While Hunter Johnson isn’t new to Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his program, it’s sort of a new beginning for the veteran signal-caller.
After transferring to Northwestern, where he played in just 11 games over three seasons, completing 51% of his passes with five touchdown tosses and eight interceptions, Johnson is back for his second stint at Clemson.
Swinney has often referred to the sixth-year quarterback as a “boomerang portal guy.”
Clemson’s head coach revealed earlier this offseason that Johnson was originally going to return to the program to work on his MBA while simultaneously serving as a graduate assistant next season before learning Johnson still had his COVID year to use as a player. Johnson’s primary role will be providing some needed depth and experience at the quarterback position.
“It’s been fun watching Hunter,” Clemson’s head coach said Wednesday. “The game is so much slower to him from the last time I had my eyes on him on a football field. He’s a great leader.”
Swinney continued to harp on Johnson’s leadership abilities. He wants to coach and the expectation is that he’ll make that transition after exhausting his final year of eligibility this season. For now, Johnson is obviously focusing on being a player, but Swinney said that he has the characteristics and the knowledge of a future coach.
“He’s just soaking it up, man, “Swinney said. “I think he’s really living his best life right now. He loves Clemson and being back here in a completely different experience and perspective. Life brings perspective as you get older…He’s just very self-aware, very knowledgeable and so confident…He gets it on every level. He’s experienced just about everything at that position. He’s just having fun and taking advantage of his reps. He’s super talented and I think he’s kind of found his joy.”
Swinney was asked about what Johnson’s voice could mean for guys like DJ Uiagalelei and Cade Klubnik, but instead made Johnson’s presence into a referendum on Clemson’s quarterback room as a whole.
“It’s valuable to have his voice and his arm and his feet,” Swinney said. “As we all know, that position is critical. We’re just really, really blessed and I mean really fortunate to have the guys that we have because I think they can all play. Obviously those three guys (Johnson, Uiagalelei and Klubnik), but Billy Dimes (Wiles) can play and Hunter (Helms) is smart as crap — knows every detail of everything and is an accurate thrower. All of them can go play and I’m super excited to have Trent (Pearman) joining them, so it’s just a really, really good, functional room.”
“And we have not had that type of functionality, we’ve had to kind of create it here and there, but it makes a big difference,” he added.