Like most of his classmates, Clemson engineering student Harris Roberts has thoughts on the quarterback competition raging across campus. “The Clemson quarterback battle? Whew,” Roberts says. “It’s kind of funny, because I think it’s just two completely different skill sets.”
Roberts can’t pick a winner. He believes Kelly Bryant’s running ability forces defenses to account for Bryant’s legs every play, but freshman Trevor Lawrence may allow the Tigers to stretch the field more vertically. Why would Roberts’s opinion matter a little more than any other Clemson student taking classes in heat transfer, manufacturing processes, designing machinery or systems control?
Because Roberts may be the quarterback on the other sideline when the Tigers open the season.
Roberts, a 6'4", 209-pound fifth-year senior from Cumming, Ga., is one of two QBs vying for the starting job at Furman, Clemson’s opponent on Saturday. He spent his first three years earning a pre-engineering bachelor’s at the small liberal arts school about 32 miles from Clemson. Because Furman doesn’t offer an engineering major, students who wish to study the subject there spend their final two years at either Clemson, Georgia Tech or NC State. Every weekday, Roberts drives 40 minutes to Clemson for class. Then he makes the drive in reverse to get to practice at Furman. (He listens to podcasts to pass the time; Pardon My Take is a favorite.) So when the Paladins take the field at Death Valley on Saturday, Roberts will know the way. “We played Michigan State a couple of years ago, and we played NC State last year,” Roberts says. “I’m not familiar with those schools and those stadiums at all when we pull up on their campus. But I’ve parked behind Memorial Stadium for the past year. I walk past it every day.”
Roberts, who completed 9 of 13 passes for 110 yards while backing up starter P.J. Blazejowski last season, is playing the Bryant elder statesman role at Furman while competing with redshirt freshman JeMar Lincoln for the job. Furman coach Clay Hendrix has said both should play against the Tigers. So when Roberts takes the field—whether it’s on Furman’s first drive or later—he’ll likely be the first player in college football history to play against the school where he currently takes classes. “There have been guys on the team doing [the dual-enrollment engineering program] before,” Roberts says. “I’m just the next guy that’s doing it. But no one had ever done it when we played Clemson.”
Since you’ve probably been asking this since the third paragraph, yes, the NCAA allows this. It’s actually written into the bylaws:
188.8.131.52 Cooperative Educational Exchange Program. A student-athlete may represent the certifying institution in intercollegiate athletics even though at the time of competition the student is enrolled in another institution in a cooperative educational exchange program, provided:
(a) The certifying institution considers the student to be regularly enrolled in a minimum full-time program of studies; and
(b) All work is placed on the student's transcript and accepted toward his or her undergraduate degree at the certifying institution.
According to Furman sports information director Hunter Reid, the legislation that created that rule was written by the late Francis Bonner, who, like Clemson coach Dabo Swinney, graduated from Alabama. Bonner, who served as a dean, as a vice president and as provost at Furman, was Furman’s faculty athletic representative to the NCAA from 1968 to ’90.
That’s why Furman coaches could recruit Roberts, who knew in high school that he wanted to study engineering so that he could get a job in the automotive industry. A car nut who drives a Dodge Challenger but who would love a late-60s Mustang (classic division) or a Nissan GTR (modern, money-is-no-object division), Roberts wants to use his Furman/Clemson degrees to work either on the manufacturing side or the design side of the car business. Roberts chose Furman because it was the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship. If he hadn’t taken it, he was headed for Division II or Division III. “I came in as a partial scholarship guy,” Roberts says. “I knew it was going to be a lot of work and a lot of waiting.”
After a year at Clemson, Roberts has adjusted following an initial culture shock. After three years at Furman taking classes with between 10 and 30 students, Roberts had a few early classes at Clemson with as many as 150 students. Even his current upper division engineering classes have 30 to 40 students. “It’s really strange because you’re used to going to class at Furman. It’s a small school. You know everybody,” Roberts says. “You go to Clemson and it’s this huge campus. There are 20,000 students.”
Until recently, Roberts stayed fairly quiet about his unusual academic/athletic arrangement. “In the past, I’ve kind of just snuck into class and kept to myself,” he says. “If I explained to someone that I played football at Furman, then a million questions would come right after that. But now everybody knows.” A story in the Greenville (S.C.) News this month explained the situation, so Roberts won’t have any qualms about wearing Furman’s royal purple in class this week. “I might be a little more popular than I was before,” he says.
Still, Roberts isn’t quite sure how much his classmates will pull for him on Saturday. “I think they’ll cheer for me to do well,” he says. “But not too well.”
A Random Ranking
Since the vast majority of college football teams debut this week, and since most of this year’s freshmen were born in 2000, I’m ranking the best debut albums since 2000.
