By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
There’s a naïveté to Tajh Boyd that’s disarming, and for months it has been a point of wonderment.
Personalities have crumbled under the weight of the responsibility that Boyd bears as the emotional leader of a top 10 football team and the face of a program that’s been the subject of broadening scrutiny and occasional ridicule.
Boyd seems to be a natural as a football player and leader. His smile is genuine, virtually incandescent. He doesn’t meet strangers.
His team has won 28 of the 35 games he has started at Clemson, including seven of the first eight this season and sits No. 8 in the ratings that cast the roles for the national championship drama.
Boyd has built an incomparable resume at Clemson and should finish as one of the most successful quarterbacks to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Something feels askew.
As a high school senior Boyd played through a severe knee injury that eventually required surgery and led his team to a Virginia state
championship. That left a lasting impression with a coach looking for a leader, which was why Dabo Swinney pursued Boyd in the month after being hired as Clemson’s full-time coach. And what four years later fueled the anticipation for Clemson’s current season.
After beating LSU last January, Boyd contemplated leaving for the NFL. Somebody told his family that the Buffalo Bills might take him in the first round, but the draft advisory committee projected him much later and there couldn’t be any guarantees. So Boyd chose to return and spend another year around people who have embraced him and coaches who treasure him as a player and leader – to chase the dream.
Of a settled, mature, talented third-year starting quarterback much was expected, and Boyd seemed willing to invest himself in the role. When he walked into a room with a group of players to meet reporters at the ACC Kickoff, all eyes were on him. When he spoke they jostled shoulders to hear.
Every major publication, every network wanted time alone. ESPN, in its haughty role, insisted on time for TV interviews, radio interviews and podcasts. His name appeared in sentences with All-American, Heisman and first-round draft pick.
The smile never dimmed. When he hugged the mother of a reporter he’d known since arriving at Clemson, a Tennessee fan for 45 years, she instantly became one of No. 10 in Tiger orange.
There are numerous stories that mark Boyd’s selflessness and compassion.
Anecdotes about him collecting trash left by his teammates in a movie theater, of delivering pizza to students camped out to buy tickets, of tossing a football with a guy trying to get loose before an intramural game, of visiting a classroom of children, of hugging an abused pre-teen who hadn’t felt much tenderness in her life.
This was the face of the Clemson football program few saw.
Probably as far back as Boston College, something’s not felt right. The offensive line hasn’t been as good as they hoped, so Boyd has taken a pounding a few times. A rumor was floating that he wasn’t completely healthy entering the Florida State game, which may explain a couple of things. They tried to limit his running at Maryland, but relented to salvage the game.
Boyd’s coaches knew what he faced this season which is why they frequently remind him to enjoy this final season, to have fun when he’s playing, but it’s had to have been difficult. His mother has been in and out of the hospital, including the Thursday before the Florida State game. He refused to use it as an excuse.
Then the question about a rumor he had run up a large gambling debt. Days after perhaps the most devastating loss of his career, less than a week after his mother was hospitalized, he was required to defend himself.
It must have hurt. Boyd smiled, but the incandescence waned.
Players from his former youth league football team will attend the game Saturday at Virginia. It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn he has worked the Southeastern Virginia Mustangs camp and spoken at its banquet.
Boyd is trying to pass it forward, much like the guys from the Hampton Roads area of Virginia like Michael Vick with whom he exchanges messages.
His mother has instructed him on setting boundaries, learning to say “no.” The first Christmas after the family moved to Seneca, they were greeted by a knock at the door by someone who wanted to meet Tajh. Learning to say “no” to the steady demands on his time have probably been the most difficult.
“I think initially,” he said. “Early in your career it’s harder to say ‘no’ just because you don’t understand what comes with the position and the territory, but older and wiser you understand you can’t please everybody so you have to say ‘no’ sometimes.”
He was asked if it has been difficult this season, more difficult than he imagined.
“I kind of understood,” Boyd said. “Being a quarterback at a major university, you understand what comes with it good, bad or indifferent.
“It’s something you have to grow into.”
He wants to enjoy the final four games on the schedule, but his coach says, “fun’s in the winning.”
“You don’t play for anything else but the joy of the game, that’s why it’s important for us as a program and as a team to go out there and relax and have fun,” he said. “We’ve done that.”
Boyd admitted he was puzzled by the criticism he and the team have faced, and he wants to brush if off.
“We’ve lost one game,” he said. “It isn’t the end of the world.”