Clemson QB Cole Stoudt: Mostly unknown, seemingly unflappable

What football coach wouldn’t wonder about his new starting quarterback’s nerves going into a season-opener at Georgia?

This is a different: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney wonders if Cole Stoudt has nerves.

“I’d like to sense some nerves from Cole,” Swinney said Tuesday in regards to 16th-ranked Clemson’s opener Saturday at No. 12 Georgia (5:30 p.m., ESPN). “He’s just kind of the same guy” in any situation.

Stoudt, a 6-foot-4 senior, has never started a game for the Tigers. But that’s the only definition by which he’s a novice in college football.

He spent the last three falls as backup to Tajh Boyd, who made all 40 starts. But Boyd’s aggressive running style put him at risk for injury, so Stoudt played in 22 games, taking 287 snaps and throwing 119 passes.

By that limited sample he’s been quite solid. His completion percentage last season (47-of-59 for 79.7 percent) was the best in the country among quarterbacks with 50 or more attempts. He threw for five touchdowns and no interceptions.

So when asked Tuesday about his almost eerie sense of calm, Stoudt offered a simple, firm explanation:

“No nerves going on because I feel prepared.”

That’s true on many levels. Stoudt grew up in a quarterback family. His father, Cliff, played seven seasons of pro football, mostly with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Swinney used to watch Cliff Stoudt with the USFL Birmingham Stallions as a teenager in Alabama. Cole’s older brother, Zack, played quarterback at Louisville and Mississippi.

Cole was a tall, skinny teenager growing up outside Columbus, Ohio, a late-bloomer by his own description. Someone sent the Clemson football office video of him playing along with intel that Cole was born in Greenville, S.C., where the family briefly settled after Cliff Stoudt’s playing career concluded.

“The moment I came down here they offered me (a scholarship) on the spot,” Stoudt recalled. “I knew when they called me that’s the place I wanted to go – just a weird, gut feeling. Even before I stepped foot on campus, I felt it was home.”

He played as a true freshman when Boyd was injured in a game against Boston College. That’s when Swinney first noticed Stoudt’s unflappable persona.

“Tajh is knocked out,” Swinney recalled. “I remember we’re in a tough ball game. And he’s just him. He’s very confident because he’s prepared very well.”

There was a strong possibility Stoudt would have again been a backup this season. Chad Kelly, nephew of Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly, was seen as Boyd’s heir-apparent. But Kelly imploded emotionally in spring practice and was dismissed from the team.

So Swinney turned to the guy least likely to implode, even at Sanford Stadium with a crowd of 90,000-plus barking at him.

“There aren’t a lot of nerves. Maybe it’s not really hit me,” Stoudt described. “I’ve always had a way to block out everything: To lock on just the team and the plays.”