By Will Vandervort
Sitting in a picture frame inside Dabo Swinney’s office is a newspaper clipping from December of 2008. It’s a picture of Tajh Boyd signing his letter-of-intent to play football at Clemson University. The headline on the paper reads, “The Power of the Pen.”
How powerful was that pen? Let’s look at it this way, if Boyd had signed to play somewhere else on that that day instead of Clemson, where would the Tigers, and Swinney for that matter, be today?
In his four years at Clemson, one can argue that no player before or after will mean more to the football program than what Tajh Boyd has meant to it and to Clemson University. Not only has he been the face of the program, but he has been the face of the school thanks to the positive example he has made, the positive outlook on life and that warm and inviting smile that he puts on display every day.
“Everybody has great coaches and all of that, but you have to have great players. The players deserve all the credit. They are the ones that make it happen,” Swinney said. “To get a guy like Tajh Boyd at that time, when all it was, was ‘here is the plan and here is the vision. You are going to have to take a leap of faith if you come here. This is a little safer bet for you over here and over here.’
“That is just the type of guy Tajh Boyd is. That’s the way he has been since he has been here. I really thought he would be a special player, a great player. I didn’t have any doubts about that.”
Boyd, who will make his last journey down the Hill on Saturday, has been all of that and then some. He is only the second quarterback in Clemson history to record 30 wins as a starting quarterback. He needs only three touchdown passes to become the first quarterback in Atlantic Coast Conference history to throw 100 touchdown passes in a career. He is second all-time in the ACC in passing yards and owns 52 season or career records at Clemson.
“I thought that’s what I could be. I told the coaches that’s what I expected and what I wanted,” Boyd said. “But as you go through the redshirt year and you start to have doubts and things of that nature, you don’t come in with the expectations to do all that. All you want to do is go out there and just be able to compete at a high level.
“Division I football is next to the highest level in football. So for us, and playing for a university like Clemson, you just want to come in and help the program the best way you can.”
It’s easy to see Boyd has done that. Besides all the passing records and touchdowns, he can guide Clemson—with a win over The Citadel on Saturday—to its third straight 10-win season and has a chance to win 11 games or more for a second straight year, which would be a first in Clemson history.
He also guided the Tigers to their first ACC Championship in 20 years back in 2011.
But all of that almost did not happen.
During the 2009 season, when Swinney led the Tigers to their first Atlantic Division title, Boyd along with running back Roderick McDowell, former wide receiver Bryce McNeal and a few others talked about transferring somewhere else.
“It’s just the freshman thoughts that you get,” Boyd said. “It’s the same way with some of the guys we have as freshmen now. The best part for me is to be able to reflect back on my thinking and my career and kind of help push those guys through.
“It is more challenging than people think it is. To be playing football all of your life and then to get to college, redshirt and not play at all, it’s tough. Even though you are part of the team and part of the program and part of the scout team, you don’t feel like your role is that significant, which it really is and you do make an impact. But you don’t understand how important it is until you get to the point where you are an older guy and you are playing.”
Boyd remembers guys like Jarvis Jenkins, Andre Branch and Kavell Connor that took him under his wing and made sure he understood how vital he was to what they were trying to accomplish on the field. Like them, Boyd tries to lead in the same way.
“It’s important to make sure all these guys are appreciated and they know they have a hand in what we do,” he said.
What Boyd has done—both on and off the field—has taken Clemson back to the top and made it relevant again, not just in the ACC, but nationally as well.
“He has been a great player,” wide receiver Sammy Watkins said. “He has broken just about every record. I think that guy is way bigger than football. Off the field he is a great guy. He is a mentor. He is a leader. He controls this team, besides Coach Swinney, and he keeps us together.”
“He does it right on and off the field,” Swinney said. “He academically performs and athletically performs. We are able to recruit the best of the best. Great players want to come and be a part and be around a guy like Tajh Boyd.
“That was all a part of the vision. Again, he is doing things that had not been done at our place. Yeah, he could go to this place and do some things and he could go to this place that has already done a lot of great things or he could come to Clemson and help me build a program and do some things that had not been done in a long, long, time.”
And it all started with a pen, but without a doubt a powerful pen.