CLEMSON — There are many reasons for the increase in younger starting quarterbacks in college football, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday, some more predictable than others.
For example: Swinney, 49, listed Fortnite, iTunes and social media as factors. He referenced his childhood.
"I mean, what the heck was I gonna do if I went home? What was I gonna do? Sit there? Look at the wall? You got three channels. You got Lawrence Welk, and Hee Haw and Happy Days. That's what ya got!"
The dots aren't as difficult to connect as it may seem. There was simply less to do for young people in previous generations, Swinney said, so many went outside and played football.
Now, competing with myriad technological distractions — and to fend off the rise of year-round specialization in other sports — high school coaches have found ways to make the game more exciting, Swinney said. That means more passing and, in turn, quarterbacks are entering college with more experience.
Swinney has seen the trend firsthand, first with quarterback Deshaun Watson, who started at Clemson as a freshman in 2014, and now with Trevor Lawrence, who started as a freshman last season.
"They had to change the game, because no one wanted to come out there and just run the I-formation every day, run the option," Swinney said of high school coaches. "So they made it fun. Little bit kind of like basketball on grass, with some of these 7-on-7 things that they do, and I think that's been a huge part of the evolution."
Saturday, the Tigers challenge a Texas A&M team led by quarterback Kellen Mond. The junior also logged playing time as a true freshman, though not because he forced his coach's hand, like Lawrence did with Swinney last season.
Mond earned eight starts in 2017 after then-starter Nick Starkel, a redshirt freshman, went down with an injury in the season opener. They split time after Starkel returned, but Mond won the job outright the following season and Starkel transferred to Arkansas.
The Tigers had a clear look at Mond's ability when he was a sophomore. The Aggies nearly upset Clemson last season, when Mond threw for 430 yards and three touchdowns in a 28-26 Tigers victory.
"Boy, he can throw. He's got a huge arm. Can throw from one hash to another on a dime," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said of Mond. "We won't see anybody that's better than him all year."
Swinney remembers the days when Mond might be getting his first starting opportunity this season, as a veteran. A reminder of the past was in the building Tuesday. Tajh Boyd, who redshirted in 2009 and came off the bench in 2010 before settling in as Clemson's starting quarterback from 2011-14, was present for Swinney's press conference and Tigers practice.
Boyd was out of the NFL by 2015, but he left behind a special legacy at Clemson, setting numerous program records, including career passing yards (11,904) and passing touchdowns (107).
Lawrence could have the chance to break some of those records, depending on how long he stays at Clemson. First, his goal Saturday is to build on what was an uncharacteristic performance in last week's opener against Georgia Tech, during which he missed 10 of 23 passing attempts and tossed two interceptions.
Swinney has confidence in Lawrence. The Cartersville, Ga., product had ample opportunities to focus on something other than football growing up. There were more than three channels on his TV.
Instead Lawrence learned how to throw a football.
"Trevor and Deshaun had been starting since the ninth grade, and they had been really coached," Swinney said. "Their football foundation, early, gave 'em a chance to really grasp and understand what they really needed to do.
"It's just different from when I was coming up."