Whitehurst Looking Forward to Fresh Start

by - Correspondent -
Whitehurst already owns Clemson single game records for TD passes, completions, and passing yards.

CLEMSON - The scene repeated itself so often that one can't help but commit it to memory.

Close your eyes and you can see Clemson quarterback Charlie Whitehurst running for his life before finally being flattened by Texas Tech defenders in the 2002 Tangerine Bowl. Time after time Whitehurst was driven into the turf.

Time after time he got up and came back for more.

That is, until the final hit with just over two minutes to play knocked him silly, sending the then redshirt freshman to the sidelines for good with a concussion.

For his offensive linemen, the whole affair was an embarrassment even beyond the 55-15 loss on national television. The man they were supposed to protect above and beyond anyone else was beaten to a pulp.

"It was ridiculous," said center Tommy Sharpe. "Nobody wants to go on national television and look like an idiot."

Yet despite the pounding, despite the concussion, despite taking home chunks of Orlando's Citrus Bowl turf stuck to various body parts, there was one thing Whitehurst never did:


"He never pointed a finger. He never blamed us even though it was our fault," Sharpe said. "That's Charlie. Sometimes he takes too much of the blame."

The wounds have healed, obviously.

Since the pounding he took last December, Whitehurst has made it through a spring practice - where he held on to the No. 1 job, prompting fifth-year senior Willie Simmons to transfer - and is confidently in charge of the offense as fall camp passes the midway point.

It's a new year, a new team, and a fresh start for Whitehurst and his rebuilt offensive line.

"It's exciting. Coming into this season as the clear No. 1 quarterback has been a different experience," he said. "There's a lot of responsibility that comes with it. But I look forward to the challenge. I think we've got a team here that will surprise some people before it's all said and done."

That he is able to keep a level head is a tribute to Whitehurst's upbringing.

The son of a quarterback, the younger Whitehurst learned early on that fate and fortune often are two sides of the same coin. And despite Clemson fans readiness to anoint him the latest football savior at Death Valley (he's 3-2 as a starter, with wins over Duke and both Carolinas; his losses were to Maryland and Texas Tech), Whitehurst knows there still is plenty to learn.

And to prove.

"Nobody hands you anything," he said. "You have to keep working at this job every day. If you don't, there's always somebody out there ready to take your place. I've still got a lot of work to do before I'll be satisfied."

Yet there is a confidence about Whitehurst that his teammates respect.

Fifth-year senior J.J. Howard said Whitehurst was the main reason he figures the 2003 Tigers to finally make the big step forward in the ACC. He has shown the ability to command a huddle, even though a year ago - operating out of the spread offense - there was no huddle to command.

And then there's this story, told by Sharpe.

"His freshman year, my redshirt freshman year, we were working on the scout team one day and I happened to ask him, 'Charlie, what happens if Woody (Dantzler) goes down, Willie goes down and (Matt) Schell goes down. What would you do?'

"He told me 'I'd just have to take over and drive us down the field.' When I reminded him he didn't know the offense yet, he said 'Doesn't matter. We'd find some way to get it done.'"

That, along with the toughness shown during his trial run as a starter a year ago, is why Whitehurst's teammates respect him.

Of course, the feeling is mutual. He wants to spend as much time surrounded by them as possible, which is one reason why he is so pleased with the return to an I-formation offense.

"I love it," Whitehurst said. "I want as many of those guys out there blocking for me as I can get."

Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 9 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9.

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