1. Hot Fuss, The Killers
Best song: “Somebody Told Me”
2. The College Dropout, Kanye West
Best song: “Jesus Walks”
3. good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick Lamar
Best song: “M.A.A.D City”
4. Home Grown, Zac Brown Band
Best song: “Junkyard”
5. Vampire Weekend, Vampire Weekend
Best song: “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
6. The Bones of What You Believe, Chvrches
Best song: “The Mother We Share”
7. Oracular Spectacular, MGMT
Best song: “Electric Feel”
8. The Fame, Lady Gaga
Best song: “Starstruck”
9. Get Rich or Die Tryin’, 50 Cent
Best Song: “In Da Club”
10. Pawn Shop, Brothers Osborne
Best song: “Stay A Little Longer”
Three And Out
1. The QB1 announcements are coming in waves.
Monday, Clemson’s Swinney announced that Bryant would start against Furman. It’s a safe bet we’ll also see Lawrence against the Paladins.
Elsewhere in the ACC, Florida State coach Willie Taggart announced that Deondre Francois would start against Virginia Tech on Labor Day. Francois beat out James Blackman, who replaced Francois after Francois was lost for the season with a knee injury suffered in last season’s opener against Alabama.
Nebraska released its depth chart Sunday, with 6'2", 220-pound true freshman Adrian Martinez at QB1. Buckle up. This could be exciting. The old Tennessee staff—which had Martinez committed before Butch Jones was fired—considered the Fresno, Calif., native a program-changer. When he was at UCF, Scott Frost couldn’t land Martinez, but Frost made Martinez an immediate priority after taking the Nebraska job. Martinez is an electrifying runner. That fits well in Frost’s offense, which features read option and more traditional option concepts. The Cornhuskers open Saturday against Akron.
Martinez at least had a spring practice under his belt before he was named the starter. Another name-brand program will roll with a freshman whose first practices came this month. J.T. Daniels, who reclassified so he could enroll in 2018 instead of ’19, will start at USC.
Even though Daniels reclassified, we need to cool it with all the “he should be in high school” shenanigans. Daniels did the QB Redshirt in middle school — repeating a grade so he’d be older and more physically mature in high school. So he’s actually entering college with the same class with which he started kindergarten.
2. The NCAA reversed course last week and will allow LSU defensive back Kristian Fulton—who has been suspended for the past 18 months—to play immediately. SI’s Ross Dellenger chronicled Fulton’s suspension last month.
3. The 2018 college football season actually kicked off Saturday, and there’s a player you need to know after the first set of games: Hawaii quarterback Cole McDonald.
The Rainbow Warriors lost previous starter Dru Brown to a graduate transfer to Oklahoma State this offseason, but McDonald, a 6'4", 205-pound sophomore from La Mirada, Calif., eased any concerns by completing 26 of 37 passes for 418 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 96 yards and two touchdowns in Hawaii’s 43–34 win at Colorado State.
McDonald set a new school record for passing yards by a quarterback making his first start. The previous record-holder? Current Hawaii coach Nick Rolovich.
What’s Eating Andy?
On Sunday, I drove past a place in a small Florida town that advertised itself as a buffet that specialized in sushi and barbecue. I’m all for ambition, but sometimes it’s not wise to try to be all things to all people.
What’s Andy Eating?
An Old Fashioned is like macaroni and cheese in exactly one way. If the ingredients have some time to mingle before they touch your lips, something already great becomes sublime. For mac and cheese, it’s best to bake it after letting the constituent parts meld together in the fridge overnight. For an Old Fashioned, it’s best to mix it and let it age in a barrel. This gives the whiskey, the bitters and the simple syrup time to get to know one another before they tackle the task of giving you a buzz. As an added bonus, the bartenders don’t get backed up mixing the drinks because after resting in the barrel, they’re already ready to pour.
Barrel 21 in State College, Pa., barrel-ages its Old Fashioned—and its cousin, the Manhattan—using house-distilled whiskey. It also offers an appetizer that pairs perfectly with that Old Fashioned. There were five of us when I visited last week, and we started with one order of the spicy Korean meatballs. By the time dinner had ended, we had plowed through six orders of the fiery balls atop a bed of coconut bamboo rice. As soon as the last spoonful of sauce-soaked rice disappeared on each order, our server got flagged down again.
We ate these meatballs before the main courses and after the main courses, and if we all didn’t have to work the next day, we might still be ordering meatballs. This isn’t to say the entrees weren’t worthy. I had braised short rib atop a mélange of grits, andouille sausage, peppadew, carrots and mushrooms. The tender, savory meat dripped juice into the peppadew-spiced grits, creating a mix that was even better than the meatball-rice combo. Across the table, two friends ordered bavette steak with chimichurri sauce. What’s bavette? It’s a flap of meat similar to a skirt steak. It isn’t the sexiest cut, but it’s tremendous with a light coating of chimichurri.
When I come back, I’m going to need to see how the Manhattan stacks up to the Old Fashioned. (For science, of course.) I’m also going to need to try the prime rib sandwich, which looked like another capable drinking companion. But if I want to achieve all that, I’ll need to keep the meatball orders below three.
I’m not sure I can pull it off.