CLEMSON—For many Clemson fan, the unknown commodity in the quarterback race was rising redshirt sophomore Tucker Israel and not either one of the freshmen—redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and true freshman Hunter Johnson.
That reason for the lack of understanding surrounding Israel has more to do with timing than talent.
Israel enrolled three years ago, January of 2015, alongside, starting quarterback for now, Kelly Bryant and a look at his resume from high school would show even the recruiting novice that Israel had something special.
A second-team All-American and honorable mention by Parade, Israel set six state passing records during his high school career–breaking Tim Tebow’s state record for passing touchdowns in a season (56), setting the state record for career passing touchdowns (162), passing for 15,034 career yards while averaging 5.1 passing touchdowns and 349 passing yards per game in his career.
But all those accolades were but a note in a record book when he arrived at Clemson, because he knew that the Tigers had their guy for at least two more seasons in Deshaun Watson.
Now, 40 months removed from his arrival on campus Israel believes that he is ready to make a name for himself—if that is what is best for team.
“I definitely feel like I am ready and capable to lead the offense, but I really want what is best for the team,” Israel said. “I mean, whether it is me or Kelly, or Hunter or Zerrick out there—the most important thing is that we support that guy and believe in him, because the ultimate goal of this team is to make it back to the championship game. So, whatever I can do to help the team—that’s what I want to do.”
In a quarterback battle that has been described by coaches as a “three-man race”—with most assuming the three names most likely to be competing to be Bryant, Cooper and Johnson, Israel did his best to throw a wrench into the system in the Tigers’ annual Orange and White game.
On the day, Israel was easily the Tigers’ most efficient passer—completing 13-of-19 passes for 94 yards and a touchdown to wide receiver Trevion Thompson.
However, just as the coaches have said that they are not as concerned with the stat line for each of the four quarterbacks as they are their game management, Israel understands that it was just one scrimmage.
“We’re all working hard to get to that number one spot,” Israel said. “It’s not going to end today. I’m not going to win the job today, and I’m not going to lose the job today. It was a good performance today. I’m overall just happy with myself, but there’s always room for improvement.”
The improvement that will need to take place, for every player, will now happen behind closed doors, in the meeting rooms, in the weight room, the film room and on the empty practice fields, as spring practice has come to a close.
It is the legacy that was left behind by one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the position in a Tiger uniform that will push Israel and the rest of the quarterbacks to be their best.
“We had a great quarterback here before in Deshaun (Watson), so there’s a lot to live up to,” Israel said. “Whoever the starting quarterback is at this university, there’s always something we can improve on.”