Penn State Football: Clifford Finally Set To Turn Confidence Into Results
Sean Clifford is confident because Sean Clifford is only ever confident.
This is fitting, of course, because a year ago that same Sean Clifford wouldn't have bet on himself being Penn State's starting quarterback in 2019. Everyone knew how things were supposed to go. Trace McSorley was going to graduate, Tommy Stevens was going to take over and in 2020, that would be the time for Clifford to step up.
But then Stevens left, and all those plans did, in fact, go awry.
It didn't matter because Sean Clifford is confident, because Sean Clifford is only ever confident.
Months before he was ever named the starter he sat in the Lasch Building with a container of hot sauce and his breakfast while he thought about the road ahead.
Losing to Ohio State, as a guy from Ohio, that "pissed" him off. He'd have to try and change that if he got the chance.
Seeing the photos of big games he had watched from the sideline, that excited him. It might be him on the wall next.
Playing in the bowl game against Kentucky, it reminded him of why he loved football so much. Penn State would lose, but man he had fun. It had been so long since his last start, it felt like ages ago, and then all of a sudden he was the guy in a big game.
He missed that, and smiled ever so slightly thinking about it.
So Clifford has always been itching for a chance to get back out there, and while Will Levis may one day prove to be a competent quarterback in his own right, everyone knew how this was going to go the moment Stevens announced his intentions to transfer.
Sean Clifford was going to be Penn State's starting quarterback. Everyone was confident in that.
“I’ve always been preparing as if I’m the starter, and it finally happened,” he said after practice Wednesday night. “Now it’s just like another work week. It really is. And people can say I’m lying to them, but it really is. I haven’t changed one thing since I’ve gotten here.”
“I’m very confident, if not more. We’ve grown a lot since [Lift for Life],” he added. “Camp has changed a lot of things, and we’re ready to attack this week and show everybody what we’ve got.”
Of course there is work left to be done for Clifford to prove his confidence is warranted. He has yet play in the season's biggest moments, hasn't faced a third down in East Lansing, hasn't rallied an offense around him as an avalanche of noise roars in waves on them in Columbus.
There's no reason to think he can't do all of these things, and he will have plenty of chances in 2019 to prove that he can. But so far he hasn't yet.
"I'm pleased with where he's at but, again, you've got to go out on the field and do it when the bullets are flying, there are 100,000 fans, and [the defense] can hit you," coach James Franklin said Wednesday.
Back in the Lasch Building, not even yet the starter, his breakfast finished, Clifford is thinking about his future. It's hard not to because he knows that the last two starters at Penn State held on to the role for multiple years. You have to go back to Rob Bolden to find a starter that lost his job after winning it and all the way to Michael Robinson to find a quarterback that only played for one season before running out of eligibility.
So Clifford knows that he could do what Trace McSorley did and start for the next three seasons. He could chase records, wins, glory, all that comes with being a successful quarterback.
And he thinks about that sometimes, because how could you not?
"Every once in a while I'll think about it, the long distance future," Clifford said. "I try not to think too far ahead but every once in a while I think a year, two years down the road, where I want to see myself at. Obviously I want to see myself play in the NFL and fulfill my dreams there — ever since I started playing football that has been one of my biggest dreams. But when it comes to thinking about the next few years, I'm so focused on this one that it's hard to see the next two."
In two days he will take the field for the first time as a starter and Clifford insists it will be just like all the other times he has walked out for pregame. He says it will be normal, that nothing will feel different.
But he knows he might be wrong, because Sean Clifford might be confident, but he's also human.
"I'll tell you in a week," he said with a smile.