At first, Perry Orth expressed complete faith he’d get a chance to play quarterback for the South Carolina football team. He worked and prepared as if he was starting, and eventually circumstances conspired to give him the opportunity. Not once, but twice.
But soon enough he admitted, waiting isn’t so easy. Quarterback isn’t like other spots. There’s no rotating in (most of the time), no fighting for reps here or there. You’re either the guy or you’re on the sidelines doing what you can.
“It is pretty tough actually,” Orth said. “Growing up, I played baseball. So it was like if it wasn’t working out in the infield, I could always try outfield or do different things like that. Quarterback is different. You’ve got to be so mentally tough because you never know when you’re going to get in and out of a game or what can happen in the course of a football game. People say quarterback is one of the toughest positions in all of sports, and you’ve just got to take the good with the bad and keep going forward because there always will be a next play.”
In any number of worlds, Orth is not where he is today: on track to start the Gamecocks’ game after the bye against Texas A&M and maybe in position to hold onto the starting spot the rest of the year.
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He was behind former four-star prospect Connor Mitch to start the season. Being the former walk-on who worked his way from the aisles of Publix to becoming a hard-working steady backup could be a narrative in itself. Orth got a start when Mitch got hurt, then gave way to athletic four-star freshman Lorenzo Nunez.
We’ve seen that story as well. He could have settled in as a good program guy and never returned to the field.
Yet here he is, starting again, the same approach, the same calm demeanor on the field and at the press conference podium.
Teammates say that mindset helps them on the field. When his steady hand is leading the offense, coordinating things in the no-huddle, it’s a big boost.
“He definitely has a leader’s mentality,” tailback Brandon Wilds said. “No doubt. And he has heart. That’s one thing I can say about Perry. So that alone will take you very far.”
Wide receiver Pharoh Cooper echoed that. He saw it in the summer when Orth worked to put himself in this position and later worked to keep himself in the mix after Nunez ascended and then got hurt. Cooper added that Orth is always confident in the huddle, even when the offense runs into trouble, as it has in the red zone.
Orth has thrown for 755 yards, four touchdowns and four scores in three starts (one abbreviated) and two relief appearances. His last game, against Vanderbilt, included completing 60 percent of his passes and 272 yards, the best for any Gamecock this season.
“It was his best one of the year,” offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said. “He threw the ball to the right guy, a couple of mistakes obviously. He could’ve thrown the ball out of bounds on the interception. It wasn’t his best play but he also got hit as he threw. All in all, he threw the ball well, got into a couple of good checks, graded out high. That’s what we need here going forward, that’s for sure.”
Orth has taken nearly every meaningful snap in the past two games, and after the round of quarterback roulette, that gives some measure of stability for the athletes around him.
“It’s a whole lot of consistency,” Cooper said. “He’s throwing the same ball, same spiral coming out. It creates that smooth feel going down the road.”
Orth doesn’t let much fire slip when he speaks. His confidence is muted. He’s the sort who calls going out of the lineup and eventually coming back in fun. But when asked about the noise level down in College Station, Texas, there seemed to be a little more spark when he answered, “fortunately, I’ve played at Georgia and at LSU.”
Perhaps that’s the quality that makes him seem most like a field general. Even in tough spots, he seems in control, but there remains a fierceness below the surface. By all accounts, teammates see the whole range, how the seriousness melts into another side of the quarterback, a side informing how he goes about his second chance.
“I just like to have a good time,” Orth said. “Like out here, playing music, I’m always dancing around here with the guys. Trying to have a good time. Staying relaxed helps me play better.”