Fighting the Oregons and Ohio States of the world, a newly-hired Dabo Swinney knew what he was up against when he recruited this five-star quarterback from Virginia — Tajh Boyd.
But Swinney also had a feeling that Boyd was just the game-changing recruit he needed.
With one last recruiting visit left for the QB prospect, the Tigers’ coach was able to convince him to come down to the Upstate — the rest was history, or rather, rewriting Clemson history.
“Jim Tressel was at Ohio State and Mike Bellotti was at Oregon,” Swinney said. “They had pretty good track records and here I am — trying to lay out on paper for him. Here’s the vision. Here’s the plan. You come to Clemson and we can change Clemson and we’ll have a lot of fun doing it, but I got to have a guy that’s willing to hitch his saddle up next to me.
“At the end of the day, he just trusted me and his family did and it’s been a great journey for Tajh.”
The Hampton, Va., native already owns 51 school records and sits 12 victories from being the all-time winningest Clemson quarterback.
Many of those marks already had fallen 12 games into last season, finishing the regular season 10-2, but Boyd saved what his coaches say is the game of his career for his most recent one.
He had his worst game of the season a month prior in a 27-17 loss to South Carolina. Completing a season-low 45.8 percent of his passes, Boyd failed to top 200 passing yards (183) for only the second time in his career as a starter while taking six sacks.
When LSU, a top-10 team, made its way to the Chick-fil-A Bowl to take on the ACC Tigers, it was another chance for Boyd to prove himself on the national stage.
“Going into that game, he was disappointed in his performance against South Carolina,” Swinney said. “He was very disappointed and it was kind of like he had another opportunity against similar-type guys and he took on the challenge to perform at a high level. Tajh is one of those guys that you can’t give him enough.”
Boyd didn’t disappoint this time.
He proceeded to torch the Bayou Bengals’ top-10 defense for 368 yards of total offense and three scores. The finish being the most impressive; after taking a physical pounding all game, he completed five of six passes for 58 yards on a two-minute drill drive to set up the game-winning score.
“The LSU game was a steppingstone for this program,” the Tigers’ QB said. “I think it was a little more of a change of direction to become what we want to become. In a sense that we want to perform at a high level all the time and no matter who we’re playing. The way we’re recruiting right now and the type of team we have … I think we have everything capable (to play like that).”
His offensive coordinator said the season-closing performance is a pretty good indicator for 2013.
“The biggest game where you could see him say, ‘I got this figured out,’ was the LSU game,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “The toughness he portrayed getting knocked down all the times he did that game and still getting up and to lead the team — that really shows a lot about Tajh. I’m expecting a lot out of Tajh just like I did last year.”
Boyd said it’s just how he has always played the game.
“Either you’re a competitor or not and it shows in the game of football,” Boyd said. “You can’t take a shortcut or you’ll get beat. It’s just been fun. I’ve always been one of those guys to go out and compete and (take) contact and all of those things. I think it shows on the field.”
Though a Heisman contender, Boyd has plenty of areas to work on with Morris, including footwork and blitz and coverage recognition.
“You can’t master the quarterback position,” he said. “It can’t be done. If you think you’ve mastered it, you better watch out because you’ve hit rock bottom.”
Swinney still goes back to the day Boyd committed to being a Clemson Tiger when looking ahead to the season.
“There’s a lot of individual opportunities for him and he’s already accomplished so much,” said Swinney. “He wants to win and he has some unfinished business.
“It’s exciting to see where we are now from when I was sitting in his den back in December of 2008. It really kind of makes me dizzy thinking about it.”