By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Cliff Stoudt knows all too well what it is like to be the backup to a legendary quarterback. For six years, he was the backup to Hall of Fame quarterback Terry Bradshaw of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Youngstown State product patiently waited for his time and when Bradshaw had an injury plagued final season in 1983, Stoudt finally got his chance and made the most of it. He led the Steelers to a 10-6 record and another AFC Central Division Championship.
Now, 30 years later, Stoudt is using that experience to help his son, Cole, be prepared for when his number is called. The younger Stoudt has spent the last two seasons—and will again this year—playing behind Clemson’s All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd.
While Boyd has taken the Tigers to an ACC Championship, has been named ACC Player of the Year, has been the MVP of the ACC Championship Game and has set 51 Clemson passing records, Cole has patiently waited his turn, all the while getting some very helpful advice from his father.
“I don’t think I have ever gone home and he hasn’t talked to me about football,” Cole Stoudt said. “Every single time we do talk about it, it is a great conversation.”
Having his father’s support and understanding what it is like to be where Cole is currently at has helped the Tigers’ backup quarterback understand his role on the team a little more than some at the college game.
Though he would love to be the starting quarterback, and that is why he came to Clemson, Cole knows the job belongs to Boyd right now, and his job is to push Boyd to be the best he can be.
“In the meeting rooms, we are still coaching up each other like me, Donny (McElveen) and Chad (Kelly), we all are coaching up Tajh and Tajh is coaching us up,” he said. “It is like we are all kind of coaching up each other to get all of us better.”
With Kelly breathing down his neck to try and overtake the No. 2 spot on the depth chart, Stoudt is having his best spring to this point at Clemson. In Wednesday’s scrimmage at Death Valley, the Dublin, OH native completed 6 of 9 passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
“Cole was incredibly confident,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Cole has been playing with a great deal of confidence this spring. Though he has been the No. 2 guy in each of the last two seasons, it does not guarantee him the starting sport when Boyd uses up his eligibility this fall. To be the starting quarterback next year, he has to act like he is the starting quarterback this year, which is something he has taken great pride in.
“I think every spring is big, but this one is pretty big,” he said. “Next year, when Tajh is gone, it is going to be just Chad and myself battling it out, again. I’m trying to get as much as I can get done here and be the best that I can be so I can have some playing time next year.
“I’m hoping I will.”
Clemson offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Chad Morris has seen a difference in Stoudt than in the previous two years he has coached him. The biggest difference has been Cole’s maturity level. His preparation, his practice habits and his demeanor have all gone up another notch or two.
“Cole is a little more confident in what he is doing, and I think that is because he has been in it for three years,” Morris said. “You are really seeing his veteran like qualities kind of pay off.”
Though he is an intense battle with Kelly for the No. 2 job behind Boyd, Stoudt isn’t thinking about that. Competition is natural in sports and it especially comes with the territory in being a quarterback. For him, it is all about playing the game he loves and having fun while he is doing it.
“I’m just relaxed more, and I go out there have some fun,” he said. “I have tried to learn a little bit more about the game, on like why certain plays are called. We could be calling something for later on down the road or it is just the strategy behind the plays.
“Being this is my third year, I’m trying to get all the strategies down and trying to be a coach of the game, but a player too.”
As for why he has not left Clemson for potentially more playing time somewhere else, Stoudt’s answer was quite simple. He loves Clemson.
“I don’t think there is any other place like Clemson,” he said. “I have loved it ever since I have been here. The coaches are great. Being around these coaches is like another family.
“Before my parents moved down from Ohio, Clemson is all I had so when I had to go talk to someone it had to be the coaches. They are parents to me. I don’t think I can ever leave. Even after college, I might stay in Clemson.”