By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When Tajh Boyd took the bait and signed with Clemson, it was considered a coup of considerable proportions.
His family was deeply involved, intending to be there every step of the way regardless his choice. A rookie as a head coach, Dabo Swinney was a veteran salesman. Clemson already had two elite quarterbacks on the roster in Willy Korn and Kyle Parker, but Swinney promised Boyd a chance to play as soon as he was ready. He promised that together they could put Clemson back on the map.
And he promised that, at the end of the day, Boyd would leave a considerable legacy.
Promises fulfilled, they said.
When Boyd and the seven remaining members of Swinney’s first recruiting class – which he knighted the Dandy Dozen – walk off the field at Sun Life Stadium, there won’t be any regrets.
“I got to play at the highest level and be successful,” said Boyd. “It’s been a blessing for me and my family to experience it as well.
“It’s like anything in life,” he said, “you want to make the best decision at the moment. You don’t know what’s going to happen at the moment, but you hope that you’ve made the best decision.”
Disappointments, surely, nevertheless, said Boyd, “I think the order has been restored.”
Steve Fuller, whose team beat Ohio State 35 years ago, has been the standard at Clemson, the only quarterback in the Ring of Honor, but the stage is substantially larger, the scrutiny immensely more intense and the stakes bear higher price tags.
As the face of the program, Boyd has accomplished things that eluded others and stoked the debate of whether he’s the best ever at Clemson. Only one Clemson quarterback has started and won more games, no others own 10 ACC offensive records and five dozen school records for offense, passing and scoring.
The first in two decades to win a conference championship, he has beaten top-ranked teams, his signature victory at the conclusion of last season etching fourth down and 19 into Tiger Lore.
Beating Ohio State would surely reaffix Clemson as a significant national force.
“I think the Dandy came in and changed the program,” said Thomas, the soft-spoken left tackle, Boyd’s personal bodyguard on the field. “My dog,” Boyd calls him.
While the story continues to be rewritten, a review of this chapter reveals that a victory over Ohio State would be these seniors’ 38th win — the most in 22 years — the first back-to-back 11-win seasons, a third straight season in the BCS top 15.
Disappointments, certainly, but definitely fulfilling, Swinney said.
“Are you kidding me? If we could have all gone back to February of ’09 and just laid it all out of the table, the list of things that was going to happen during this group’s five years, y’all would have thought we were crazy,” Swinney said. “It was unthinkable at that time.
“It wasn’t to them, and they deserve the credit,” he said “They came here to change Clemson.
“And that’s where we are.”
Though no Clemson ever lost five straight to state-rival South Carolina or any game by 37 points, that the Boyd for Heisman poster Swinney created as a recruiting carat collects dust in his office, there’s a satisfaction among the coach and team leadership even if it hasn’t always been reflected on the field.
“Clemson has always had great players,” Boyd said. “The thing that changed with Coach Swinney was the mentality … the work ethic.
“For me it has been special to help implement the program, that’s why this game is important. We have been on the verge, but you’ve got to win games like these.”
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who inherited Boyd and shaped him into one of the most efficient and dangerous quarterbacks in the nation, has been impressed by his growth and maturity as a leader and representative of the program.
“To watch him evolve,” he said, “and to come into the player that he’s been has been – it’s definitely been a blessing.
“Whoever the next quarterback’s going to be at Clemson University he’s got big shoes to fill.”
The same, might be said of linebacker Quandon Christian, running back Rod McDowell, right guard Tyler Shatley, linebacker Spencer Shuey, fullback/tight end Darrell Smith and Thomas, each valuable limbs from the body of work if not the face.
Ever aspect of the program has been affected by their presence, Swinney said, from the rise in donor levels and construction of state-of-the-art facilities, to nationally prominent recruiting classes and a stronger, broader national presence.
“They’ve had their hands on everything,” he said. “To see them leave here, it is special because it was my first group.”