CLEMSON – Ben Boulware was a guy Dabo Swinney just couldn’t afford to keep off the field last season – despite a linebacker logjam.
Intense and hard-hitting – even to a fault last season with a targeting suspension – the T.L. Hanna product fit right in as a true freshman, in a variety of special teams roles.
He finished fifth among linebackers in tackles (25 – 7 on special teams) with a tackle and a half for loss. Early last season, he even added an interception to the mix against Wake Forest.
“(Playing early) helped me a lot definitely,” Boulware said, “playing with a lot of older guys. Getting a feel for college football. When you watch in high school it’s so different. Everybody’s bigger, stronger and faster, but you don’t really fully realize what it is until you actually play.”
An emotional fire, coupled with hard work on and off the field, are what keyed his playing time last year and what will help him competing for more in 2014.
“That’s just how I was raised,” said Boulware. “You got a guy who’s 6-4 and running a 4.4. I obviously wasn’t blessed with all of that height and speed so I have to make up for it with how I play. I feel like I’d much rather be my size and have a mentality to play whistle-to-whistle…I never take off plays so that really helps me out.”
Boulware admits he can get over-aggressive at times, but the Clemson coaches aren’t trying to do any major tweaks to his game.
“They definitely want me to be me,” he said. “(This spring), we were doing a ‘thud’ period and we’re in full pads – and automatically in full pads I thought we were going to tackle – I forgot that Coach Swinney told me it was a ‘thud’ period and I went all-out and completely tackled the running back and he got mad.
“In some aspects of the game, I need to calm down, but they would much rather tell a player ‘whoa’ then ‘go.’”
The sub-6-foot, 230-pound inside linebacker credits his playing style to competition at an early age on the motocross circuit. It was so physical he had to play a more forgiving game like football after breaking an arm and some complications that went with it.
“Just racing motocross every single day and that physical nature of motocross definitely translated over to football,” Boulware said. “You’re on a bike going 40-50 miles per hour going over jumps and when I broke my arm I was run over. I got the holeshot and hit a rock and flipped and was ran over by everybody. Was knocked out and had a hole in my arm. My bone went through my arm and it got dirt on it and it got infected.”
He says he was 10 at the time - that's pretty tough.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ message to him in the offseason has been more about the non-physical element of football, which is one of the key elements of spring football – wearing out the film room.
“Just mentally,” Boulware said. “Learning the playbook more. I’m always going to have that urge and fire to learn more. Learn from other players and get in the playbook.”