CLEMSON – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hasn't been shy about touting the talent of Kelly Bryant, although he tempered things just a bit Tuesday when recalling the debut of a former quarterback whose career got off to a rocky start.
Kelly, a junior from Wren High, will make his starting debut Saturday against Kent State, becoming just the fourth at quarterback for Clemson since 2011. That season, it was highly-heralded Tajh Boyd who took control of new coordinator Chad Morris' rapid-fire offense in the season-opener against Troy and quickly got run off the field by angry fans at halftime.
Boyd went on to set a slew of school and ACC passing records, but was bad over his first half as the Tigers went 0-for-8 on third-down tries and trailed 16-13. Home fans booed the Tigers to the locker room after a state of confusion and frustration spread among Morris and his fellow coaches.
"We're all sitting there going, where in the heck is our quarterback?" Swinney said Tuesday. "Chad's on 12 packs of gum and doesn't know what to say. He's going, I don't know where he is. Somebody kidnapped our quarterback. He's just going crazy on the headset. And it just took (Boyd) a while to get his sea-legs if you will and off he went. Next thing you know, he became Tajh Boyd."
Clemson eventually defeated Troy 43-19 with Boyd finishing 20-of-30 passing for 264 yards and three touchdowns. Swinney recalled more boos in the following week's eight-point win over Wofford, a rough start to what would become an 8-0 start to the season under Boyd and the first of Clemson's current six-straight seasons of at least 10 wins.
Now its Bryant's chance to become the hometown kid who makes good. While Boyd replaced very solid Kyle Parker, Bryant is attempting the difficult task of taking over for Deshaun Watson, the greatest at the position in school history who casts quite the long shadow even in his absence.
"He did a lot of great things here, on and off the field, and that's just the standard set not only by Deshaun, but by the past few guys that came through the program," Bryant said. "We have to do our best to live up to the standard that's been here and is always going to be here. The pressure comes when you start thinking too much, that's when all that starts happening."
Bryant will become the first South Carolina native to start as Clemson's quarterback since Byrnes alum Willy Korn made his lone start in Swinney's first game as interim coach in 2008. That was the last start by a native of this state over the last 198 games, dating back to Orangeburg's Woody Dantzler in the 2001 season finale.
"Running down the hill and taking the first snaps as a quarterback, being a starter, it's always been a dream and I want to keep living the dream every Saturday now that I'm here," Bryant said. "
For that to happen, the 20-year-old former Shrine-Bowler must now transfer what Swinney has described as consistently good practice sessions into game time, with Auburn and Louisville lurking after the easy opener. Bryant never wavered in his command of the leading role despite tough competition from backup Zerrick Cooper and No. 3 Hunter Johnson.
Bryant doesn't assume for a second he's secured anything longstanding, saying, "This is a game all about performance, every day whether it's in the game or in practice."
Bryant has taken 100 career snaps over 12 games, completing 13 of 18 passing for 75 yards with one touchdown and an interception. He's rushed 35 times for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
Even while praising Bryant, especially harping on what he described as a huge surge of confidence and swagger over the past month, Swinney acknowledged he can only gauge from what he saw during practice, and what he's seen has been similar to Boyd's entry into the program.
"It just didn't quite show up early and then he blossomed," Swinney said. "Hopefully Kelly will not miss a beat. He's been put in every situation and he's responded, flat-out won the competition, simple as that. He won the get-ready phase, won the transformation phase, now he's got to win primetime."
This article is written by Eric Boynton from Spartanburg Herald-Journal and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.