Is Cade Klubnik the next great Clemson QB?

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CLEMSON, S.C. — Possibly it is the hair. This a lot, Cade Klubnik is keen to concede. It is neatly trimmed, parted on the facet, clean-cut, skilled and, yeah, a fairly shut resemblance to the lower worn by his coach, Dabo Swinney.

However Swinney is not stopping with the hair. Klubnik’s bone construction, his facial options, the way in which he carries himself, assured and energetic — it is all downright Dabo-esque, he stated. They’re lower from the identical DNA.

“He could possibly be my son,” Swinney stated. “He hates after I inform him that.”

Clemson’s sophomore quarterback can argue with the notion he resembles his 53-year-old coach, however spend sufficient time across the two and the Klubnik-Swinney Venn diagram seems more and more like a near-perfect circle.

There’s the unrelenting optimism. Swinney has a behavior of summing up even essentially the most bitter defeats as an opportunity to be taught extra about his crew and get higher, and so it sounded awfully acquainted when Klubnik shrugged off the worst throw of his freshman season — an interception in opposition to Notre Dame that was an Irish landing — as one thing he was grateful occurred.

There’s the unassuming character. Swinney carved out his area of interest in school soccer by being, for lack of a greater phrase, goofy. He danced awkwardly within the locker room after wins, deliberate a pizza get together for the complete campus upon Clemson’s first playoff berth, coined slogans akin to “Carry your personal guts” after a win in opposition to the Irish. Klubnik won’t be fairly as quotable at this level in his profession, however he is definitely not image-conscious both, his highschool coach, Todd Dodge, stated. Klubnik, like Swinney, was beloved at Westlake Excessive in Austin due to how little they cared about making a slick picture.

“We did not need cool guys — guys who have been extra nervous about their model than their manufacturing,” Dodge stated. “And Cade might be essentially the most uncool soccer participant I’ve ever coached.”

Swinney’s life was constructed round soccer. Klubnik first picked up a ball when he was 3, and from then on, he nearly by no means set it down. Although, this is likely one of the actual distinctions between the 2. Swinney was a walk-on at Alabama, a soccer obsessive whose true expertise was in educating the sport to others. Klubnik was so good from such an early age that his future highschool coach, Todd Dodge, pegged him a star when Klubnik was within the fifth grade. Dr. Newt Hasson, who was on the sideline for each Westlake Excessive Faculty recreation for 37 years calls Klubnik the most effective QB to ever play there, an evaluation he stated his finest buddy agrees with. Oh, and his finest buddy occurs to be Chip Brees, whose son, Drew, starred at Westlake within the Nineties.

Swinney is unflinchingly aggressive. After Klubnik’s center college 7-on-7 crew misplaced within the state championship recreation, he delivered a rousing speech, promising to return higher than ever. The crew received the following two titles.

Swinney savors each victory with Tolstoy-length postgame speeches, dancing, an countless parade of handshakes and hugs with each dad or mum and recruit he sees. That is Klubnik, too. After Westlake received the 2021 state championship at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, the crew’s announcer was packing as much as go away. The lights within the stadium have been off, however he may make out a determine sprinting throughout the sector, arms within the air, squealing with pleasure. It was, in fact, Westlake’s quarterback.

Swinney has coached his share of greats on the place — Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson, Trevor Lawrence — however process some superior synthetic intelligence to create the right quarterback for Dabo Swinney, and it might spit out a picture of Cade Klubnik.

“As human beings, in our work ethic, within the nonstop power we give off, the management and the way in which we reside,” Klubnik stated, “we’re fairly comparable.”

It is becoming then that, after a two-year absence behind a malfunctioning offense, Clemson begins its quest for a return to the School Soccer Playoff tonight in opposition to Duke (8 ET on ESPN) with Swinney’s avatar on the sector working the present and a renewed sense of optimism infiltrating each crevice of the locker room.

KLUBNIK WAS A highschool sophomore when his mom posed a query: If he may play for any coach within the nation, who would it not be?

Klubnik did not hesitate. The child from Austin, Texas, who’d by no means even traded textual content messages with recruiters from Clemson wished to play for Swinney.

For his half, Swinney had no clue who Klubnik was on the time. Clemson was sizzling on one other blue-chip quarterback, Ty Simpson, however late within the course of, offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter popped on some Westlake recreation tape and informed Swinney that, ought to issues fall by means of with their high goal, Klubnik appeared like a robust Plan B.

Swinney watched the movie and was impressed. He picked up the cellphone and referred to as Klubnik, simply to make an introduction.

“We begin speaking,” Swinney stated, “and he is recruiting me.”

Klubnik had greater than 30 affords by this level, and Swinney was upfront about Clemson’s funding in touchdown Simpson. However, Swinney stated, if issues change, Klubnik would get the following provide.

The 2 stored in contact, and the extra they talked, the extra Swinney preferred the child. On the day earlier than Simpson was scheduled to announce his choice, Swinney pulled Streeter apart and acknowledged the elephant within the room.

