GREENSBORO, N.C. — Patience is a concept that’s much more easily discussed than it is put to good use. But Clemson senior quarterback Cole Stoudt has always been more patient than most.
"In high school, I had a little bit of patience. When I was a freshman, my brother was a senior, so I was doing freshman ball and he was doing his year. I had to be patient and wait for that," Stoudt said. "I didn’t have to wait long, because then I had to go into a little competition battle my sophomore year and I won that."
Now, he’s been waiting behind Tajh Boyd for the last three years — though Boyd’s success at Clemson certainly made it easier for Stoudt.
When Boyd considered going pro before his senior season, Stoudt — who remains good friends with Boyd to this day — insisted he didn’t try to convince his friend to go to the NFL so that the job would be his.
If you were casting a movie and the role was just for "quarterback", Stoudt — long, tousled hair and All-American good looks — would be your guy. He already knows what he’s doing around the media, too, saying he would go through his progressions "one read at a time" and "take what the defense gives him".
Stoudt departed from the coachspeak long enough to admit that this wait to take over the starting quarterback job hasn’t been an easy one.
Of the 27 quarterbacks ranked higher than Stoudt out of high school in 2011, 11 have already transferred and of the 16 who didn’t, there are only four remaining who have not yet become starters who are still on their respective teams. Just three are actual backup quarterbacks; one was switched to wide receiver.
And so the wait to start was a wait most of them couldn’t endure. Except Stoudt. But it wasn’t any easier for him when the Greenville, South Carolina native was even asked by his own family if he was considering starting over somewhere else.
"I never once thought about leaving Clemson. I was born in Greenville. … I was born with orange in my blood and I never once ever thought about transferring," Stoudt said. "I know my dad brought it up one time and I looked at him and I said, ‘Please don’t ever bring that conversation up again because I don’t want to leave. I love this place. This is where home is for me’."
The wait has been a long one. He lost the job to Boyd his freshman year, and he’s been Boyd’s loyal backup ever since. His numbers — albeit in limited action — are pretty good, all things considered. Stoudt is 86-of-119 for 742 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception in 22 games.
The assumption would naturally be that without the record-setting Boyd, Clemson’s offense is going to take a step back.
But Stoudt doesn’t seem to think so.
"It’s going to be a different quarterback, so it’s going to be a little different style than what Tajh had. I’m just going to go out there, I’m going to make my reads one at a time, hit the open guy, take what’s there and just find a way to get our team in the end zone," Stoudt said. "We still have the same offense, same tempo. Still striving for 80 plays a game. Still striving for no turnovers. We still have the same formula."
His head coach Dabo Swinney thinks that the offense won’t miss a beat at all with Stoudt at the helm.
"We’re not going to change what we do. Whenever Cole played, we did the same things anyway. Cole can run. He’s probably faster than (Boyd), to be honest with you. He’s a big ole strong guy," Swinney said. "He looks a little bit kind of like Gumby when he runs. He’s kind of gangly. But he can run. He’s very smart. He understands what we’re doing. This guy has been in the system for three years — every meeting, same coach, same system — so he’s very prepared.
You may see us do a few things differently, hopefully because of different production out of different groups. I don’t know that he’ll be our third-and-1 specialist like Tajh Boyd was, but hopefully that’s not as much because he can’t do it as opposed to other weapons that we have in place. But just from the naked eye, you’re not going to see a whole lot different at all."
There’s another wrinkle added to Stoudt’s situation, though. Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson has had a faster than expected start to the season as an early enrollee in January, and he might actually push Stoudt for the job.
It’s more likely that Watson merely sees some meaningful reps in games than it is that he actually takes the job from Stoudt. But clearly, Stoudt knew what he was getting into, both when he decided not to transfer while Boyd set records, and when Watson signed with the Tigers.
"He wants to go win the job, and Cole wants to keep the job. So I think you’ve got a very competitive, healthy situation," Swinney said. "At the end of the day, they’re competitors and everybody wants to be the guy. As I said earlier, that should bring out the best in both of those guys.
"(Stoudt) gets it. He understands we don’t have anybody in our roster with any experience. Nobody. So we’ve got to get (Watson) ready to go, and we need him prepared to have to play against Georgia."
Stoudt might not be as naturally gifted as Watson, even though Stoudt was the same guy that broke all of Brady Quinn’s high school records. But Stoudt has a few big advantages over Watson, namely experience.
Stoudt talked about the importance of mental reps, ones he took almost constantly while observing Boyd. But with the departure of a number of skill position players for the Tigers — departures which have led many to question whether Clemson’s offense can be as explosive as it has been in the past — spots have been opened up, only to be filled by players that Stoudt knows well.
Second-team offense? Scout-team offense? He was often throwing to the same guys he’ll be throwing to this season.
"We have depth at every position that we normally don’t have," Stoudt said. "I’ve never been more excited about this year because these guys that I’m playing with, I came in with. I remember when I came in, there were 20-some other commits that came in with me and we’ve all been playing on the same squad the entire time, so our chemistry has been constantly building.
"I feel like some people are going to be shocked by what we’re going to do."