CLEMSON — There was Trevor Lawrence, college football's darling, running Clemson's no-huddle offense, seamlessly guiding the unit from one play to the next on an early August evening.
He then sprinted off the field in favor of Chase Brice, the sophomore who co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott recently called "one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC," and the Tigers' offense kept humming, as it did when Brice ceded the spotlight to freshman signal caller Taisun Phommachanh.
"One thing you can tell when you look at him, he really reminds you a lot of Deshaun (Watson) — just a cool, quiet, demeanor," co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said of Phommachanh.
All three of them — Lawrence, Brice and Phommachanh — flashed glances at the sideline before every throw. Their eyes landed on Ben Batson, a sophomore quarterback wearing not a helmet but a green cap.
He waved his hands maniacally, the quarterback conductor of the organized chaos known as the no-huddle drill. Soon Batson shed the cap, stuffed it in the hands of a staffer and plopped on his helmet, jogging out to meet the rest of the quarterbacks for the next drill.
The rise of Lawrence, combined with Watson's previous brilliance and the specter of D.J. Uiagalelei, the No. 1 quarterback in the class of 2020 who will join Clemson next season, has placed a spotlight on the program's signal caller development.
But football is a team sport, and rare it is that stars rise without others pushing them from lower on the depth chart. That's where Batson comes in. As Lawrence adjusts to the spotlight, Batson is by his side, ready to deflate the moment with a wise crack or words of encouragement.
"Now we assess. Got to make some decisions personnel-wise."
"Whatever the team needs," he said. "I'm here to serve."
That originally meant joining the Tigers as a preferred walk-on who would compete for playing time at safety, despite playing mostly quarterback at Dorman High School in Spartanburg.
Batson threw for 1,792 yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior, guiding Dorman to the state finals. He was ready to move to safety, though, for the opportunity to play for the program around which he had grown up. His father Joey is Clemson's longtime director of football strength and conditioning, and his brother Michael was a Tigers punter from 2015-17.
Then on the last day of high school, as his mother Susan drove him home, his phone rang. It was Dabo Swinney. Susan pulled over to the side of I-85.
Some things had changed, Swinney told Batson, and he was no longer needed at safety. He was needed at quarterback. And the Tigers had an open scholarship. Was he interested?
"He was ecstatic," Susan said. Batson accepted.
Soon Batson grew close with Lawrence, bonding over their shared faith, and he became a key contributor in the quarterbacks room, even rising to third string behind Lawrence and Brice after former starter Kelly Bryant abruptly left the team four games into last season.
He served as scout team quarterback in preparation for the national championship game, Susan said, and had mimicked the play that turned into cornerback A.J. Terrell's 44-yard interception return for a touchdown on the Crimson Tide's first drive of the Tigers' 44-16 victory.
Clemson's head coach has developed a soft spot for Joseph Ngata. Asked when he realized what he had with the freshman wide receiver, Dabo Swinney replied: "First day of practice."
He's likely to be slated below Phommachanh, a 4-star recruit, per 247sports.com, on the depth chart, though that could change if the Tigers elect to redshirt the freshman.
In the meantime he's serving his role, whatever that looks like. He pumps iron in the weight room with the linebackers instead of the quarterbacks, who mostly refrain from lifting heavier weight to protect their shoulders.
Batson's father got him a 15-pound bar when he was 7 years old, and it wasn't long before he could bench 50 pounds. Now he maxes 370 pounds on bench, along with a 560-pound squat and 550-pound deadlift.
"Oh man, bench press Batson, that's what his nickname is," running back Darien Rencher said. "I think when it's all said and done, he hangs up the pads, he's going to be a little bodybuilder."
Batson's not thinking that far ahead yet. He's focused on playing quarterback, though he could be due for another position switch soon. He said some coaches informed he might be moved back to safety down the road.
"I just said, 'Hey, I'm here to serve, and if that's what you all might want me to do, then that's what I'll do,'" Batson said.