By Will Vandervort.
When he was watching the Clemson-Georgia Tech game last Saturday, Mickey Conn simply chuckled when ESPN color analyst Ed Cunningham suggested Clemson quarterback Nick Schuessler did not want to take off his green vest and come in the game.
“It was kind of sickening watching the game and listening to the announcer say something like that,” Conn said. “That is nothing like Nick Schuessler. Nick Schuessler wants to take that green vest off and get in the ball game. He wants to compete. He is not scared to compete. He wants to get out there and he wants to compete and he wants to give his team a chance.”
Conn knows that better than anyone. Schuessler was his starting quarterback at Grayson High School when he led the Rams to an undefeated Class AAAAA State Championship in 2011.
“The kid is just a winner,” said Conn, whose Grayson team will play Tucker High School in the second-round of the Georgia High School League Playoffs on Friday. “That year we were 15-0, and the year before he took us to the semifinals as the starting quarterback.”
What makes Schuessler a winner isn’t based on how he practices or things like that, but it’s how he takes a challenge head on.
After falling to Colquitt County High School in the 2010 state semifinals, Conn and is coaching staff learned that if they wanted to win a state championship they had to be a little more creative in their offensive system. Though his wing-T offense was explosive and allowed the Rams to score a lot of points, one thing it was not conducive to was coming from behind.
A late fumble allowed Colquitt to take the lead and Grayson had very little chance of rallying. Its season ended there and Conn went back to the drawing board.
“We did not have enough of the spread game in there to come-from-behind,” he said. “We just figured out, in order to win the whole thing we were going to have to mix in more four-wide and passing concepts to give our kids a chance.”
That off season Conn and his staff put all those concepts together and put a plan in place. It helped, however, that he had Schuessler at quarterback. Though he was still in high school, Schuessler did not back away from the challenge of learning something new as he grasped the system and ran with it.
“We went more to a spread offense because we had such a good quarterback in Nick,” Conn said.
“We had the receivers to throw to and all that as well, but Nick is an incredible quarterback,” the coach continued.
Like a replay of the previous year, Grayson built a two-touchdown lead on Colquitt and was in control of the game much of the night. But the Packers mounted another fourth-quarter comeback and took the lead on a field goal with a little more than seven minutes left.
Faced with a third down-and-seven situation from his own 16 on the ensuing drive, Conn went to the spread and Schuessler hit Austin Meadows—now in the Pittsburgh Pirates organization—over the middle for a 26-yard gain.
“Everybody was kind of just stressed out,” said Clemson running back Wayne Gallman, who was also a high school teammate of Schuessler. “Coach Conn was on the sideline kind of sweating it, but Nick was on the field and he was real calm and collected.
“He just has that mindset that he can do what he wants to do.”
Ten plays and a-pass-interference call later, the Rams found themselves at the Colquitt six-yard line. Conn again went to the spread and called for a quick slant over the middle. But it was anything but quick. The Packers jumped the route so Schuessler had to give his wideout a little more time to get open, which Marcus Lindquist did.
Schuessler darted a pass into Lindquist’s gut with 28 seconds left and Grayson was on its way to the state championship with a 35-31 victory.
“If it had been a spear, it would have killed our poor receiver. It stuck in him,” Conn said. “Nick was cool the whole night.
“He dinked and dunked us down the field on that last drive and we mixed in a little bit of the run, but the biggest thing was all the guys saw in his eyes that he was confident and he was not going to be beat.”
Gallman says he still sees that look in Schuessler’s eyes and he is glad to see his high school quarterback possibly get a chance to play more on Saturday when the Tigers take on Georgia State in Death Valley. Earlier this week, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris said the redshirt sophomore will play a lot against the Panthers.
If starting quarterback Deshaun Watson can’t go, Clemson (7-3) needs to get Schuessler playing time in a competitive situation so that he will be more prepared when the Tigers play archrival South Carolina on Nov. 29.
He will enter the Georgia State game listed as the backup to senior Cole Stoudt, who Swinney said Tuesday is going to start.
“I’m just glad he is finally getting his chance. He has not really had that opportunity yet,” Gallman said. “I know when he is preparing he is going to be preparing like he is supposed to. He will do what he needs to do.”
Conn says Clemson fans will like what they see in Schuessler because he knows he will make the most of his opportunity.
“I think they will see a confident kid,” Conn said. “If he does get his opportunity he is going to be excited. He is going to be playing with a lot of energy and I think he will be able to throw the football and move it around and get it to some of those big receivers they have.
“I don’t know what the schemes are and what all they are doing, but I know that Nick will be excited and he will be ready to go. I can tell you that. He will not back down from it. That is for sure. He will go out there and he will attack it and give all he has to it.”