CLEMSON — Tajh Boyd is looking for an encore – and then some.
A year ago, Clemson’s starting quarterback authored one of the best debut seasons for a quarterback in program and ACC history.
The sophomore threw for 33 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, rolling up 3,828 passing yards. He set Clemson single-season records for passing yards, completions, attempts, touchdowns and total offense, and set an ACC record for touchdown responsibility, with 38.
He was a first-team All-ACC selection, and led the Tigers to their first ACC title in 20 seasons.
But Boyd isn’t satisfied. Not one bit. He remembers how his season ended – with nine touchdowns and nine interceptions in the final six games, including a 250-yard, two-score, two-pick effort in Clemson’s 70-33 Orange Bowl demolition at West Virginia’s hands.
With a new season just around the corner, Boyd has embraced a new leadership role, one that he says is crucial for improved and consistent success this fall.
“Just my leadership role had to be revamped,” he said. “(The way (offensive coordinator Chad Morris) challenged me in the spring was the same way. There’s only so much someone can push you. You have to push it yourself, you have to want it yourself. That’s the thing. What’s your motivating factor?
“Coach explains you’re only as good as your last game. Some people say season, I say game. It left a sour taste, a bad taste in my mouth. Every day I work out, every day is like a rejuvenation day. Just being able to come out here to practice, being able to come out here and play this game, you’ve got to take advantage of every day, every opportunity.”
Part of that leadership was, as Boyd says, being in “the best shape possible.” He began last season around 220 pounds, but ballooned to 235 by season’s end, due to a poor diet. It hampered his mobility, and Boyd worked hard to reshape his body in the offseason.
“It was a big emphasis,” he said. “Coach Morris challenged me, as did the strength coaches. They took it as a challenge, too. They were pushing me as hard as possible. They knew I wanted to lose a certain amount of weight, ‘Hey, get back up there, go up there.’ It’s good to have coaches like that who have that kind of concern. Some coaches would just let it go, see what happens. Here, it’s not like that.”
Body language is equally crucial. At times during last season’s struggles, Boyd appeared down on himself on the sidelines. During a spring visit to quarterback guru George Whitfield, who counts NFL top overall pick Andrew Luck among his pupils, he learned that wasn’t acceptable.
“It’s his actions, how he carries himself in the good and bad times, and that’s something he really stressed to me about,” Morris said. “It’s what he really wants me to monitor him and hold him accountable for.
When things are going good on the field, not to be too high, things are going bad on the field not to be too low. He told me, ‘Coach, (Luck’s) body language is so strong, so incredibly positive, confident. Coach, I’ve got to have that confident body language."
A second year in Morris’ offensive system should help, too. Boyd spent the offseason studying his footwork, his mistakes and studying his system, something he wasn’t able to do a year ago.
Coach Dabo Swinney said Boyd must be a better game manager, something he expects will happen this fall.
“He really had some critical interceptions that, if you play within the system, they don’t take place,” Swinney said. “Also some fumbles, and improving his ball security. He understands the impact turnover margin has on football teams. The biggest thing for him, as far as improvement, is game management. Second and 12, they’re dropping eight, you check the ball down and maybe it’s third and three.
“As opposed to making a lower percentage play, now it’s third and 12. Or it’s a pick. It’s being more consistent within our system, staying disciplined. If he can do that, he’ll have a great year.”
Reading and reacting, Boyd said, will help tremendously.
“In the situation.. a zone read, my read tells me to do one thing, I do the other because I THINK this is going to happen,” he said. “Thinking in this game, it’s all about ‘react, react, react.’ It’s all about reacting. Sometimes I think about it too much, that’s when you put too much emphasis on it, and it goes to the crapper.”
Just stay consistent. Not too high, not too low – and success will follow, Swinney said.
That consistency can be a major hallmark of leadership.
“He was a little too confident,” Swinney said. “And most of that comes with his confidence in his playmakers, ‘Hey I can do that, throw it through that screen it’s going to get to him’ Suddenly it’s outside our system. They’re rushing three, dropping eight, you’re pushing balls downfield. It’s dangerous. We’ve gone back to settle him down. Stay within the system, make it fit, I’m managing the game today. I think that’s where you’re going to see him grow.”