Until he led unranked Clemson to a 26‚Äì10 upset of No. 3 Florida State last November, Charlie Whitehurst was a promising young quarterback on an average ACC team. But that big win turned out to be the first in a run of four straight by the Tigers to close the season, including a 27‚Äì14 defeat of sixth-ranked Tennessee in the Peach Bowl. Clemson‚Äôs average margin of victory in that run: 27 points. Now Whitehurst, a 6'4", 215pound junior who threw for 3,561 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2003, is regarded as the star of a juggernaut. ‚ÄúCharlie gained more confidence in himself,‚Äù offensive coordinator Mike O‚ÄôCain says of his passer‚Äôs breakout season. ‚ÄúNow he‚Äôs generating that confidence in others. Guys gravitate to him.‚Äù
Not bad for a player whose biggest claim to fame coming out of high school was being the son of former Green Bay Packers quarterback David Whitehurst. Charlie was No. 2 on the depth chart until the Tigers‚Äô ninth game of 2002, when he threw for 420 yards and four touchdowns in a 34‚Äì31 win over Duke. A classic drop-back passer at a school that‚Äôs had few of them, he set 22 school records by the end of that season and drew comparisons to his idol, Brett Favre. ‚ÄúCharlie plays within himself and has tremendous poise,‚Äù says O‚ÄôCain. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs never had just a terrible, terrible game.‚Äù
Inexperienced at tackle and wide receiver, the Tigers will need some of Whitehurst‚Äôs confidence to rub off on the untested players early on. Sophomores Roman Fry and Marion Dukes step into the holes on the offensive line, with left tackle Fry under extra pressure to protect the quarterback‚Äôs blind side. Clemson also must replace three wideouts who combined for 155 catches and 2,209 yards last year. Senior Airese Currie and junior Curtis Baham are dependable targets, but sophomore Chansi Stuckey is an intriguing option. The No. 2 quarterback last year, Stuckey has displayed the kind of elusiveness that could make him a game-breaker. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs as electric as anybody I‚Äôve seen after making the catch,‚Äù says Whitehurst. ‚ÄúThe talent level of this team is better than last year‚Äôs.‚Äù
If that‚Äôs the case, and Clemson can win on the road against Florida State or Miami, or both, don‚Äôt be surprised if Whitehurst makes a run at the Heisman. After all, he threw for more yards last year than any other sophomore in the country, including USC‚Äôs Matt Leinart. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs an honor to be mentioned with him,‚Äù says Whitehurst, ‚Äúbut I haven‚Äôt done what he‚Äôs done yet. Let‚Äôs win the ACC first. That‚Äôs my goal.‚Äù --M.B.
2003 RECORD 9‚Äì4 (5‚Äì3, 3rd in ACC)
FINAL AP RANK 22
RETURNING STARTERS 14
KEY RETURNEES (2003 stats)
LB Leroy Hill (Sr.)
Team‚Äôs leading tackler (145) was All-ACC
QB Charlie Whitehurst (Jr.)
Second ACC soph to reach 5,000 passing yards
WR Airese Currie (Sr.)
43 catches for all-conference sprinter
CB Justin Miller (Jr.)
Led Tigers with 13 passes broken up
RB Duane Coleman (Jr.)
Clemson‚Äôs top rusher with 615 yards
Tackles for loss by linebacker Leroy Hill in 2003, second most in Division IA behind Western Michigan‚Äôs Jason Babin (32).
For all of his success QB Charlie Whitehurst hasn‚Äôt had a favorite receiver, but 6'2", 215pound sophomore Kelvin Grant might be the one. He caught 12 passes for 79 yards and a TD as a redshirt freshman in 2003. In off-season scrimmages Whitehurst has been throwing often to Grant, who has a flair for highlight-reel catches.
Sept. 4 WAKE FOREST
11 GEORGIA TECH
18 at Texas A&M
25 at Florida State
Oct. 7 at Virginia
16 UTAH STATE
30 N.C. STATE
Nov. 6 at Miami
13 at Duke
20 SOUTH CAROLINA
SEAN MEYERS/ICON SMI
MAKING A NAME
Already drawing comparisons to Favre, Whitehurst is on track to follow his dad into the NFL.