WILLY KORN: Under the Radar?

CLEMSON - Remember how it was a year ago? With no proven commodity at quarterback returning for the Clemson football team, freshman Willy Korn was analyzed from every angle imagineable ... by just about everyone.

And the questions were asked over and over against by web sites, newspapers and sports talk shows everywhere in the Palmetto state.

"Would Willy Korn be good enough to start as a true freshman?"

"Could he beat out the other relatively unproven quarterback he was competing against for the starting position?"

"Would he live up to the incredible hype placed on his shoulders for the previous two years when he went through stretches as the most dominating high school player in the state?"

12 months later, Korn finds himself in a much different role answering far fewer questions.

And oh by the way, that's perfectly fine with him.

You see this year, entering the start of preseason camp, there was no doubt who the starting quarterback for the Tigers was going to be- the ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Cullen Harper. Fresh off setting 22 single-season school records in one of the best years ever for a Clemson quarterback, Harper claimed the starting position over a year ago and has held onto it ever since.

Meanwhile Korn saw action on 25 snaps as a first-year player, but hurt his shoulder and never saw the field again after the first three games of the season.

But now, with all of that finally behind him, he's been able to do this preseason what he wanted to do from the very beginning, and that's focus himself on the game he loves so much- football.

There's virtually no media attention.

There's no questioning every single snap of every single practice.

There's no insane amount of pressure to prove just how good of a quarterback he can be.

Willy Korn is just playing the game he loves without all of hysteria that was surrounding him this same time a year ago.

"Honestly, I can adjust to it either way," Korn told CUTigers.com in a recent interview. "I think some people think that because it's the opposite this year that I'd be upset or jealous or something but honestly I'm just enjoying playing football and not having deal with all the hoopla from last year.

"One of the first things Coach Spence ever told me once I got here was, 'don't worry about other people's expectations.' That's huge for me because people think because I played at Byrnes, won three state championships that I'm going to walk in and become the starter. These are Division I athletes and I'm going against the best defense in the ACC and it's not going to happen just like that. It's going to take time.

"It's totally cliché, but I just have to focus on one pass at a time. I can't look forward to when am I going to get my shot. When you start thinking about the future that's when you start struggling."

According to Korn, preseason camp has gone about as well as he could expect so far, and he's also much more comfortable with the offense compared to this time a year ago.

At the same time, he's still got plenty of work to do as well.

"It's been going good so far. I'm way ahead compared to where I was last year," he said. "It's to the point where I'm starting to feel like one of the older guys and the game starts slowing down for you so I feel like I'm doing well.

"The main thing for me is just making sure I'm throwing my routes on time. When I'm not throwing the ball at my best, it's usually because I'm taking an extra bounce and throwing ball late. So the past couple of practices I've really been trying to throw on time."

So the good news is Korn has the right attitude, is continuing to develop his skills and will likely only get better as he watches from the sidelines this year as Harper finishes up his senior season.

But the bad news is exactly that- he's going to be watching the Tigers go after their first ACC Championship instead of playing a major role as a quarterback.

While the schedule does lend itself for him to see significant action provided the first teamers can handle the likes of The Citadel, S.C. State and Duke, the chances of Korn having a scripted series or two against a team like Alabama seem to be slim.

"I doubt that happens honestly," he said. "Your guess is as good as mine but the coaches haven't said anything to me about it. Hopefully I'll get some experience [in other games] because Cullen will be gone next year but we'll have to see how it goes."

But again ... that's ok with him.

A year removed from the insanity of arriving at Clemson with more hype than any other recruit in recent memory, being out of the spotlight isn't such a bad place to be.

"You can't look ahead because that will get you off-track. It's one pass a time," he said. "I'm totally fine with my situation right now because eventually something good is going to happen for me."

Sure, Willy Korn's time hasn't come just yet, but chances are, it won't be too much longer until it does.

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