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How Far He's Come: Quarterback Hunter Johnson and Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian Talk QB1 Job

Starting quarterback Hunter Johnson and offensive coordinator Mike Bajakian share their thoughts about what it means for Johnson to be the guy under center come September 3rd against the Spartans.

Hunter Johnson

On what it's like being named the starter and his mindset going into the season opener...

"Yeah, it's exciting. I'm obviously...you know, it's been been a journey. I've been working towards this and just excited to have the opportunity to go out there and play with my guys again. I'm just trying to go out and do my job. That's what I'm here to do, and I'm excited about it."

On the role and impact Peyton Ramsey has had on getting to where Hunter is now and what he took from him...

"Just learning from him, as far as preparation goes, mentality on the field, staying calm in the moment. He [Peyton] was one of those guys that's just always very level headed and I always respected him for that. He was a pro, he was a pro on the field and off the field. He was here to play ball, do his job, and execute on the field. Last year, we were learning a new system and I was just trying to learn, to try to soak it up, be a sponge, learn from Payton [Ramsey] and learn from coach Jake [OC/QB Coach Mike Bajakian]. Just prepare, because you never know when your number is going to be called. I just wanted to be prepared for if that happened last year and be prepared for the coming seasons and this season."

On the difference between now and where he was two years ago...

"I think I've matured a lot. I've grown up a lot. It's not my first time, not my first go around. I've seen a lot of ball and have worked hard with these guys over the past couple of years and developed that chemistry. I'm just excited to go out and go cut it loose and go do it this year."

On what he sees from looking back and reflecting on his play in 2019 and battling injuries and spending time away from the team...

"Any opportunity or anything that you go through is an opportunity to learn and I take a lot from that season and I feel like I've learned a lot from that season. Any kind of struggle you go through is never easy. Just keeping that perspective, knowing that I've gone through that and knowing that at some point something's going to go wrong and you know, I'll be ready for it. My mental aspect goes with being a pro, being a quarterback and just doing my job for the team. Doing my job for the coaches and making sure I dot all my I's and cross all my T's. Doing what I'm supposed to do and what I need to do."

On what it's like going against the defense (and the energy they bring) everyday in practice...

"It's fun, I love it. I love going out there playing against those guys, they're really talented. They're smart, they fly around to the ball and they make it fun to go out and compete against those guys. Chat it up, talk some crap, I love those guys."

On if anyone has reached out to him since he was named the starter...

"A lot of my family members back home and coach [Dabo] Swinney actually reached out to me the other day and told me congrats, I really appreciated that. We've always stayed in contact ever since I was there and it was really really cool to receive that text. Coach [Paul] Allen from Indiana also reached out to me and that was really cool to hear from those guys that I have known for a couple of years now through recruiting and through football. But yeah, lots of family members back home that I love to death and friends from Clemson as well that I've kept in touch with. I'm just very fortunate, very blessed to have so many people that are supporting me right now."

On if he was surprised he was named the starter and the confidence that gives him...

"All I did was have my meeting with coach Jake [OC/QB Coach Mike Bajakian] and then coach [Pat] Fitz kind of handled the rest. Coach Jake broke the news to me and then coach Fitz broke it to the team. It's definitely a confidence booster to know that they have that confidence in me going into the first game and like I said, I'm just just focused on going out and doing my job and focusing on the primary goal of winning the first game and being a starter for the season."

On if it helps being named the starter with still a couple weeks to go before the opener as opposed to being named the starter the week of the opener...

"They're both different situations, and you kind of have to be prepared for whatever happens. I was just going out there every day, whether I was named the starter two days ago or the night before the game, just going out and preparing the same way that I always have and being ready for when my number is called. It feels good to go out and execute with the ones and take it over like that. But at the end of the day, nothing has really changed, it's still football."

Offensive Coordinator Mike Bajakian

On what he is looking to see out of Hunter now that he is the starter...

"Like all the quarterbacks: we got to protect the football, we have to manage the offense, we got to continue to put ourselves in manageable third down situations, complete the football. We talk in our quarterback room all the time, we got to be leaders, number one. We got to protect the football, number two. We got to complete the football, number three. We got to get rid of the football, number four. Those four things are vital to any starting quarterback, any backup quarterback. So we need him to do those things to help us win."

On if he watched film on Hunter from a couple of years ago (in 2019) and his thoughts on how far Hunter has come since then...

"I did. When I first got here, I watched every game, every play of every game. Not knowing much about the guys that they played, I did watch. I feel like he's [Hunter] come a long way since that. Now I wasn't here, obviously, so I can't speak to that exactly, but his grasp of the offense, and the level at which he's executing is very high right now."

On what went in to naming Hunter the starter 17 days in advance of the opener, as opposed to waiting a week out (as they did last season)...

"Hunter's done a very good job. You know, last year was such a different year with COVID and the inability to practice competitive reps very much at all. We were doing a ton of our work last year on air as per NCAA regulations. It took a little longer to evaluate the process last year, but more than that, Hunter's been very consistent from the start, throughout the course of spring, throughout the course of training camp, and has just demonstrated a high level of competency and ability. On top of that, when you're repping a lot of guys like we were and they all did a great job, none of them made the decision very easy, you want to allow your quarterback time to get into a rhythm with the starting receivers and the starting tight ends and all those guys. We just felt like, in talking with Coach Fitz, that it was time to do that, he'd [Hunter] already demonstrated he was ready for that and the time is now."

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On if there was a specific moment he knew Hunter was going to be the starter...

"No, not really. Again, it's a consistent level, performance at a high level, so that's that's where the decision is based in."

On how Hunter has been taking care of the football, especially after struggling so much with turnovers in the past...

"That decision making, progressions, hitting check downs, throwing the ball away, those are things we emphasize. I think with any quarterback, you're always going to emphasize those things and he's bought into that and I've seen him do a good job of not forcing balls into coverage and things like that."

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