The 2020 season always shaped up to be the one in which Clayton Tune would have a reasonable chance to start at quarterback for the Houston Cougars, and so it shall be, if and when it gets under way.
Tune’s path to QB1 status, though, has required a few twists. He was on track to redshirt in 2018 and 2019, but injuries in each case to starter D’Eriq King resulted in a call to action for five games in 2018, one over the redshirt limit, and for seven in 2019.
Penciled in after the season as King’s likely backup once more in 2020, Tune was elevated to the starter’s role when King elected to transfer to the University of Miami.
Oddly enough, his elevation gives coach Dana Holgorsen a fresh start with a signal-caller that he can mold wholly in the image of what he wants to see in a quarterback, rather than adapting the system to a proven commodity such as King.
“He’s ready to roll,” Holgorsen said. “Clayton is a well put-together, athletic guy who is now the main guy. I have high hopes for him. He understands what to do and is completely at ease with what’s happening.”
What’s happening, of course, has taken on a slightly different tone in this strangest of offseasons, with players scattered to their homes in the wake of COVID-19 and team-building exercises taking place via daily Zoom video chats.
Tune, though, believes the UH offense is coming together while players are apart.
“We have small group chat, and I try to talk with our offense and spend time with them and keep things fresh,” Tune said. “We want to keep the drive that we had in the spring going for when we get back together.”
Tune threw for 1,533 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while recovering from a hamstring injury suffered Sept. 28 against North Texas. The injury has healed, and neither Holgorsen nor Tune are concerned that it will hamper his ability to run when circumstances warrant.
“I’m a pass-first guy, but I can make plays with my feet,” he said. “If I get in trouble, I’m able to take off, but it’s not the goal. The goal is to get the ball to the more athletic guys. I’m not trying to be Tim Tebow running the ball.”
UH returns its most productive receivers from last year, led by Marquez Stevenson and Keith Corbin. Tune was also impressed by running back Mulbah Car’s work in UH’s limited spring practices.
Tune admits his unexpected elevation to starter last year “was weird at first.”
“But everybody has brought in now and we’re ready to win,” he said. “Now that I’m the guy, I’m taking that into the offseason and into fall camp and getting chemistry with the guys, watching film and doing extra work to get that edge.”
Part of that edge, he said, is getting accustomed to Holgorsen’s mindset of what he wants from the position.
“It’s been good to be around him and to learn his personality,” Tune said. “He can be funny and goofy in meetings, but we talk and watch film, and we’re getting into the same mindset.
“He’s a fiery guy, for sure. If you do something wrong or stupid, he’ll let you know about it, which is good.”
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