By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON — Tajh Boyd said Dalton Freeman made him into an All-American quarterback. That’s hard to argue with since Freeman is an All-American center.
Both were named First-Team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) last month, the first quarterback and center duo in Clemson history to be named to a First-Team All-American squad, and just the third quarterback-center combo in the history of the AFCA to be named to the first-team in the same year.
“We are close both on and off the field,” Freeman said of his relationship with Boyd. “You have to be able to have a relationship that goes beyond the lines of the field. That immediately took over for us. It was natural. We put in a ton of work in the winter, the spring and the summer trying to get on the same page.
“We got to where I would make my calls and then he would do his thing and then we both look at each other at the same time, and we were like, ‘let’s go.’”
The two paired up one last time in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last week, and what a show they helped put on. Behind Boyd’s 346 yards and two touchdowns the Tigers rallied for a 25-24 victory over No. 7 LSU. The Clemson offense totaled 169 yards in the fourth quarter and possessed the football for 11 minutes and 26 seconds. Freeman and the rest of the offensive line wore down LSU’s defensive front, which was considered one of the deepest and more physical defensive lines in the country.
“We played a hundred plays against one of the most physical football teams in the country and we won it in the fourth quarter,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
For Freeman, it was a great way to go out on top. The senior started all 13 games in 2012 as he recorded more than 170 knockdown blocks. He set the school record for snaps in a career, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl tied him for the most starts in a career with 49. In all, he played in 52 games, the most by a Clemson center.
Freeman was a two-time finalist for the Rimington Trophy—which goes to the nation’s best center—and was a two-time first-team All-ACC selection. He also got it done in the classroom. Last month, he graduated with his second degree as he was a three-time All-ACC Academic Team selection.
He was also named an Academic All-American, and in doing so became just the fourth Clemson player in history to earn such a title both on and off the field.
“The thing that’s given us a chance—and this is something you could not predict four years ago—has been the fact that the few veterans that we’ve had have been really, really strong leadership type people. And that has helped us tremendously,” Swinney said. “And a guy like Dalton, for example, he’s like another coach on the field.
“We had the whole offensive line gone, basically, and he took those guys this past summer and he had them ready for us when we got our hands on them in fall camp. That takes a lot of personal commitment, accountability, unselfishness and all of that type of stuff. That’s what we have had, and he helped give us a chance to be successful.”