CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson fans were so excited about Willy Korn joining the Tigers a few years back, they lined up for his autograph when he was still in high school.
These days, it's Korn trying to line up his future, contacting both FBS and FCS schools about continuing his college career somewhere else. With starter Kyle Parker just a freshman and talented newcomer Tajh Boyd ready to compete this spring, Korn announced earlier this month he'd give up his long held goal of starting for the Tigers and transfer out of the program.
"Quarterback for sale," Korn joked to reporters Tuesday night after Clemson started practice for the Music City Bowl later this month.
Korn won't be the first high-profile quarterback to leave a BCS school for the Championship Subdivision. And he thinks it won't mean the end of his time in the spotlight.
"There are plenty of stories out there" of players who excel at their new school, Korn said. Former Florida quarterback "Ingle Martin for instance at Furman, and Joe Flacco (of Delaware), he's doing pretty well now."
Still, it was far from how the friendly, blonde-haired high school star figured to depart Clemson.
Korn led one of South Carolina's most successful high schools, James F. Byrnes, to a pair of state championships while directing an eye-popping offense. His accuracy and running ability made the 6-foot-2, 215-pound Korn into one of the country's top prospects, earning him an invite to the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback camp in 2006 along with South Carolina's Stephen Garcia, Virginia Tech's Tyrod Taylor and Arkansas' Ryan Mallett.
Clemson coaches loved Korn's skillset. Tiger fans loved his commitment to his future college, tracking his games at Byrnes - about an hour's ride northeast of Clemson - and chasing him down for autographs and handshakes.
The hype and expectations continued when Korn got to school, some backers anointing him a starter despite a fourth-year junior in Cullen Harper set to start the 2007 season. Despite Harper's rise, Tiger fans couldn't give up their Korn fix.
In Clemson's second game that season, Harper set a school record with five touchdown passes to beat Louisiana-Monroe 49-26. One of the day's loudest ovations at Death Valley? When Korn jogged in for his college debut with the game's result decided.
"It's crazy. It's hard to believe sometimes," Korn said of the attention. "That's just kind of the nature of college football, especially our fans. They love everybody in that locker room."
Korn's fortunes took a bad turn during his only start at Clemson. Coach Tommy Bowden had tabbed Korn to replace struggling senior Harper after the a loss at Wake Forest in 2008. Bowden was out before the next game and receivers coach Dabo Swinney took over as interim coach.
Then Korn hurt his shoulder throwing a pass early on against Georgia Tech. He needed offseason surgery and had trouble with his arm strength and mechanics during 2009 spring practice. By that time, the rocket-armed Parker had moved in front of the quarterback race and was named the starter.
Swinney had said Korn would see action in most games, but he has made only one appearance in Clemson's past five games.
Korn said he and his family discussed at midseason about leaving Clemson. He made the formal announcement this month, choosing to finish his communications degree and graduate in May before moving on.
Korn knows it will be difficult giving up his friends and teammates of the past two years. In the end, he knew "the greatest thing that's going to make me happy 10 years from now is playing ball, playing the game that you love," Korn said.
Clemson offensive coordinator Billy Napier says Korn was a model of how to handle yourself when things don't go your way. Korn attended every meeting, prepared like a starter and helped younger players with the Tigers' system.
"He had a huge part to do with our success in ways people might not understand," Napier said. "It's great to be around him."
Korn hopes to pick a new school by the end of January. He's not limiting himself to the Southeast, either.
"If I've got to go to a school nobody's ever heard of in North Dakota, that's what I'll do," he said. "I've got two years to have fun and finish off my career on a high note."