MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Finally, the days of support group and clean-up duty are over.
Junior Cole Stoudt and redshirt freshman Chad Kelly have known and understood their roles since record-setting Tajh Boyd took command of the Clemson football program.
Replacement is the norm in college football. One guy graduates, gets hurt or transfers, well, then next man in. At many schools, the quarterback is perhaps a moderately elevated position over the rest of his teammates.
Not at Clemson.
"It's not just representation for this football team, but for this program, for this state," Boyd said. "Obviously we're not politicians, but playing (quarterback) at this institution; essentially this is the NFL team of the state. There's no pro teams. I talk to the guys all the time, and whoever takes over, I'm pretty confident he'll be well and ready for it."
Stoudt and Kelly are well and ready to duel. Privately, with respect to Boyd, they've felt that way for a long time.
"It starts right now," Kelly said in the locker room after the Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State. "It'll be good. I had my best practice of my college career on Wednesday. So that was really good. Went perfect in the team setting. Tuesday the day before, I had my best practice.
"Throughout bowl practices, I just kept on having my best practices I've ever had being a Tiger."
Kelly spent the last year fighting back to health. Now he'll fight for a job.
"Oh, it's straight. I'm just ready to get back on the field already, start playing like in a real game," Kelly said. "It'll come soon enough, though."
Coming back from an April ACL tear in blistering speed, Kelly never had much of a chance to go against first-team defenses in Clemson blowouts.
That duty went to Stoudt, who completed 47-of-59 passes (79.7 percent) for 415 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions.
"Coach (Chad) Morris does a good job letting us get the reps, so we have more experience controlling the offense," Stoudt said Jan. 1, the day of Boyd's final practice as a Tiger. "Yeah, we're staying on target, because then it's into the spring, into the summer, into the fall. It's going to be a heck of a ride."
In his final college days, Boyd did what he could to impart his wisdom with longtime teammate Stoudt, and it had little to do with reading zone coverages.
"Yeah, he's taught me a lot about how to be a good citizen and role model for the program," Stoudt said. "He really knows how to handle himself. He's changed this program. It's so impressive what he's done. I'm just going to follow him, use what I learned from him and coach (Dabo) Swinney.
"I'm going to do my best to be the face of the program."
The statement Boyd made about being placed on a higher pedestal like politicians: Swinney doesn't disagree.
"It's not all about (football); it's about how he has embraced being the face and voice of this program, and taken pride in that," Swinney said. "If you're going to be the quarterback at Clemson, everything counts. Everything counts. Tajh Boyd has done a tremendous job."
Boyd's confident in his successor, whomever it is.
"We've set a foundation here to the point where we're going to be successful as a program regardless of who takes the reins," Boyd said. "Hopefully I put my stamp on those guys, and they learned a lot, good and bad. We're a pretty tight-knit group. I'm It's going to be an intriguing quarterback battle."
A battle that will include incoming freshman DeShaun Watson, the top-rated quarterback recruit who has enrolled in Clemson courses and will join the fray for spring practices.
"I'm sad because Tajh has to move on, but I'm excited about the guys that we have to work with," Swinney said. "Because this is a very talented group of guys that are on our roster at that position. It's a good problem to have."
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