No. 16 Clemson vs. No. 12 Georgia
Where: Sanford Stadium, Athens, Ga.
When: Saturday, 5:30 p.m.
LINE: Georgia by 7½
CLEMSON - Cole Stoudt curses himself.
"I wound up so bad there."
"Gripping that ball way too hard."
Not to worry: the date isn't Aug. 30, the setting isn't Sanford Stadium and there are no angry Georgia Bulldogs chasing him. It is June 24, a muggy Tuesday afternoon in Clemson's cavernous indoor facility with an attendance of three - two quarterbacks and a reporter.
The lights are on, but the air conditioning is off, making it harder for Cole Stoudt's football to hit his father's hands in stride.
Usually, Mike Williams, Jordan Leggett or one of the Tigers' other receivers will show up when Stoudt's slinging it around. Sometimes on the weekends, Cole's older brother, Zack, a former Mississippi quarterback, is in attendance.
On this day, Cole's only target is Cliff, who still has good hands and decent mobility as a former NFL quarterback and father of three in their 20s.
'Take what's there'
Cliff Stoudt, who turns 60 next spring, runs routes with yardage totals matching his age. He'll exhale with a grunt, heaving the ball back across the field, sometimes bouncing it to Cole. But he doggedly summons stamina in the Southern heat, giving Cole more reps in preparation for his moment. His senior year. His starting year.
"Know what you're doing. Do what you know. Play within yourself. Play within the system," Cliff tells Cole during breaks in the action. "In this offense, you don't have to create big plays. They happen, by design."
That's why Cole is more nitpicky with the bubble screens, the quick-hitch throws and sideline fades than fly routes. He knows he has the arm to go long, but tempo-driven offensive coordinator Chad Morris' rapid-fire playbook demands precision and quick decisions.
One of Cole's better throws of the day, he rolls to his right on a bootleg and fires across his body connecting with Cliff on a 12-yard out to the sideline. Ideal for a tight end.
"We're gonna tell Jordan you can do that pretty well," Cliff suggests.
Cliff Stoudt, who backed up Terry Bradshaw for the Steelers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, will chime in pointers from time to time.
"Don't over think it. But don't rush a throw."
"Throw with your legs. Everything else will come with it."
"Reach back, ball pointed at target, follow through."
Related to Clemson's schemes, though, the son teaches his father more than the opposite.
"Just gotta go through each read," Cole says in the middle of rehearsing a 5-step drop. "Take what's there, even if it's not an 80-yard-bomb everyone wants. Just do whatever I can to get in the end zone. Even if it's a little 5-yard route, Coach Morris always stresses, 'You can't go broke taking a profit.'"
The day before this throwing session, Cliff Stoudt was having a great round on the golf course - and once he realized it, his scorecard ended up paying the price.
"All of a sudden, I think I can hit any shot," Cliff says. "Instead of playing smart, I pull out the driver when I shouldn't."
While Cole wipes his brow and fiddles with his water bottle, Cliff gets reflective. His oldest child, daughter Cydnei, will celebrate her one-year wedding anniversary with a U.S. Army captain the day of Clemson's opener at Georgia. Cydnei and Zack, and mom and dad will be in the stands in Athens for Cole's first career start.
"I don't know if it's because he's the last kid, or because I've changed a little bit," Cliff says. "But it's like having a glass of wine, or watching the sunset. I'm always relaxed when he's on the field.
"Every year, there have been doubters and everything, and all he does is keep playing football. He doesn't get upset. I don't think the crowds will affect him. Yeah, it'll be exciting, but he'll just be him."
Cliff does more talking than Cole. Nothing unusual there.
"I played a lot more like John McEnroe played tennis - I was a little fiery," Cliff says. "I got kind of emotionally, maybe too into the games sometimes."
Cole's demeanor channels more Bjorn Borg (for the older generation,) or Roger Federer (for the young fans) While Clemson waits to find out how Stoudt reacts to a college football environment under pressure, even-keel is a fair assessment for his public speaking.
Even though it's just three guys sitting at the 27-yard line of an empty practice facility - no cameras or Twitter hanging on his every word - Cole doesn't change who he is.
"I don't overthink things," Cole admits.
His own man
"He does a good job keeping the heart rate down," Cliff says. "He's almost too calm."
Cole Stoudt is not robotic. He'll goof off with his offensive teammates, and he is a competitive gamer. This summer he was a proud record-holder of the Big Buck Hunter arcade game in the Tigers' game room.
And, of course, he's a perfectionist of his craft. Any misplaced throws, he does it again until he gets it right. He even used reverse psychology to command orders to his receivers.
"In skills and drills, I asked them which side they felt comfortable with where they wanted to work," Cole says. "If they said I want the right, I'd say, well, you're going to the left."
Tajh Boyd was the same way - impossibly hard on himself and a respected leader.
Oh, and the close friends each adored superheroes. Boyd was Superman, Stoudt is Batman.
That's about where the Boyd-and-Stoudt comparison ends. That's why 2013 was last year, and 2014 is this year. A brand new year.
Follow Aaron Brenner on Twitter: @Aaron_Brenner.
Read his Tiger Tracks blog at blog.postandcourier.com/tiger-tracks.
Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt prepares to throw a pass to his father, former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, during a summer workout at Clemson's indoor practice facility. (Aaron Brenner/Staff)×
Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt talks with his father, former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, during a summer workout at Clemson's indoor practice facility. (Aaron Brenner/Staff)×
Clemson quarterback Cole Stoudt with his father, former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt, during a summer workout at Clemson's indoor practice facility. (Aaron Brenner/Staff)×
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