Rather than overthink the circumstances that brought him to the job as Clemson’s starting quarterback, Cole Stoudt relied on what he could control.
Confident and skilled, Stoudt has been groomed for the job his entire life.
Because it’s not enough to simply want it, he waited patiently for three seasons, preparing every week should Tajh Boyd fall or fail during his record-setting journey as the most productive quarterback in Clemson history.
Stoudt never complained or pouted because the team was more important than fulfilling one player’s dream. His father prepared him, fully understanding the feelings as understudy to a legend.
Cliff Stoudt was the backup for six seasons to Terry Bradshaw, the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For the experience, Stoudt received a couple of Super Bowl rings and a chance to start after injuries clipped Bradshaw’s career. He played for parts of seven more seasons with three other teams, including a couple of playoff runs with the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions.
Cole Stoudt was born three years after his father’s final game, but he knew the stories and saw the film. When his dad speaks, he listens. “My dad knows what it’s like. He knew what I was feeling.
“Everything he tells me, I do, because he’s made it,” Stoudt said. “He knows what it takes to get there.”
Stoudt wasn’t going to pout or dig in his heels when if it came time to compete for the starting job with Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson, players with vastly less experience.
During the final week of spring practice, coach Dabo Swinney said he was inclined to let the competition continue through the summer, but Kelly imploded during the spring game, arguing with two coaches on the field after two interceptions.
Stoudt had passed for two touchdowns.
Swinney summoned Kelly two days later intending to suspend him, but the coach dismissed him from the team when the meeting became confrontational. A few days later, Swinney named Stoudt the starter.
“In light of the situation we had with Chad Kelly, it was clear cut,” Swinney said. “Cole Stoudt won the job. He was the starter coming out spring. He’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win today.
“I think our team needed that leadership and direction going into summer.”
Swinney described the decision to remove Kelly as a personal failure. Yet Swinney didn’t hesitate to knight Stoudt rather than continue the competition with Watson.
“These guys have appreciation for Cole Stoudt,” he said of the team. “He’s earned the opportunity.”
Swinney often says no player receives a lifetime contract. Watson, whom Swinney described as “talented a freshman at any position as I’ve ever been around,” should keep Stoudt alert. It may also serve him to watch and listen as Stoudt imparts the wisdom he’s accumulated as Boyd’s teammate and Cliff Stoudt’s son.
“My dad always told me, yes it’s a competition, (but) it’s always going to be a competition,” he said. “No matter where you’re at they’re always going to be bringing in the next best guy.”
During the next three months, when conditioning and practices are voluntary, Stoudt will set much of the agenda with the help of teammates such as Adam Humphries and Grady Jarrett.
“You’ve got to show you can be the guy,” Stoudt said. As a mentor and friend Boyd showed him the value, “To show a positive attitude every day, build positive relationships with the team every day.”
Stoudt recently crossed paths with Kelly during a walk across campus. They spoke briefly, and while Stoudt takes no joy seeing Kelly go, he disregards any suggestion that he won the job by default.
“I know that there’s going to be some scrutiny about everything now and then,” he said. “You’ve got to drain that out and keeping being you.”
And, right now, that’s what the Clemson football team needs most.
Stoudt said he never grew impatient, always trusting his work would bring the reward and never thinking about leaving.
“I love Clemson too much.”