The most persistent question to Cole Stoudt on Sunday at the ACC Kickoff went something like this:
“You lost Sammy Watkins and Tajh Boyd, so how does Clemson plan to move the ball this season?”
Ever mindful that dozens of Twitter accounts were prepared to shiver if he misspoke, Stoudt was polite and respectful and assertive in his responses. In his first appearance before dozens of national and regional media representatives, Stoudt handled himself well and didn’t try to be clever or glib.
As Boyd’s heir at Clemson, he understands the urgency of choosing his words carefully.
“I have a different style about myself than I had in high school. In high school, it was a fun sport to play. When you get to college, it is all business,” he said.
“I’m constantly working hard, getting the team better, trying to become a leader.”
No team can succeed without leadership from within the ranks. Not all leaders are vocal, but through their work, they can help a group reach consensus and move toward a goal. Stoudt was one of them. He’s worked at improving the other.
“Even while I was a backup, I tried to force myself to get my voice out there because when Tajh was gone, I wanted to be a guy people could look up to.”
During those few opportunities on the field, Stoudt was able to deliver, completing 72 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns.
“For me it’s something I had to constantly work on,” Stoudt said. “I’m a guy who leads by example.”
Stoudt spent time with Jeff Davis, Clemson’s assistant athletics director and the leader of Clemson’s national championship team. Davis urged Stoudt to step out of his comfort zone and embrace the willingness to motivate by getting in a teammate’s face.
“That’s something I’ve worked on in the last year,” Stoudt said. “It’s about your attitude, how you go about things. You want to be the same guy every day.
“If someone’s not on board or having a slow day, you’ve got to get them up, get them motivated. Let’s get this day going. Let’s get better.”
While he might not be the best athlete, Stoudt won the job in a competition with Chad Kelly and Deshaun Watson. Three seasons as Boyd’s backup was a huge factor. After Stoudt was named the starter, Kelly pitched a fit and was dismissed.
“It’s a sad situation. You never want to see someone get kicked off the team,” Stoudt said.
He’s had little to no contact with Kelly.
“I knew that when I was named the starter that the quarterback is the face of the program. I knew there was going to be some pressure,” he said. “I don’t want to focus on what other people think of me. I know who I am. I know who my teammates know who I am.”
Stoudt insists he was patient when another team might have benefited from his surgeon’s touch when he throws rather than watch Boyd from the sideline. His father, former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, schooled him and continues to be his guide, but when Pop mentioned the possibility of transfer, Cole ended the conversation.
“Please don’t ever bring that up again.”
So this is Cole Stoudt’s offense, and the question bears repeating. How does a guy who hasn’t started a game since high school pick up where Boyd and Watkins and company left off?
“We still have the same offense, the same tempo. We still have the same formula. We have a lot of weapons,” Stoudt said.
“Some people are going to be shocked by what we’re going to do.”