Clemson freshman quarterback Hunter Johnson stood on the sidelines Saturday and waited patiently for his opportunity to play in the season opener against Kent State.
After watching Kelly Bryant shine in his first career start, and then seeing second-team quarterback Zerrick Cooper get his reps, Johnson was called upon in the fourth quarter. The former five-star recruit didn’t look like a true freshman playing in his first career game and wasn’t fazed by the new stage.
“It just felt normal to me,” Johnson said afterward. “I felt comfortable, just felt good out there with the guys, and we were able to go out and execute and move the ball.”
Johnson completed five of his six passing attempts for 39 yards and closed out the Tigers’ 56-3 win.
The native of Brownsburg, Ind., enjoyed getting his feet wet and soaked in his first experience in Death Valley as a player.
“Just taking it all in,” Johnson said. “With it being my first game here and having the opportunity to go out and play a little bit, you just take it all in and enjoy it and learn from it and move on.”
It was a rewarding taste of game action for Johnson, who had waited nine months to get to this point.
Johnson arrived on campus in January as an early enrollee and thus was able to participate in spring practice, something he credited for helping him be ready when his chance to play came.
“It’s been a lot. It’s been great though,” he said. “I’m really happy I came in mid-year. I kind of got a little bit of a jumpstart with spring ball, so I feel like that definitely helped me out a lot. I could definitely tell a difference between spring and fall, just coming in feeling comfortable with the players and getting to know them throughout that whole time, building trust and just going out there and executing.”
A three-year starter at Brownsburg High, Johnson threw for 6,657 yards and 69 touchdowns during his career.
Johnson, who came out of high school as the nation’s top-ranked quarterback, certainly would have liked to enter the game before the final period Saturday.
Though he came out on the short end of Clemson’s three-way quarterback battle with the more experienced Bryant and Cooper, Johnson isn’t pouting about the way things panned out. Instead, he’s working for more opportunities to play while pulling for his competitors at the same time.
“We all root for each other,” Johnson said. “It’s a healthy environment in our QB room, between coach (Brandon) Streeter and all the QB’s in the room. We’re always supporting each other and hoping for the best for each other, and that makes it a lot more fun for all of us.”