CLEMSON - The only formally announced starter for the 2014 Clemson football team doesn't really have to be told how tenuous that designation can be.
Even though Cole Stoudt settled for unquestioned backup to Tajh Boyd the past three years, it's not enough to be crowned the captain of Clemson's offense in late April.
For one, the bus doesn't leave for Athens for more than four months; there's still the end of spring, all of summer and fall camp to follow before facing Georgia on Aug. 30.
For another, Chad Kelly's untimely departure from the program didn't necessarily clarify the Tigers' quarterback situation. It only opened the door for uber-talented, super-hyped freshman Deshaun Watson to have an honest chance at the job.
Stoudt earned the right to squint into the bright lights Wednesday while reporters and cameras captured his first words as Clemson's officially named starting quarterback.
He was clearly the most capable of the three options this spring, and his experience helped head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris make the call with authority.
But prepare for a boatload of "this is no lifetime contract" lines from Stoudt, his teammates and the coaches.
"You can't really think of all of that too much. You've still got to go out there and perform. Just be the best you can be," Stoudt said. "You've got to be someone who motivates the guys and keeps them together. Every day, I went out there and did the best I can do. I've been a leader, always had a positive attitude with all the guys. It kind of went that way the whole spring."
Here's the thing: what happens if Stoudt struggles even mildly in September - and early tests at Georgia and Florida State aren't exactly cakewalks - and the fans call loudly for Watson, promoted by recruitniks as the next Tajh Boyd?
The suggestion of his backup's fame brings a shrug to Stoudt's shoulders.
"There's not really a lot of pressure, because we're both great athletes," Stoudt said. "I know when he has to go in and I have to go in, we're both going to perform to the best of our ability."
The most veteran of Stoudt's targets, senior receiver Adam Humphries, isn't concerned that Stoudt would waver with self-confidence.
"I don't think it can get any worse than this past spring," Humphries said. "Obviously, Cole's got thick skin because he's been here for three years; having these two younger quarterbacks come and try to take his spot, he handled that adversity well. He's a consistent guy, he's composed, you know what you're going to get from him."
Boyd and Stoudt were close; Boyd was two years older, but he welcomed Stoudt and took him under his wing. Stoudt won't treat Watson any differently.
"I've learned so much from Tajh. I want to be someone who can help other players," Stoudt said. "I want to help Deshaun be that next guy. I know Deshaun will also perform; he's done incredible things throughout the spring. He's looking really good.
"Knowing we both can handle this offense is very comfortable. I don't feel a lot of pressure. I feel comfortable with the fact that he's on this team."
On the road recruiting but calling into the ACC coaches teleconference, Swinney was implored to defend his offense, as to how it wouldn't scuffle with Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins gone to the NFL.
"I really like Cole Stoudt. I think that he has performed every time that he's been called upon in three years," Swinney said, going on to list Stoudt's experience and poise as other positive attributes.
"And then Deshaun Watson is as talented a freshman at any position that I've ever been around. This guy is special, and it is really a blessing to have a guy like that in our program. He's just going to continue to rise and get better, and he'll have an opportunity certainly to play this year. ... I know he is going to continue to compete and see if he can win that job."
Boyd was the past, Watson is the future. It's the present Stoudt has to handle, and it helps being labeled "the guy" going into the formative summer months for a team loaded with talent at other positions.
"Gives me a chance to build a little leadership on the offense going into summer," Stoudt said. "There's going to be more leadership throughout the team, on every position on the team. That's what makes Clemson so good; everyone's basically a leader. People listen to each other."
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