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Kliff Kingsbury has coached two freshmen quarterbacks in his days as an assistant: David Piland of Houston, and -- well -- the other guy gets enough media attention as it is.
Regardless, both quarterbacks enjoyed successful freshman campaigns -- one more than the other -- and Kingsbury has a track record of turning 18 and 19-year old kids into the field generals of their respective teams. Piland was forced into action early in the 2010 season after Houston star Case Keenum went down with an injury. In eight games, as a true freshman, Piland completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 2,641 yards with 24 touchdowns to 14 interceptions.
With the probability of Davis Webb or Baker Mayfield getting the start against SMU gradually increasing, Kingsbury may be tested once more on his ability to transform former high school standouts into productive college starters. Piland said being tossed into the starting position as a true freshman was a difficult adjustment, particularly because of the game's tempo at the collegiate level.
"At that time, you just don't really understand the speed and tempo of the game," Piland said. "So, you're just catching up on the fact that when you snap the ball, they're going twice as fast as what you've ever seen before."
The pace of the game was something Piland said he needed to get accustomed to early, and Kingsbury helped eased him into a level of comfort in practice so he would be ready for it during the games. After constant repetitions of game-like situations in practice, Piland said he became relaxed under pressure situations.
"When it was chaos," he said, "I had seen it so many times that my instincts were changed from freaked out, to, 'Hey, you've done it a thousand times because he (Kingsbury) made you do it a thousand times, and you know exactly what to do even though it's a lot faster than anything you could practice.'"
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Piland said working with Kingsbury was different than working with any other coaches because of his ability to connect with the players in a unique way. His youth and playing experience at every level allow him to give the team a different perspective while also establishing closer relationships.
"He's definitely like a big brother," he said. "He's going to tell you how it is, and he wants the best for you, but at the same time, if you're not doing what you're supposed to do, he'll call you out on it."
While Kingsbury was not afraid to point out specific mistakes, his experience as a quarterback allowed him to understand why mistakes were made or why plays did not work as planned. In one team meeting, Piland and the Houston coaching staff were going over a play in which Piland missed seeing an open receiver over the middle. An offensive lineman had moved into the way of Piland's line of sight, blocking his ability to find the receiver.
"Those coaches would be like 'How could you not see him? He's wide open!' And he (Kingsbury) was like 'Oh, because of the o-line,' and they would just let it go. It's one of those things where it's a lot different working with a guy who's been in your shoes."
Aside from his youth and ability to relate to the players, Kingsbury also has a special ability to give his team an abundance of confidence, Piland said. Before games, Kingsbury would point out particular plays and guarantee touchdowns out of them -- and no one disputed his claims.
"No one questioned anything," Piland said. "It wasn't like, 'If this doesn't work out, check the ball down,' it was just like, 'Yeah, I know it's going to be a touchdown.' So he just really instilled a lot of confidence in everything we were doing."
Despite being a true freshman, Piland said Kingsbury did not lower expectations for him. Instead of running small, easy-completion plays, Kingsbury made sure Piland was taking shots down the field early and often.
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"He had me run the same stuff that anybody in the system would run," Piland said, "and he expected the same thing out of a freshman kid as he would out of any other guy."
Whether Webb or Mayfield gets the start, Kingsbury will still have high expectations. The key to reaching the goals set by Kingsbury and having a productive year as a starting freshman quarterback is taking Kingsbury's advice seriously, Piland said.
"Listen to everything he says, take a lot of notes," he said. "Go out and have fun, and he's always going to have your back, no matter what."