Daryll Clark is still making great reads for Penn State.
Before training camp kicked off in State College, Clark was talking to Nittany Lions receiver Graham Zug about incoming freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Clark, the record-setting signal caller at Penn State from 2006-09, had spent some time with Bolden at the Elite 11 quarterback camp last summer in California.
"[Bolden is] going to come in and he's going to be able to make his reads. He's a good quarterback, and he's further ahead than [I've] seen in a lot of high school quarterbacks," Clark told Zug.
"After that," Zug said, "I kind of knew this guy's for real."
More evidence arrived in camp, as Bolden immediately put himself in the mix to replace Clark as Penn State's starter. Although Kevin Newsome and Matt McGloin were sophomores and freshman Paul Jones had gone through spring ball, Bolden, the last man to enter the race, quickly joined the lead pack.
When the dust settled last Thursday, coach Joe Paterno and his staff made a historic decision and named Bolden as the team's starter. Two days later, Bolden became the first freshman quarterback to start a season opener for Penn State in 100 years.
He more than held his own against Youngstown State, completing 20 of 29 passes for 239 yards and two touchdowns with an interception that wasn't all his fault (receiver Derek Moye tripped). The 6-4, 208-pound Bolden looked like a freshman for a quarter and a half before settling into a nice rhythm.
"He wasn't nervous at all, didn't have those jitters or anything," Zug said. "He was comfortable, cool and calm."
Paterno adhered to his long-standing policy with true freshmen and didn't make Bolden available to reporters after the game or this week. But other than the media blackout, Paterno isn't treating Bolden like a newbie.
The 83-year-old typically puts true freshmen one rung above the water boys, but Bolden is different.
"He's very poised, he's all business, he's a very likable kid, he's coachable, he's a hard worker," Paterno said. "He's everything you're looking for."
Bolden's rapid rise has been one of the Big Ten's surprise story lines so far in 2010. Now the freshman has the chance to shock the college football world.
He makes his first career road start Saturday against No. 1 Alabama, the defending national champion (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET). Few freshmen in college football history have had tougher assignments in their first away games than Bolden will have at a sold-out Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"We kind of had to put the Rosetta Stone program together to help him learn the language," Penn State quarterbacks coach Jay Paterno told reporters after the Youngstown State game. "He learned Spanish. Next week he's got to know Mandarin Chinese -- on the road, be fluent in it, under pressure. So we'll see."
Bolden's teammates have realistic expectations for Saturday night.
"There's probably going to be some bumps along the way," said receiver Brett Brackett, who caught two touchdown passes from Bolden against Youngstown. "How he reacts to those bumps will tell how he does as a whole. ... He hasn’t played in that type of environment. There aren't many like it. But I'd like to think the way he handles himself and the way he handles the huddle will help him down there."
Penn State's offensive players already are noticing changes in Bolden this week. His voice is stronger in the huddle -- not quite up to Clark's timbre, but getting there. He's also grasping the importance of leading with a swagger.
"He’s taking control, making sure everybody knows it’s his huddle," Zug said. "I expected him to be nervous in the last game, but he wasn't nervous at all. I think he'll be the same way this game."
The odds are against Bolden to beat 'Bama.
But as he has proven in the last month, the odds don't mean much to him.