CLEMSON — Prior to the 2011 season, Tim Bourret met with Tajh Boyd for the express purpose of mapping out a plan, one that would enable Clemson’s starting quarterback to become the face of the football program.
Bourret, Clemson’s director of media relations for football, knew there was an excellent chance that for the next three years Boyd would constantly be in front of microphones, called on to address school children, make public appearances and generally speak on behalf of himself, his teammates, the coaching staff and the program.
As he had done previously with All-American running back C.J. Spiller, Bourret made things simple. Be reliable, be presentable and be on time, Bourret told Boyd, who has more than lived up to his end of the deal.
“He accepted that role,” Bourret says.
The lone problem Bourret has with Boyd adhering to his requests occurs each Tuesday during the football season. Boyd meets with the media at 11:45 a.m., and Bourret consistently must walk down the hall of the football offices to wrestle Clemson’s star player from hob-nobbing with secretaries or anyone else who crosses his path in the building.
Boyd has gone about the past three years making himself a friend to virtually everyone in the Clemson athletics community. He recently stopped Brad Brownell at the basketball coach’s car for conversation. When the athletics department distributed pizzas to students waiting in line for football tickets, Boyd was front and center passing out pies.
When asked to set aside Boyd’s on-field accomplishments and address only what his Heisman Trophy candidate has meant to the team, the program and the school, coach Dabo Swinney gushes.
“He’s very humble. He’s easy to talk to. He’ll go out of his way to talk to people,” Swinney says. “He doesn’t have a sense of entitlement. He loves playing. He loves being a Clemson Tiger. He loves all that comes with being the starting quarterback at Clemson.
“He embraces it very well, just a joy to be around. I love to see him every day. He smiles every day. Those are the things that make him special. He’s a great player, but it’s all these other things, to me, that make him a leader.”
Once there was a time when college sports information offices sold their All-American and Heisman Trophy candidates to the national media through fliers, promotional gimmicks and the like. Now that most voters learn what they need to know about candidates on-field performances through televised games, the local audience is where a candidate’s personality is marketed.
To that end, Clemson has trotted Boyd in front of TV cameras as often as possible. Because there have been so many interview requests for Boyd this season, Bourret relented and placed the quarterback on a dais every Tuesday. One-on-one time with Boyd is available upon request.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Boyd says of media sessions. “I’ve got to love the local guys more than the national guys. It’s been good. You guys have been good to me, the interaction has been good. A lot of these things correlate to life in general. Maybe I’ll get into the media myself one day.”
The admiration seems to be mutual because Boyd does not duck questions, is honest in his answers and provides insight into his life and the game he plays. When asked if the risk of a career-ending injury enters the mind of one who likely will play in the NFL, Boyd said “not to the extent that it’s more important than the program.”
Boyd then said that is why potential NFL draft picks are allowed by the NCAA to purchase insurance against career-ending injuries. For those who stuck around after the media session, Boyd volunteered that his policy is for $3.5 million, and he will begin paying the $22,000 premium once he signs a professional contract.
Any number of stories have circulated to illustrate how Boyd has embraced being an ambassador not only for the football program but for the university.
At a recent Clemson men’s soccer game against South Carolina, Boyd was on the sideline leading cheers. He stopped by an intramural football game recently and helped one team’s quarterback loosen his arm by playing catch. Following the Friday night walk-through at Syracuse a week ago, Boyd stopped to chat with several Syracuse students, who were stunned to learn they were talking with Tajh Boyd, according to Bourret.
Then there was the Friday night prior to Clemson’s season-opener against Georgia when the team visited an area movie theater. Prior to leaving the hotel, Swinney gave the ritual instructions to the team about representing the university in public and leaving the theater the same as when it entered.
As athletes boarded the buses afterward, according to Tigernet.com, Boyd was the lone player to remain behind and collect any trash left in the theater.
“He was special when he got here at 18, but he’s really, really, really special now,” Swinney says. “He gets it. He’s figured it all out. He knows what’s important. He’s about the right things. He’s not perfect. He’s certainly not perfect. He’s made mistakes and taken ownership of them and learned from them. That’s what leaders do.”
Boyd does admit to gaining weight and becoming complacent during the 2011 season, but it has not happened in either of the two seasons since. You might also have noticed that Boyd has a tendency while pondering questions from the media to occasionally chew a fingernail.
Then he resumes answering the question and being the face of the football program.