CLEMSON, S.C. -- Charlie Whitehurst figured he'd be Clemson's starting quarterback sometime, so why not now?
Whitehurst, a freshman who set school records with 420 yards and four touchdowns against Duke last week, wasn't looking to become the team's starter when the season began. But after the Tigers' offense bogged down the past few weeks with junior Willie "Shotgun" Simmons, Whitehurst was ready with the perfect spark.
Now, Whitehurst is Clemson's unexpected leader and hero as the team heads to North Carolina (2-7, 0-6 ACC) on Saturday.
The changes have "crossed my mind sometimes," Whitehurst said Tuesday. "I thought eventually I would be the starter, now, later, it doesn't really matter."
Unless you're a team like the Tigers (5-4, 3-3 ACC), who were expected to challenge for an Atlantic Coast Conference title but found themselves at .500 midway through the season.
Clemson coach Tommy Bowden turned to his backup in Whitehurst, who got his savvy and arm-strength from his NFL-quarterback father David Whitehurst.
Things didn't look all that great until the end either with Clemson trailing 24-10 into the fourth quarter. Then Whitehurst began the rally. He completed a 4th-and-10 pass to Airese Currie for a touchdown. Scoring throws to Derrick Hamilton and J.J. McKelvey followed as Clemson recovered from its horrible 38-6 ESPN loss to North Carolina State and got itself back on track for a fourth-straight bowl game.
Whitehurst also finished with Clemson records with 34 completions and 52 pass attempts without an interception.
"I tell you, the thing I'm most proud of," said David Whitehurst, a Furman graduate who played for the Green Bay Packers, "he was able to maintain his concentration. Despite everything that was going on, Charlie was able to focus and concentrate."
And so far, the younger Whitehurst has done it with the full support of his teammates, including Simmons.
Simmons, a fourth-year junior who was Bowden's first high-profile recruit in 1999, says he'll keep working to make himself and Whitehurst better.
"It'd be difficult for anybody to handle the change, especially someone who's waited around for four years," offensive lineman Gary Byrd said. "He's the guy, then all of a sudden, that's taken away from him.
"At the same time," Byrd says, "as an athlete, you realize in the game of college football, you've got to get it done or coach is going to find someone else."
Bowden said he made the switch last week after Simmons, who has seven of the team's eight interceptions this year, could not reduce his turnovers. Bowden met with him twice in the week leading up to Duke and was confident Simmons would keep the team in the forefront over his feelings of disappointment.
"From his personality, I think he'll compete like always," Bowden said.
The coach expects the same growth to continue from Whitehurst.
Already, he stands in the pocket waiting for receivers to spring open rather than forcing a run or scramble. Bowden says Whitehurst will have to learn to get down faster to avoid charging defenders.
But with a father for a quarterback, Whitehurst already has an edge.
"It's the apple-tree theory," Bowden said. "You know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree."
Whitehurst says he was 2 years old when his father retired from pro football. People in their Georgia neighborhood knew of the family's NFL connection, but David Whitehurst didn't overwhelm his children with it, Charlie said.
But the two have talked football ever since Charlie Whitehurst can remember. They worked on techniques and coverages through Charlie's years at Chattahoochee High in Duluth, Ga.
"He pushed me harder than anybody else, just never too much, you know what I mean?" Charlie said.
David said he would go to the sidelines of his son's high school games to discuss strategy. Once Charlie selected Clemson, father left the coaching to the coaches. "They're good people and I respect them," David Whitehurst said.
Charlie Whitehurst doesn't think he'll break his record this week or anytime soon. Just as long as he gets the chance.
"I don't worry about the hype that comes with this," Whitehurst said. "I will keep preparing hard because I know I've still got work to do."
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