AUBURN, Ala. -- Jarrett Stidham saw a Waffle House food truck pull up to Auburn's football facility Wednesday night and got an idea.
“Hey,” he told to one of the employees, “do you mind if I grab a hat and some spatulas and jump in?”
No one was about to tell the most popular person in Auburn no.
Two days earlier, Stidham was named the Tigers’ starting quarterback. But his legend had been building long before that. His former coach at Baylor, Art Briles, called him the best young QB he had ever been around, and wide receiver Lynx Hawthorne, his former teammate, once described his passes a “gift from God.” Even Las Vegas has gone all-in on the 6-foot-3 righty from Stephenville, Texas, setting his odds of winning the Heisman at 20-to-1.
Had Stidham asked, they probably would have let him fry up some bacon and drive the truck around the block for kicks. Instead, he worked the window and dished out hash browns.
Talk about a quarterback winning over his teammates, serving breakfast for dinner. His head coach, Gus Malzahn, who’s a big fan of the chain restaurant, had to be pleased, as well.
If Stidham does half of what’s expected of him on the field this season and knocks off Alabama, he might get a dish and a statue in his honor.
Granted, he has been on campus eight months and hasn’t thrown a meaningful pass, but good luck identifying a false move from Auburn’s next big thing at quarterback. The only questionable thing about him thus far is his choice of favorite musical artist.
“I’ll get made fun of, but I don’t really care,” Stidham said. “It’s a tie between The Weeknd and Justin Bieber.”
Go ahead and prepare your clever College GameDay signs poking fun at his love for Biebs -- he’s a self-described “Harry Potter nerd” too -- but it’s that no-nonsense, jump-right-in attitude that has some around the program believing he can handle the hype in a way his predecessor, Jeremy Johnson, could not.
Stidham, who recently turned 21, is a gym rat whose best friend is Auburn fullback Chandler Cox. His idea of fun lately is binge-watching “Game of Thrones.” And while he might be active on social media, he’s not exactly studying his mentions. Bring up the Heisman Trophy in conversation and watch him wince.
“People say all this stuff, but I’ll be honest, I try to block it all out,” he said. “Because it’s all speculation right now. I’ve yet to play a down here.”
Unlike Johnson, who buckled under the first sign of pressure, Stidham already has experienced adversity in his young career. His freshman season at Baylor in 2015 was cut short by a broken ankle. A few months later, Briles was fired and Stidham faced the difficult decision to transfer.
Rather than give into the impulse to play right away at a junior college and lose a year of eligibility, he took online courses to finish his associate’s degree and trained six days a week.
It was “lonely work,” Stidham said.
Instead of staying close to home and his girlfriend, he committed to Auburn over Texas A&M, even though the Tigers had a returning starter at quarterback in Sean White.
Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson and some of his Auburn teammates were skeptical when Stidham first arrived, but after an A-Day scrimmage in which he completed 16 of 20 passes, they had no doubt.
“Is he really that good? Is he this or that? I think he is,” Johnson said.
Tigers wideout Will Hastings offered his take on Stidham.
“A lot of people are saying, ‘I don’t know about the SEC,’” Hastings said, "but I have full faith in him to go out there and throw some dimes.”
Malzahn is excited too, but for now, he’s pumping the brakes on the hype train in a way that wasn’t readily apparent during the run up to Jeremy Johnson taking the reins in 2015.
“He has a very good skill set,” Malzahn said of Stidham. “But you know what we have to keep in mind? He has about only four games of experience in college. So there are going to be some growing pains.
“Is he talented? Yes. Do we expect him to do well? Yes. But he hasn’t had a whole lot of experience, in fairness to him.”
The numbers and film tell a different story, though. In 10 total games at Baylor, he threw for 1,265 yards and 12 touchdowns. Watch the game at Kansas State -- his first as a starter -- and you’ll see what the fuss is about: the strong arm, quick release and mobility.
Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, when asked about Stidham’s ability to throw the deep ball, joked that he hoped he wouldn’t see it when the two teams meet Nov. 4.
“He's going to be successful; it's just a matter of when and what time,” Sumlin said.
In Auburn’s offense, that could be soon.
Stidham might not buy into his own hype, but his eyes light up when he talks about the weapons he’ll have to work with. Getting Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson back at tailback is a “luxury,” he said.
Wideout Nate Craig-Myers showed what he was capable of during A-Day, amassing 154 receiving yards, but Stidham called wide receiver and fellow sophomore Kyle Davis a “freak of nature,” as well.
“I played with Corey Coleman and KD Cannon at Baylor,” he said. “Corey, obviously, was the 15th pick and won the Biletnikoff [Award]. So I’ve been around some good guys before. But this group, they have a chance to be super, super special.
“There’s so much size, speed, strength, elusiveness. Everything you want in a receiving corps, we have it.”
In less than two weeks, when Auburn opens the season against Georgia Southern, we’ll get to finally see what Stidham can do with a fresh start and a new set of toys.
The hype can’t get any more intense.
Now it’s time to jump in the fire and see what’s real for the Tigers’ Heisman hopeful.