Quarterback Clifford confident and ready to play
Sean Clifford offered a confident smile to reporters Friday night, speaking more like an entrenched vet than a young quarterback still technically involved in an “open competition.”
“This is the most confident and most ready I’ve ever been in my life,” Clifford said during Penn State’s annual Lift for Life event, which helps raise money to fight rare diseases.
To Clifford’s teammates, that statement was no surprise. The redshirt sophomore has prepared himself for the opportunity to become Penn State’s QB1 since he was a high school junior. He made it a point to be the first commit in his recruiting class — pledging 81 weeks before 2017 signing day — so he could meet every one of his future teammates.
Now that he’s just 49 days from the season opener, his mindset hasn’t changed. He’s thought about this moment for the last 48 months — and, now that it’s finally here, he’s not backing down.
“I think you’re going to see one of the quickest and fastest Penn State football offenses that you’ve seen in a long time,” Clifford said. “Our offense is really hungry to prove that we can be a 400-, 500-, 600-yard offense each and every game consistently.”
Clifford’s confident demeanor Friday wasn’t just a show for the media. In the wake of presumptive starter Tommy Stevens announcing his spring transfer, Clifford stood up during a team meeting and vowed, “There will be no drop-off in the quarterback position.”
Clifford’s leadership has always been one of his defining traits and, with Stevens’ departure, he felt that was the time to be more vocal.
“When you lose somebody like that, obviously, there’s a lot of — there’s a little bit of doubt,” said Clifford, who still talks with Stevens every week. “I felt that in the team room that day. And I think that guys would say that i just wanted to make sure that everybody was good.”
Said offensive lineman Will Fries: “That was definitely a mature and really good thing to do, to get up in front of the team and say something like that because it gets everyone fired up and brings the confidence to the table.”
To Clifford, that’s just him being himself. (And, to teammates, that doubt has long since faded.) Since Day 1, Clifford has spent an inordinate amount of time in the film room and weight room while helping gather the receivers together for offseason drills. Early on his PSU career, in a story that James Franklin often shares to highlight Clifford’s competitiveness, the Ohio native broke his hand after punching a weight bench when not meeting his own expectations.
This offseason, he’s already started to break down opponents’ film while meeting with the wideouts as often as five days a week to work on timing and route-running. He’s excited to “show off” how he’s become more of a dual threat. And, fortunately, he hasn’t tried to knock out any weight equipment.
“He benches 350; he just got 16 (reps) on 225 as a sophomore quarterback, so he’s got a really good upper body foundation,” strength coach Dwght Galt said. “A lot of it is just his work ethic; he trains incredibly hard.”
On paper, Clifford is technically battling for the starting job with redshirt freshman quarterback Will Levis. But the “open competition” is widely seen more as a way to push and motivate Clifford than it is to actually find the next QB. Some players still toe the team line and refer to it as a competition; others speak as if Clifford is already the starter.
Either way, Clifford isn’t taking anything for granted — and, for those who doubt him, he doesn’t much mind. A few of his teammates, such as tight end Pat Freiermuth, recently tagged him on a Twitter post that ranked Clifford as the 11th-best quarterback in the Big Ten.
Clifford just smiled about the tweet Friday. It’s impossible to miss the chatter and the doubts in this age, but Clifford acknowledged he simply sees them and moves on. He’s not the type of athlete to pin every sign of disrespect to his bedroom wall.
He doesn’t need any extra motivation.
“If you don’t think I’m motivated right now, then you’re tripping,” Clifford said. “I’m more motivated now than I ever have been.”
“I think we’re going to silence a lot of people who are doubting us.”