“That is bizarre, proper?” Swinney stated. “Now we have this opportunity to get this nice QB tomorrow, however I do not know. I actually like Klubnik.”

In Austin, Klubnik was equally smitten. He had affords from the 2 locations his mother, Kim Klubnik, described as “dream colleges” — Texas A&M and Texas — however he could not cease interested by the connection he had with Clemson. After Klubnik demurred, A&M finally landed on Conner Weigman, closing one door, and earlier than Simpson made his alternative, Klubnik confronted a deadline with the Longhorns after getting an nameless textual content from somebody at Texas tipping him off that Maalik Murphy was scheduled to go to campus and prone to commit.

Klubnik made some calls and was informed his finest guess can be to decide to Texas. He may all the time change his thoughts later. However his highschool coach put a unique spin on the state of affairs.

“There aren’t many issues you might have on this world that nobody can take away from you,” Dodge stated. “Your phrase is considered one of them.”

That sealed the deal for Klubnik. He knew the place he wished to play, and it wasn’t Texas.

“He let that window shut on each [in-state schools] as a result of he wished to play at Clemson,” his father, Tod Klubnik, stated.

By late February 2021, Simpson was able to announce his alternative. The evening earlier than his announcement, Swinney received a protracted textual content message from Kim Klubnik. She thanked him for recruiting her son, gushed over how a lot the method had meant to him, and the way a lot she and Tod had loved attending to know Swinney and his employees.

The following morning, Simpson referred to as Swinney with information. He was going to Alabama.

Swinney’s subsequent name was to Klubnik.

“And he simply stated, ‘Properly, I am committing,'” Swinney stated. “It was one of many coolest moments. He knew precisely what he wished to do.”

SWINNEY AND KLUBNIK beamed from the dais inside Financial institution of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was Dec. 3, and the Tigers had simply received the 2022 ACC championship. Klubnik was almost good, finishing 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and accounting for 2 touchdowns.

“It was an incredible evening,” Swinney stated, “and a glimpse of our future.”

Lacking from the dialog, nevertheless, was a lot dialogue of the latest previous.

If the ACC title recreation represented the official altering of the guard in Clemson’s quarterback room, the months that preceded it supplied little foreshadowing.

Klubnik knew when he arrived on campus in January 2022 he’d open the 12 months as a backup. DJ Uiagalelei had struggled all through the 2021 season, however Swinney had given the veteran a heartfelt endorsement. For Swinney, Uiagalelei and Klubnik, there was no competitors.

For everybody on the surface, the story was totally different. They’d seen Watson nab the beginning job a month into his freshman season, then watched Lawrence do the identical 4 years later, main the Tigers to a nationwide title within the course of. Clemson followers wished Klubnik so as to add to that legacy.

In Clemson’s opener, a straightforward win over Georgia Tech, Klubnik got here on in rubbish time and appeared sensible. Requires a quarterback change started instantly, however Swinney emphatically backed his starter.

Six weeks later, Klubnik rescued Clemson from a halftime deficit in opposition to Syracuse — the results of three turnovers by Uiagalelei — and followers once more assumed it was time to show the offense over to the child.

Every week later, Klubnik received one other likelihood in aid in opposition to Notre Dame. His first — and finally, his solely — throw was intercepted in Clemson’s first lack of the 12 months.

Then within the regular-season finale, Klubnik remained on the bench all through a disastrous loss to rival South Carolina during which Uiagalelei accomplished simply eight of 29 passes.

By this level, a hefty contingent of Clemson followers have been outraged that the blue-chip freshman hadn’t taken over as QB1, however contained in the locker room, the tenor was totally different.

Klubnik and Uiagalelei have been tight, even rooming collectively on the street. The locker room was staunchly behind Uiagalelei, too, which made any change harder for the teaching employees. And for all of Klubnik’s potential, on most weeks, Uiagalelei merely practiced and performed higher, in line with a number of sources contained in the Clemson program.

“Me and DJ had an incredible relationship,” Klubnik stated. “We nonetheless communicate an honest quantity. I simply tried to be his largest supporter and make him the most effective he could possibly be. When Coach made a change, he grew to become that for me. Folks attempt to flip a foul eye or flip us in opposition to one another, but it surely was by no means like that.”

Fact is, Klubnik by no means pined for the beginning job. He’d already realized the worth of biding his time.

When Klubnik was in third grade, he’d met Nick Foles, a former Westlake quarterback. Kim Klubnik heard Foles can be attending a exercise session in Austin, so she pulled Cade from college so her son may meet him. Years later, when Cade discovered himself concerned in a three-way quarterback battle getting into his sophomore 12 months at Westlake, he emailed Foles for a little bit recommendation. Foles, who’d come off the bench and led the Philadelphia Eagles to a Tremendous Bowl victory within the 2017 season, supplied a prolonged reply imploring Klubnik to embrace his time as a backup.

