By Will Vandervort
In about 12 weeks, a new era at Clemson will begin. When the Tigers take to the practice fields in March to begin spring practice, for the first time in five years Tajh Boyd’s smiling face will not be there with them.
“It’s going to be weird not seeing Tajh there,” wide receiver Adam Humphries said. “Tajh is really the only one I have caught a football from so it is going to be strange having to get used to catching the football from somebody else.”
And no one knows who that someone is going to be. Will it be three-year backup Cole Stoudt, redshirt freshman Chad Kelly or incoming freshman Deshaun Watson, the No. 1 ranked quarterback coming out of high school who will enroll at Clemson in January?
“I’m excited about it,” said Stoudt as he and the Tigers prepare for the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 in Miami, Fla. “Competition is one of the big things about college football. If you don’t have competition, then you really can’t get better because you don’t have someone pushing you.
“I’m excited about it. I know Chad and them are going to be excited, too. It is going to be a good spring and a good competition.”
Though Stoudt says he is focused on getting ready for his home-state team the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl and isn’t looking too far ahead, it seems he will be the designated starter when spring practice begins in March. And why not? At this point he has earned it.
In the last three years, Stoudt has backed up one of the greatest quarterbacks to have played in the Atlantic Coast Conference. While Boyd was leading the Tigers to an ACC Championship and two Orange Bowl appearances and breaking every record at Clemson and the ACC along the way, Stoudt has patiently sat by and made sure he was ready if his number was called.
“Patience is something I had to learn because in high school I started for three years. When I came here I wanted to start right away, but I had to learn that you can have what you want right away,” Stoudt said. “You have to learn so much because the game is so much faster.
“Each day I prepare myself more and more and through that my award will come. If I’m not the starter, then I’m not the starter, but I know I can make myself the best that I can be. I’m just waiting for my time and when I’m ready, I’ll play.”
When his number has been called, Stoudt has been ready. During his freshman season he was called on to replace an injured Boyd in the Boston College game and he guided the Tigers to two scoring drives, clinching Clemson’s 36-14 victory. When Boyd got banged up in the S.C. State game earlier this season, he once again came in and led the Tigers on another scoring drive.
For his career, Stoudt has appeared in 22 games, taken 287 snaps while completing 86 of 119 passes for 742 yards, eight touchdowns and only one interception. In that S.C. State game, he completed 19 of 20 passes for 143 yards, setting a school record for completion percentage in one game.
“It has been my best season, but I still have a lot to improve on. I’m nowhere near perfect,” he said.
For a career backup he is. So far this year, Stoudt has completed 47 of 59 passes when he has gotten in the game, including a career-high five touchdown passes. He also has become a better runner, rushing 14 times for 58 yards and two more scores.
It appears, at least from the outside looking in, that Stoudt’s time to be a starting quarterback is almost here.
“I kind of have that mindset, but it is all about the coaches,” he said. “You have to go out there and perform. It does not matter what you think. It is about what the coaches decide and how you perform. How you perform is what the coaches are going to do. So I have to go out there and just be me and do what I can do.”
Though Watson is going to one of the two guys vying to take the job Stoudt has patiently waited for, the rising senior says he is ready to take the freshman under his wing and show him the ropes and what is expected of the quarterbacks at Clemson University.
“Tajh did the same thing for me as did Donnie (McElveen) and all the other guys,” Stoudt said. “Right when I walked in, they put their arms around me and said, ‘Alright, this is how you do things. This is what you have to get done in school, on the field and off the field. This is what you have to do for each play.’
“Tajh has been one of my coaches since I have been here. Every single day if I come off the field and it was a bad play, he will explain what I did wrong.”
As for right now, Stoudt says he is focused only on the Buckeyes and getting himself ready for the Orange Bowl. He doesn’t want to look too far ahead or he could lose focus on the little things.
“After the game, we will worry about everything else,” he said.
And why not wait another three weeks. What’s three more weeks? He has already waited three years.