SAN JOSE, Calif. — Two Clemson quarterbacks hopped off of a chartered Delta plane from the upstate to San Jose, Calif., on Friday night and started to make their way toward the team bus bound for the Tigers’ Bay Area hotel.
One of them walked down the steps of the plane to dozens of local youth football players chanting his name as they sprinted in a flock to flag him down.
“Trevor! Trevor! Trevor!” they all chanted at Trevor Lawrence.
The other kept his headphones plugged into his cell phone and walked to the team bus without any child saying so much as a peep to him or even recognizing who he was for that matter.
But that was just fine by him. That’s the way it goes.
Chase Brice understands that as Clemson’s backup quarterback, he doesn’t command the attention that Lawrence or Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa do throughout a week that has been dominated with all sorts of buzz about two of America’s finest quarterbacks meeting on the biggest stage Monday night for a national championship.
He understands that as a former third stringer-turned second stringer after Kelly Bryant left Clemson’s program he won’t be dominating the headlines regularly or gracing televisions frequently in prime time.
But he also understands that anyone who has followed Clemson’s 2018 schedule knows it was the 20-year-old Grayson, Ga., native who saved the Tigers season when it hung in the balance against Syracuse in September as Lawrence went down with a head/neck injury. And it was the Alabama backup, Jalen Hurts, who saved the Crimson Tide’s season in the SEC Championship when Tagovailoa was hurt and Hurts took over in the fourth quarter.
As Lawrence and Tagovailoa take center stage Monday, don’t forget about the two quarterbacks behind them in the shadows who made it all possible for these two teams to contend for a championship in the first place: Brice for Clemson and Hurts for Alabama.
Neither team would be here without them.
“It’s not easy,” Brice said. “In my case, I was like, third string (before Bryant left), so it was hard not getting any reps in practice, kind of staying over there and learning, doing mental reps. It wasn’t easy."
“I think a lot of people would say that being a backup quarterback is one of the hardest jobs on the team,” followed Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter. “He has to prepare like he’s the starter. It’s way easier said than done.”
In Brice’s case, the 6-2, 220 pounder who was just a 3-star recruit by some recruiting services, his moment of glory after the Syracuse game was loads of fun, yes, but also an important reminder of how anything can change in the span of one play.
Midway through Lawrence’s first start of his Clemson career, a second-quarter hit by the sideline left him unable to play for the remainder of the afternoon and put the game in the hands of Brice, who had only thrown eight career passes up to that point. He rallied Clemson from a 16-7 halftime deficit to a 27-23 win with a 28-yard pass to Hunter Renfrow and a 20-yard pass to Tee Higgins that cemented his legacy among Clemson fans for years to come.
For Hurts, who refused to be interviewed for this story, his 82 passing yards and a touchdown against Georgia once Tagovailoa went down in the SEC Championship made him a national sensation and the poster child for the power of patience. He was praised for staying with the program at Alabama despite losing his starting job and became the ultimate example of loyalty paying off.
“I don’t know much about Chase, but I do know with Jalen, I said this earlier: Growing up the son of a coach, he grew up around football. He gets it,” said Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley. “He was ready to go out and execute, and he did a tremendous job for us in the SEC Championship Game coming in and winning that game for us.”
As Monday rapidly approaches, both quarterbacks are capable of contributing again, and both quarterbacks know that all it takes is one second for things to change and for their numbers to be called behind Lawrence and Tagovailoa.
They have each already done it once.
Could they do it again?
“I think it’s a testament to where both programs are from a recruiting standpoint, to have depth at every position,” said Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott. “Really, really proud of Chase and his development and on the outside looking in, proud of Jalen as well. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he’s been able to accomplish this year.”
Perhaps there’s still more to come.