CLEMSON – Four years ago this April, Cole Stoudt – a mid-year enrollee – first met the media in Clemson’s WestZone.
He talked about competing for a backup role behind Tajh Boyd and new offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ offense, “really easy to pick up” in his estimation.
The fresh out of Dublin Coffman (Ohio) product – every bit looking the part with a pencil-thin frame – credited being “calm under pressure” to being able to handle the early college adjustment.
Over the last three seasons backing up Boyd, he’s had his moments to show that. Stoudt has played in 22 games, completing passes at a 72 percent rate.
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After a strong spring session, he was named Clemson’s starting quarterback last week – Tigers coach Dabo Swinney saying it was an “obvious” decision.
Life at the top of a major college football program can only be savored so long though.
“I was happy and I was also excited,” Stoudt said. “It’s just another thing saying alright, ‘You’re the guy headed into the fall. You got to step up and keep doing what you’re doing and step up and making the team better.’ For a second, I was really happy and then it’s now I have to go to work. Got to develop a team. We’re going to strive to be our best.”
His process getting to this point has been a family affair – his dad, Cliff, a former professional quarterback himself between stints in both the NFL and USFL in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Cole’s parents live in the Upstate, allowing Cliff to go over tape and workout with his son regularly.
“I called him and told him (the news and) he said he’s never been so happy before,” Stoudt recalled. “When he was reading all of the articles and everything he said it’s so hard to read these without tears coming down my face.
“He was just so happy that I finally got something that I worked so hard for. I still have to go out and perform, but I know he’s going to be right there with me.”
His Mom is ready to take care of the o-line taking care of him this fall.
“My Dad was like get the guys up here – Mom would love to cook. He’s like I don’t think your Mom has ever been so excited before to cook for a bunch of guys,” Stoudt said with a smile. “We’ve already talked. We’re going to have some cookouts, hangout – play some volleyball. But when we get on the field for skills and drills, it’s all focus and getting better.”
Up to the spring game, he was in the midst of a three-way battle that narrowed to two when Swinney dismissed sophomore Chad Kelly for a “pattern of behavior.”
Still in the mix is five-star freshman Deshaun Watson, who like Stoudt all those years ago, is a mid-year enrollee.
“(Cole) has a great feel for our system,” Swinney said, “and he's been on the big stage many times and has performed well. And then Deshaun Watson is as talented a freshman at any position that I've ever been around. This guy is special, and it is really a blessing to have a guy like that in our program. He's just going to continue to rise and get better, and he'll have an opportunity certainly to play this year.
“Cole is our starter, and I think he's earned that, and he'll give us good leadership as we go into summer and go into fall camp, but as I told him, he doesn't have a lifetime contract. It's about performance now, and Deshaun Watson I know is going to continue to compete and see if he can win that job.”
Stoudt welcomes that push, following the example he so admired over the last three years.
“There’s really not a lot of pressure because we’re both great athletes,” said Stoudt. “I know that when he has to go in and I have to go in we’re both going to perform to best of our abilities. Since day one he got here I’ve treated him like Tajh treated me. Put his arm around me and alright here we go into the program.
“I’ve learned so much from Tajh that I want to be someone who can help other players…I want to help Deshaun be that next guy.”