In December 2008, Dabo Swinney could offer little more than hope to Tajh Boyd. Swinney had just been hired as Clemson’s full-time coach after serving as interim for half a season. Boyd, meanwhile, was a five-star quarterback prospect being recruited by the likes of Ohio State and Oregon.
“Jim Tressel was at Ohio State and Mike Bellotti was at Oregon, and they had pretty good track records, and here I am trying to kind of lay it out on paper for him,” Swinney told reporters at the ACC Football Kickoff. “Here’s the vision; here’s the plan. You come to Clemson, we can change Clemson and it’ll be a lot of fun doing it, but I’ve got to have a guy that’s willing to saddle up to me.”
Boyd trusted Swinney, and he has been a cornerstone for the Tigers’ revival since, reeling in an ACC title, a Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU and a top-10 preseason ranking this season. After a record-setting junior season, Boyd chose to return to Clemson for his senior season.
“He has unfinished business, and it’s exciting to see where we are now from where we were when I was sitting in his den back in December of 2008,” Swinney said. “It kind of makes me dizzy to think about it.”
Last season, Boyd piloted offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ offense to national top-10 finishes in scoring offense (41.0 points per game) and total offense (512.7 yards per game). Boyd himself ranked No. 5 in the country in passing efficiency (165.6) and No. 7 in total offense (339.2 yards per game). He holds hopes for Clemson to win the national championship — its first since 1981 — and a Heisman Trophy, which would be the first in school history. He is 12 wins away from breaking Rodney Williams’ school record for wins by a quarterback (32).
After last season, when measuring those opportunities against the NFL draft, Boyd turned to the most famous quarterback to hail from Boyd’s stomping grounds, the Hampton Roads area in southeastern Virginia. Eagles quarterback Michael Vick and Boyd have known each other since early in Boyd’s Clemson career. Boyd considers him a mentor.
“He asked me, Did I want to be the best,” Boyd said at the ACC media-days event. “He was like, If you want to be the best, go back to school and do everything to make sure you can do that.”
It was the right advice for Boyd.
“I personally want to be the best player,” Boyd said. “I want us to be the best team we possibly can. So why not give it one last shot at it?”
The reigning ACC player of the year, Boyd was picked the ACC preseason player of the year. He gained notoriety when South Carolina All-America defensive end Jadeveon Clowney told reporters at SEC Media Days that Boyd was afraid of him. Boyd played it off, saying he wasn’t scared of Clowney and “that’s just not on my radar right now.”
He can give his Heisman candidacy a boost when the Tigers play Georgia at Death Valley on Aug. 31 on a nationally televised stage. The Tigers will play Georgia Tech on Nov. 14, also at Memorial Stadium.
It doesn’t hurt that he’ll have one of the more explosive players in the game to target. After a trouble-filled sophomore season that limited him to 10 games, Tigers wide receiver Sammy Watkins has positioned himself to exceed the first-team All-American performance of his freshman season. Speaking with Clemson reporters in July, Morris said that Watkins looked leaner, the result of conditioning work over the summer.
With running back Andre Ellington, wide receiver Andre Hopkins and tight end Brandon Ford in NFL camps, a lot of the production burden falls on Watkins.
“I can’t have Sammy Watkins come in there and play six plays and come out because he’s tired,” Morris said.
Watkins said he planned to shift Watkins around the field, taking advantage of his experience and knowledge of the offense, to ferret out advantages.
“I’m expecting him to have his best year yet, and there’s no reason why he can’t,” Morris said.
If he doesn’t, it won’t be because of the quarterback.
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