When Tyler Carlton first laid eyes on quarterback Colten Gauthier, Carlton knew there was going to need to be some kind of change for the then assistant college coach to ever work with the young passer.
Gauthier was hardly done with his freshman year, having just transferred to Hebron Christian in Dacula, Georgia, and Carlton was coaching at Western Carolina after a stint at Clemson with Chad Morris. Carlton saw the young passer’s arm talent and quickly realized something.
“I started laughing,” Carlton said. “I said, ‘The only way I’m ever going to be able to recruit this kid or coach this kid is if I change my logo.’ ”
But now Carlton is coaching Gauthier, now a senior and a South Carolina football commit. He’s the fourth offensive coordinator Gauthier has had in high school, but in that revolving door, learning new and different offenses each season, there are lessons.
Gauthier has had to pick up something new each time. It’s the kind of flexibility that can pay off in college where coaches move frequently (the Gamecocks are on offensive coordinator No. 3 in five seasons).
“It’s like a language,” Gauthier said. “The more languages you learn, the better off you’re going to be in the future, the more adversity you face.
“I see it as a blessing in disguise, just being able to pick up on different terms.”
Carlton played at Tulsa, where he caught on with Morris. He went from there to Clemson, working through most of the Tajh Boyd era and the start of Deshaun Watson’s time there. Then Carlton went to WCU as wide receivers coach, getting promoted to offensive coordinator last season.
After the year, he was let go in a staff shakeup. A friend connected him to new Hebron coach Stan Luttrell, who was replacing former NFL All-Pro Jeff Saturday, and the pair connected quickly (Carlton also liked the school’s culture and approach).
It didn’t hurt that he got to work with that talented passer he’d watched a few years prior.
“The quarterbacks has got to be a guy that’s gonna think on his toes,” Carlton said. “That’s what else Colton is, No. 1 is competitive and then No. 2, he’s cerebral. He’s a kid that understands structures of defenses. It was really neat to see Week 1 to Week 2 just his growth.”
The coach detailed how Gauither had attacked the offseason, often going through 4-5 hours of film work after the team worked out in the mornings. That has been part of the growth of his understanding of how to read defenses, see the game in a wider way to go along with that physical talent.
At 6-foot-3, Gauthier has room to add some weight, and he’s in an offense that both asks a lot of him and can put a lot of the game in his hands.
He threw for more than 340 yards in the season opener and dropped back early and often in Friday’s game against Elbert County, the team’s first win of the season. The 23-7 victory wasn’t perfect, as the offense had to settle for three field goals and drops and fumbles were a problem, but one could see a mix of attacking the perimeter and taking shots.
The offensive front has to come on to get the run game shored up, but it allowed Gauthier to command the proceedings. Carlton said the scheme asks a lot in terms of reading the defense pre-snap and developing a feel for what the QB is seeing.
“What we run up offensively is a college-style offense,” Carlton said. “With progression reads, the way we run routes, that’s gonna be based on what the defense is playing coverage-wise, pressure-wise, haven’t decided yet, having to make sure we’re in the right protection.
“It’s pre-snap anticipation. It’s post-snap confirmation.”
The coach said his passer has said this year he’s seeing the game slow down in front of him, the payoff from those hours of film. He’s also shown a competitive streak, something that keys the majority of how a player builds himself up before games.
The pair have also built a relationship, with Carlton asking his young charge to trust him in putting the offense in spots to succeed, while also asking the senior what he’s comfortable with and what he’s seeing.
Gauthier and his Lions teammates are in the midst of an unusual year. They’ve had two games canceled, one pulled together on short notice. The USC pledge can’t visit his school in the usual way, though he’ll be enrolling in January.
He’s joining a QB room that includes some talented prospects, and while his recruiting rating perhaps isn’t quite as high (a four-star by one service, three by another, a top-600 player in the national rankings), Carlton says Gauthier has plenty of ability.
The coach called his arm talent “rare” and spoke highly of his ability to throw on the move. For a player who is listed as a pro-style passer, Gauthier can move around a bit in the pocket and take the yards when they’re there.
There’s been a process of balancing things out, making sure a fiery personality that aims for perfection doesn’t lead to him trying to do everything, but with the ability he has, the staff won’t shy from using it.
“Colten’s arm strength and arm talent is probably up there with on par with Deshaun and Tajh,” Carlton said. “I think that’s a pretty big compliment considering those two guys were pretty good college football players.”