That announcement was met with excitement – only to be topped, moments later, when Swinney announced that Clemson had another – junior quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Boyd and Freeman were named first-team All-Americans by the American Football Coaches’ Association. They’re Clemson’s first-ever All-Americans at their respective positions, and it marks just the third time since the AFCA began selecting teams in 1945 that the quarterback and center were from the same team.
“He has such an impact on me, Dalton over here,” Boyd said to reporters Wednesday. “The offense really doesn’t go without him. He’s got such a strong leadership impact. I was excited to hear when he got it. It was a fun time.”
Freeman was equally supportive.
“It all starts with me, but he’s the man pulling the trigger,” Freeman said. “You look at where we were three, four years ago and where we are now, the quarterback play has a lot to do with it. Coach (Chad) Morris and his system, the way Tajh attacked it from day 1, learning it, he’s been explosive this year with it. We wouldn’t be where we are without him.”
Boyd averaged 336.8 yards per game of total offense (eighth-best nationally) and was responsible for a Clemson-record 43 touchdowns. He also led the ACC in pass efficiency (168.5, fourth-best nationally) and touchdown passes (34).
Clemson is sixth nationally in scoring offense at 42.3 ppg, eighth in total offense at 518.3 ypg, and 13th in passing offense at 319.5 ypg.
“It’s definitely an exciting feeling,” Boyd said. “As a kid, you work your whole career to try and get an accomplishment of this magnitude. It’s definitely a blessing. As a program, we put a lot of work into this. It speaks volumes about where the program is going. We had two All-Americans last year (in receiver Sammy Watkins and tight end Dwayne Allen), and we’re only on the rise from here. We’re just excited about the future.”
Freeman is a two-time first-time All-ACC center and was a 2011 finalist for the Rimington Award, given to the nation’s top center. He has started 48 consecutive games and is Clemson’s all-time career snaps leader.
“I’ve tried to be a more consistent player,” he said. “Last year, just as Tajh was, it was our first year in the system and I was trying to learn with a new offensive line coach (in Robbie Caldwell). This year I felt very comfortable and wanted to help the younger guys get the same page, learn the ins and outs of the position. I could have played guard, tackle at any moment. Understanding the big picture helped me individually.”
Freeman admitted that he would have been happy with a third-team or honorable-mention All-American honor.
“I can’t tell you how humble I am, how blessed,” he said. “To have the respect of the coaches and be first-team is something I’ll treasure.”
Two years ago, Boyd admitted he was nervous moving from the scout team to take snaps from Freeman, whom he called “one of the greatest I’ve ever been around.”
It was a heck of a day for Boyd, who edged North Carolina tailback Giovani Bernard by one vote each to become the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year and overall Player of the Year, as voted upon by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association.
Boyd beat Bernard 20-19 for the overall POTY balloting, and 22-21 in offensive POTY balloting.
Boyd said he thought he’d win both awards, and didn’t mind the slim margin.
“I’ll take it,” he said, pumping his fist for emphasis.
This marks the eighth time a Clemson player has won the Player of the Year award(Buddy Gore – 1967, Steve Fuller – 1977 & 1978, Jeff Davis – 1981, William Perry – 1984, Michael Perry – 1987, C. J. Spiller – 2009), and the second time a Tiger has won the Offensive Player of the Year award (Spiller in 2009).
“I can’t tell you how proud I am of Tajh Boyd,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. “He has had a terrific year in leading us to a second straight 10-win season. It has been 25 years since a starting quarterback has done that.”
“He has broken just about every record out there to the point where he is breaking his own records. I really believe he is the best quarterback in the nation and I am glad to see the American Football Coaches agreed with that today. This award means a lot to him because he has great respect for the players and teams in this league. He has also been a great leader all season. He is very deserving.”
Freeman is expected to be an NFL draft pick, but Boyd has a decision to make. He’ll submit his name to the NFL draft board for evaluation. He discussed returning and mounting a Heisman campaign next season – Swinney told him this week that he’d call him “The Tajh Mahal of Football – the 10th Wonder of the World.”
“I’ll give it some thought, sit down and talk with my coaches and parents, it’s something I’ll have to look at,” Boyd said. “We’ll get into it at a later date. I’ll enjoy the bowl game and get ready for it coming up.”