starter and now you have to command the attention of your teammates and also the guys in the huddle that you work with all summer and in fall camp.”