Ben Boulware is approaching No. 2 Clemson’s game at Auburn tomorrow night the same way he approached Clemson’s game against Louisville on Oct. 11, 2014.
That day, Boulware made his first career start at Clemson.
Sixteen starts and 693 days later, the senior linebacker is getting ready to start a season opener for the final time as a Clemson player.
Boulware made the most of his first collegiate start, when he recorded a team-high nine tackles against Louisville with three tackles for loss and a sack.
Now, Boulware wants to make the most of his last season-opening game — and his last season at Clemson.
“It’s my last opener and my last season here, so I’m going to make the most of it,” Boulware said earlier this week. “It’s kind of the same thing as my sophomore year when I got the start against Louisville. That was my first opportunity to start in a game, so I was going to make the most of that opportunity.”
Though the Auburn game will carry additional sentimental value for Boulware, he knows he can’t treat the game any differently than any other one.
That’s the mindset Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and his staff have instilled in the players, and Boulware has fully embraced it.
“It’s another football game,” Boulware said. “Another opponent.”
Heading into the start of his senior season, Boulware has amassed 221 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, four sacks, four interceptions, 29 quarterback pressures, eight pass breakups, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries in 39 games.
Over the course of the 1,249 snaps he has played on the field in three years, Boulware has naturally gotten stronger and become a better player physically.
But Boulware believes he has grown the most mentally and really matured in the mental aspects of the game.
“The strides I’ve made have been more mental than anything,” Boulware said. “I’m not out there freaking out and not knowing what was going on like I was my freshman year. Just mentally being more comfortable in our system, comfortable in coach V’s (Brent Venables’) defense, and the game isn’t near as fast as it was my freshman year.”
Whereas Boulware was once the freshman “freaking out,” he is now the leader of Clemson’s defense. Now, he is helping the new freshmen, such as linebacker Tre Lamar, grow up.
Already, Boulware has seen the young players improve since the beginning of fall practice in early August. And like his own improvement over time, he has seen them begin to develop in their knowledge.
The young guys are beginning to learn what it takes to compete at a high level in college, and they’re beginning to gain a good grasp of Clemson’s defensive schemes and concepts.
“Just knowledge,” Boulware said when asked how the young players have improved throughout the preseason. “I think knowledge is power. The talent is always going to be there, and I think the strides they’re going to make in their physical level and talent level is going to be minimum.
“I think what separates a lot of great players is their knowledge of the game, and that’s probably the main area of improvement of our defense.”
Tomorrow night, Lamar and other young and inexperienced players like Clelin Ferrell, Richard Yeargin and Dexter Lawrence are going to get an opportunity to show what they can do on a national stage with the world watching.
Meanwhile, Boulware will be the calming presence in the middle of Clemson’s defense, leading the youth and anchoring the unit as he tries to make the most of his last, first game in a Clemson uniform.
“That’s kind of the M.O. for my senior year — this is my last opportunity to play at Clemson,” Boulware said. “So, I’m going to make the most of it.”