Be the starter’s largest fan, Foles stated. All the time take psychological reps. Be affected person. Be taught.

Klubnik did as he was informed, and by 12 months’s finish he’d helped Westlake to a state title.

At Clemson, he took the identical strategy, cheering on Uiagalelei and humbly sidestepping any questions on a quarterback controversy.

“I did not know if I used to be going to get to play in a single week or in three years,” Klubnik stated. “I simply tried to remain assured in who I’m and simply be taught, maintain my head down and proceed to work.”

That is the place Klubnik’s love for the sport begins, his father stated. It is not that he did not need the beginning job. It is simply that he did not thoughts biding his time as a result of, for Klubnik, the time was nonetheless nicely spent.

“He loves the grind,” Tod Klubnik stated. “It is not that he does not thoughts it. He loves it. He loves getting up early and dealing, staying late and watching movie. He loves it. So final 12 months, the entire 12 months was the grind and getting higher.”

On that dais after the ACC title recreation, Swinney admitted he’d really thought Klubnik’s second would come in opposition to Notre Dame. He’d performed nicely in aid within the prior recreation, and he’d had an off-week to prep for the Irish.

This was all information to Klubnik. When Swinney made clear his freshman was the brand new face of this system lower than an hour after the ACC championship recreation ended, it marked the primary time Klubnik gave actual thought to the job.

“I had a lot belief within the coaches,” he stated. “I got here to Clemson for Coach Swinney and that employees to be part of this tradition, and with that’s simply trusting the coaches — no matter plan that they had.”

IT WAS KLUBNIK’S low level of 2022 when he received over the locker room.

His first begin for the Tigers got here in final season’s Orange Bowl. It went poorly. He threw for 320 yards, however Clemson’s offense repeatedly slowed down within the purple zone, Klubnik threw two picks and he was sacked 4 occasions. Tennessee received 31-14.

Klubnik took a beating within the recreation, however within the locker room he was upbeat. He hugged seniors who’d made their final look for Clemson. He promised higher days to a bunch of gamers demoralized by the loss. He was mad in regards to the end result, too, although. That is the factor that basically got here by means of, stated Hunter Johnson, who’d spent the 12 months as Clemson’s No. 3 quarterback.

“He took some pictures, and he simply stored going,” Johnson stated. “After the sport he was fairly beat, but it surely was apparent that did not matter to him. He simply wished to win that recreation.

“I used to be like, ‘OK, he’ll be a first-round decide, a kind of guys who’s going to take Clemson all the way in which sooner or later.’ He is only a winner. That is simply who he’s.”

After the Orange Bowl, Swinney fired Streeter and introduced in Garrett Riley to reinvigorate the offense. It was, as a lot as something, an funding in Klubnik.

The brand new coach-QB pairing has been a superb match. If Klubnik oozes Swinney power, he might need much more in widespread with Riley, a fellow Texan who exudes a palpable confidence that infects each nook of the locker room. Klubnik stated the connection has been a boon.

Uiagalelei transferred to Oregon State at 12 months’s finish, clearing the trail for Klubnik to lastly embrace his function because the centerpiece of Clemson’s locker room. It took a number of months for him to turn into totally immersed within the function, however Swinney raved about Klubnik’s presence and management this summer season.

A 12 months in the past, Klubnik wished to be deferential in a locker room that had the utmost respect for the incumbent. Now, it is Klubnik’s crew, and it is a function that fits him completely. He led offseason exercises, throws together with his receivers continuously and even began a weekly Bible examine for teammates at his house.

“I am the chief, the participant, the energy-bringer — again to regular me,” Klubnik stated. “It has been a heck of an offseason.”

Now, the job actually begins.

Klubnik was joyful to attend his flip final season. The time on the bench was by no means what bothered him. However he has received his complete life — not simply video games, however championships. That is what drives him, and final 12 months fell in need of that benchmark.

“Final 12 months, that was a superb 12 months,” he stated. “However this 12 months, we have got greater targets.”

When Klubnik was within the eighth grade, his dad took him to see the Underneath Armour All-America Bowl in San Antonio. The boy was riveted. After they returned residence, Cade taped his ticket stub to the mirror in his bed room and made a promise: Sooner or later, he’d play within the recreation, too.

In 2022, he was named the sport’s MVP.

As a freshman at Westlake, Klubnik was speaking with teammates in regards to the future and posed a query: What if Westlake received the following three state titles?

On the time, the Chaparrals had only one state championship of their historical past. With Klubnik at quarterback, nevertheless, they received in 2019, 2020 and once more in 2021.

When Klubnik places his thoughts to one thing, he wills it into actuality. He nonetheless has a whiteboard he makes use of to trace his targets. That is the place the nationwide title sits now, an aspiration written in marker. However quickly, extra will probably be written. It needs to be.

“Cade all the time says it isn’t a dream,” his mom, Kim, stated. “It is a plan.”

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