CLEMSON - Kelly Bryant just smiled and shook his head every time - and there were plenty of them - someone wondered how national champion Clemson would get along without two-time Heisman Trophy finalist Deshaun Watson.
Not too bad, not too bad at all.
Through three games, Bryant has quickly eased concerns and appears on the same path Watson traveled the past two years - being a part of the Heisman conversation and making Clemson a College Football Playoff contender.
"Let them sleep on me," Bryant said. "I've always been doubted my whole career so let them keep doubting."
The doubters are dwindling the more Bryant plays . He and the second-ranked Tigers (3-0, 1-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) next take on Boston College (1-2, 0-1), which is a five-touchdown underdog this week.
Bryant was a highly skilled quarterback out of Calhoun Falls, about an hour drive south of Clemson, who also had offers from Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia Tech among others. Bryant knew Clemson's immediate future at quarterback was Watson, yet still decided on the Tigers as his college choice.
Bryant acknowledged sitting behind Watson was the not the easiest time of his career.
"Definitely, it was hard," he said. "All my life, I was so used to being the guy running out there with the first team so now I had to take a step back.
"But I also feel it was a step forward," Bryant continued, "because I had to learn to be patient and be ready."
One of Bryant's best teachers in that regard was his predecessor. Watson, 28-2 as a starter his final two seasons, would counsel the young quarterback on keeping calm and not wanting to rush the moment. Once Bryant accepted his role with the Tigers, he went about doing all he could to leave little doubt about who Clemson's next QB1 should be.
Not that Bryant - who had just 18 throws his first two seasons on the bench - had convinced outsiders about his ability. While head coach Dabo Swinney said Bryant would start the spring as No. 1, he left the door open for strong-armed redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and five-star true freshman Hunter Johnson, who had enrolled shortly after Clemson's national title victory.
Bryant's patience paid off, quarterback coach Brandon Streeter said, as the junior did all the right things to earn the job outright.
In the past two games, Bryant's elevated himself into the Heisman conversation.
Against Auburn, Bryant was briefly knocked out of the game when he lost his wind during a hard hit and Clemson trailing 6-0. Bryant rallied the Tigers to two long touchdown drives, both ended on Bryant TD runs, for a 14-6 victory.
Bryant left little doubt about the better quarterback in the much-hyped showdown with Louisville's Heisman winner Lamar Jackson . Bryant threw for a career-best 316 yards that included a 79-yard TD pass to Ray-Ray McCloud.
McCloud was never concerned about Bryant's ability, confident that the Tigers would have a smooth transition after Watson gave up his final college season and was taken No. 12 overall by the Houston Texans.
"What he's shown is stuff we've been seeing since he got here," McCloud said. "Kelly just waited his time, has kept his faith and now it's coming to light. What he's been doing in the dark is what the nation is finally seeing."
Bryant has kept his fun-loving attitude through the start of this season. The other day before taking questions, Bryant whispered "mic check" into each of the assembled microphones and tape recorders. When asked if he was having fun, Bryant smiled, "Every day."
Bryant may have gotten the biggest vote of support after the Louisville from Watson (the two keep in touch each week) who Tweeted, "He will be better than me."
Bryant's flattered. There's time for Heisman talk and accolades later on. Right now, he's got a mission to accomplish in winning another ACC title and reach the playoffs again.
"It's good and all," he said. "I'm just going to focus on the team and all, getting better."
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