What can Georgia Tech expect from quarterback Taisun Phommachanh?

Former Clemson quarterback Taisun Phommachanh announced his transfer to Georgia Tech May 16, 2022. (David Platt/Clemson Athletics)

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Former Clemson quarterback Taisun Phommachanh announced his transfer to Georgia Tech May 16, 2022. (David Platt/Clemson Athletics)

Taisun Phommachanh’s path to the field at Georgia Tech won’t be easy. In transferring from Clemson, the former four-star quarterback will contend with Jeff Sims, the Yellow Jackets’ two-year returning starter. His role on the roster will be to add depth at the quarterback position and to push Sims on the practice field.

But Phommachanh likely isn’t coming to Tech to watch from the sidelines. He just as easily could have done that at Clemson.

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“In the end, it was an opportunity to compete and play,” Phommachanh’s high-school coach, Pierce Brennan, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “He felt he wasn’t getting that at Clemson. He did what he needed to do there; he grew as a player, he graduated, he got a degree, and now it’s time for something new.”

Phommachanh went into the transfer portal in December at the end of his third season with the Tigers. In those three seasons, he appeared in 13 games. He spent the first two of the seasons backing up Trevor Lawrence, an All-American and eventual first overall NFL draft pick. After Lawrence’s departure, Phommachanh was passed by D.J. Uiagalelei. A torn Achilles injury suffered in Clemson’s 2021 spring game, from which Phommachanh made a stunning recovery to be able to play last fall, didn’t help. But he did appear in six games last season, completing 11 of 19 passes for 131 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

When he went into the portal, his plan was to transfer between semesters to be able to participate in spring practice at his new school. California, Florida State, South Carolina and Pittsburgh were among schools that showed interest, according to a report in December by the Connecticut Post.

“Cal was the big one,” Brennan said. “Cal was the one that I thought it was going to be a done deal with.”

However, Phommachanh (pronounced “PUMA-chahn”; his first name is pronounced “Tyson”) was one semester from earning his degree at Clemson, but multiple schools that were interested would have required him to put in considerably more work to graduate from their institutions.

“A lot of schools weren’t willing to say, ‘Come here for one semester, we’re going to give you a degree with our school’s name on it,’” Brennan said. “I do know that was kind of the deal with a few places, so it kind of made sense for him to finish up his degree and be in the portal as a grad transfer.”

That change in plans enabled Tech to get into the picture. With Sims and backups Zach Gibson and Zach Pyron, coach Geoff Collins was one shy of a preferred allotment for scholarship quarterbacks. Phommachanh and Collins had a relationship, Collins having recruited him when he was at Temple.

Phommachanh also connected with new quarterbacks coach Chris Weinke.

“I know (Phommachanh’s father Sam) mentioned that they had great talks with Chris Weinke, the quarterback coach,” Brennan said. “And that’s what Dad mentioned, is that Chris loves what Taisun offers and can bring to the table. You’re obviously going to get a mature kid that’s got some pretty high-level football under his belt.”

As a high-school prospect, Phommachanh was ranked the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class by 247Sports Composite. At Clemson, his playing time was limited, but he did practice daily against one of the top defenses in the country.

From first glance, he isn’t dissimilar from Sims. Both have size (Phommachanh is 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds; Sims is 6-3, 210), have strong arms, can throw with accuracy downfield and have the agility to extend plays in the pocket or to get downfield for long gains.

“He can create,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Phommachanh during the ACC Network broadcast of the Tigers’ 2021 spring game, ironically moments before he suffered his Achilles injury. “He really has great feet. He’s got good instincts for the game. He’s a developmental quarterback, and I’m really, really pleased with where he is.”

As he gets to know his new team, Phommachanh figures to do so in an understated style.

“He’s a quiet leader,” Brennan said of Phommachanh. “It’s funny, it’s not show. He’s not going to show high energy just to show it, but when he does show it, I think people take notice.”

Brennan believes that, as a high schooler, Phommachanh faced an extra challenge playing at a Connecticut boarding school. Where in Georgia, for example, the high-school season is a minimum of 10 games and can last up to 15 games, Avon Old Farms School played nine games in both Phommachanh’s junior and senior seasons, and that was with a playoff game. The competition level undoubtedly was not as high as he might have faced in other states.

Further, “we don’t get the spring ball that kids (elsewhere) get,” said Brennan, now at Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va. “And us being at a boarding school, we don’t get the summers with the guys.”

Particularly for a quarterback, Brennan said, it can slow a player’s development. Three seasons in the competitive cauldron of Clemson likely has helped him catch up. He now has three more to see if he can make up more of the gap and earn the playing time he seeks.

Brennan called his former star quarterback “one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around.” He recalled that Phommachanh played basketball and ran track at Avon Old Farms, even though he might have been better served to spend more time in the weight room.

“He wanted to compete, and I think that’s what you get out of Taisun Phommachanh,” he said.