NEW ORLEANS — As Clemson and Alabama were giving the college football world two of the greatest games in the history of college football the last two years, Kelly Bryant quietly sat on the sidelines and watched it all unfold.
“As a competitor I always wanted to be out there playing but there’s always a time when you have to be patient and wait your turn, and that’s what I did,” the Clemson quarterback said on Friday, just three days before he leads the top-ranked Tigers in to battle against No. 4 Alabama in the College Football Playoff Semifinals at the Sugar Bowl.
The last two years, Bryant watched as Deshaun Watson carved up the Crimson Tide defense for 941 total yards and eight touchdowns, including a national championship passing record 420 yards in last year’s 35-31 Clemson victory. Watson also set a championship game record with 478 total yards in the 2016 National Championship Game.
Bryant, who is the first Clemson quarterback in school history to lead the Tigers to a 12-1 record in his first year as starter, is not likely to put up Watson-like numbers. However, he not only watched what Watson did against the Tide the last two years, but he paid attention to the way in which Watson prepared for the game and how handled the game, the attention and the pressure.
“I continued to grow and soak up as much knowledge as I could through Deshaun and the coaching staff. It helped me become the player I am today,” he said.
Despite all the speculation if he could succeed as Clemson’s quarterback, Bryant has become one of the best players in the ACC. He has not only guided the Tigers back to the College Football Playoffs and to a third straight ACC Championship, but he was voted as the Player of the Game in the ACC Championship Game.
Against Miami’s vaunted secondary, the junior tied a career-mark with 23 completions on 29 attempts for 252 yards. This came on a day when Clemson’s running game was held to 77 yards on 41 carries.
Bryant’s performance against the Hurricanes proves how far he has come as passer, especially when defenses are doing all they can to stop the running game. Entering Monday’s Sugar Bowl, Bryant ranks fourth in the FBS in completion percentage at 67.4 percent.
“The coaches are straight up with you. They tell you they are going to bring in the top rated players in the country and that you need to make sure you are working and pushing yourself to be a better player at all times.”
Also, Bryant has a quarterback rating that is one of the best in the country as well.
Bryant’s performance goes hand in hand with his team. No one gave Clemson much of a shot to win the ACC this season, let alone return to the College Football Playoff for a third straight year.
“It’s a process,” Bryant said. “After the championship game last year, everyone was talking about how we couldn’t get back to this stage and not a lot of people gave this team a chance. So we took that doubt and ran with it and had that mindset of coming ready to work and here we are right now.”
As for having an opportunity to play on the stage he will be playing on Monday night in the Superdome, the Clemson quarterback can’t wait.
“It’s something every kid that grows up watching football dreams about … playing in a semifinal game against a team like Alabama,” he said. “I’m ready and I’m trying to embrace it and make the most of this opportunity.”