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Farewell to Clemson QB Kelly Bryant

Love ya, mean it

NCAA Football: ACC Championship-Clemson vs Miami
Kelly Bryant earned MVP honors on his way to a 2017 ACC Championship Game victory
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Kelly Bryant enrolled at Clemson in 2015 following a decorated career at nearby Wren High School. He was a finalist for Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina, a 4-star QB prospect, and the heir apparent at quarterback for the Tigers. His physical skills were well known, but he first made our jaw drop as a freshman in 2015 against an overmatched Miami team...

The games that followed would bring a multitude of highs for Clemson Football. Bryant waited his turn behind Watson and was part of consecutive championship game runs, and the 2016 national championship team. Then, in 2017, Bryant was put in the incredibly difficult position of being the quarterback to replace Deshaun Watson, the greatest player in Clemson football history.

Bryant responded to that challenge by showcasing dynamic running skills, efficient passing, and superb leadership. He led Clemson to an 11-1 regular season, winning every game he started and finished. Then, he orchestrated a dominant 38-3 performance in the ACC Championship game against #7 ranked Miami. The play Bryant displayed during that December night in Charlotte should not be forgotten. His accuracy – at any distance – was at its peak, and his tremendous athleticism was on display almost immediately...

Here he is throwing a frozen refrigerated rope in stride to RRM3 down the seam:

Here he is finishing that drive with a demoralizing race to the pylon:

And some might think this video is a deep fake, but it is actually a beautiful deep pass to Deon Cain:

Unfortunately, that night turned out to be Bryant’s best as a starter. The next time he put on pads would be in the Sugar Bowl during a 24-6 loss to Alabama. In the days and weeks that followed, we did what sports fans do and tried to make sense of the embarrassing loss. That led most of the blame to be placed on KB. The reasons were discussed ad nauseum but generally centered around Clemson’s inability to threaten Alabama with a vertical passing game. Bryant bore most the criticism. However, to be fair, Bryant also made some exceptional plays during the game. Including numerous plays like...

This scramble for a first down:

He was also the victim of poor receiver play:

And poor offensive line play:

And his two interceptions can easily be attributed to a missed block by ETN + Tremayne Anchrum and poor effort by Deon Cain:

By the time Bryant got home from New Orleans fans had already anointed Trevor Lawrence as the 2018 starter, future Heisman winner, and program savior. Bryant had not only been in the unenviable position of replacing the best to ever play at Clemson, he would also end up being the person standing in the way of the most talented recruit to ever commit to Clemson.

Bryant, Lawrence, and the entire coaching staff said all the right things throughout the offseason. It was an open QB competition and the best player would play. Zerrick Cooper, Hunter Johnson, and Tucker Israel saw the writing on the wall and transferred before fall camp began. Insider media raved about Lawrence’s arm talent all camp, but few were surprised when Bryant was named the game one starter against Furman. The real litmus test was on the road against Texas A&M the following week.

Bryant went into College Station as the starter but found points hard to come by early. As a result, Lawrence led the offense onto the field to start second half in what appeared to be an audition for the starting QB position. Surprisingly, Lawrence looked rattled and Texas A&M began building momentum. Coaches acted on what we as fans saw and inserted Bryant back into the game. He responded by leading the team on two straight touchdown drives that included the two memorable passes below…

First, he completed this beautiful TD bullet to Diondre Overton in the only window possible

Then, this rollout and deep completion to the one and only Hunter Renfrow

If Bryant isn’t Clemson’s quarterback that night does Clemson pull off the tough road win? The feeling at that moment was no. That win turned out to be Clemson’s best of the regular season, left no doubt about the college football playoff, and allowed Clemson to become the first 15-0 team in college football history. Kelly Bryant deserves the lion’s share of credit for escaping Kyle Field unscathed – and he should be recognized for it.

The schedule eased up in the weeks that followed and Bryant’s senior leadership was no longer needed to pull off victories. Further, Trevor Lawrence’s exponential development curve was in high gear. The number’s backed up what our eyes were telling us – the offense ran better with Lawrence at QB. The coaches named Lawrence the starter against Syracuse and Bryant shocked fans when he announced his intention to leave the team and transfer.

Every fan has their opinion on Bryant’s decision, how he handled the media in the days that followed, and his choice to immediately leave the team. His “slap in the face” comment remains unjust and inexcusable. Make no mistake though:

1) He didn’t owe it to Clemson to stick around as a backup.
2) He was a very good quarterback when he played.
3) His early season performance was a critical factor in the 2018 Tiger’s case as the greatest team ever.

Kelly Bryant’s tenure at Clemson may leave some with mixed emotions, however, I argue he should be celebrated. He overcame immense pressure as the stopgap between Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. He led the 2017 team to a top-10 year in Clemson football history and was a key piece of the success of 2018. Respect the young man’s decision to prioritize his football career and wish him the best of luck next year as the starting QB for a different group of Tigers. And finally - farewell KB, you are appreciated!