There was bound to be someone who would lose out as a result of Clemson’s post-spring logjam at quarterback.
It wasn’t going to be Kelly Bryant. Bryant, at worst, was going to be a backup as the team came out of the successful Deshaun Watson era and into the future of the program. He ended up as the 2017 starting quarterback, and while he didn’t put up Watson-like numbers — no one expected that — he held up very well as he led the Tigers to the College Football Playoff for the third year in a row.
It certainly wasn’t going to be Trevor Lawrence. The freshman has all the markings of a future star: a quarterback in high demand nationally; the shoulder-length blond hair a la Ronnie Bass from Remember the Titans; and the record-setting career at Cartersville (Ga.) High School, breaking Georgia state records Watson had set just a few years earlier at Gainesville High School. Lawrence was always set to push Bryant for the job from the moment he stepped onto campus.
So that leaves Hunter Johnson as the one to exit. He announced his intention to do so on Monday.
By all accounts, Johnson was supposed to have an inside track at the starting job after Watson’s departure. He came to Clemson as a 5-star signee in the Class of 2017 from Brownsburg, Ind. Despite Bryant’s emergence as the starter in 2017, once Zerrick Cooper and Tucker Israel announced their transfers this offseason, it appeared there would be at least some place for Johnson.
Fast forward to Monday and his announcement. That leaves Bryant, Lawrence and Chase Brice as the only scholarship quarterbacks on the Clemson roster.
As for Johnson?
No one should infer from his transfer that he wasn’t as talented as Bryant or Lawrence. The Tigers have a lot of talent and not enough room to spread it around. Plus, looking back at the timing and circumstances of Lawrence’s recruitment, it was an extremely close call between Clemson and Georgia to land him. When he made the call for Clemson just weeks before Johnson enrolled at the university, it paved the way for the transfers that followed.
Johnson will land on his feet. He already has a couple of schools closer to his Midwest home interested in signing him. The Tigers, meanwhile, are stacked at a number of positions, with a rising star at running back in Travis Etienne, a stout offensive line and one of the best defenses in the country.
But there will always be that small “What if?” when it comes to Johnson. For both sides, though, it looks as if things will work out in the end.