CLEMSON — You’d think Jadeveon Clowney would be more grateful. During his official visit to Clemson, when he was the nation’s top high school prospect, Clowney slept on the couch in Tajh Boyd’s home.
No, Boyd is not afraid of Clowney.
Fear would be living in a Virginia neighborhood where gunshots were sometimes heard. Where a school plopped down in a gritty public housing development, and playing football as entertainment for the gangs could be unsettling.
“I talked to him some after that,” Boyd said this week. “In the past so many months, there’s been no conversation.”
Facing 10th-ranked South Carolina on its home field Saturday, final game of the regular season, national TV audience, that’s a dream gig for Boyd, who has enjoyed the big stage in three seasons as Clemson’s starting quarterback.
Clowney is just another prop.
“This is what we’ve been waiting for, right here,” Boyd said. He has been since last year’s game in Clemson, which turned into a painful exercise in patience with South Carolina controlling the clock in the second half of a 27-17 win, the fourth consecutive Gamecocks victory in a century-old rivalry.
“We haven’t gotten it done in past years, and, hopefully, we can change it.”
In July, when he was touted by ESPN as the greatest player since the Heisman statue was cast, Clowney threw down the gauntlet, claiming Boyd was one of the quarterbacks who feared South Carolina. “You can see it in his eyes.”
Boyd didn’t take the bait then, and nothing changed during the season.
Where, ordinarily, ending the four-game losing streak to its state rival would be motivation enough, a win would further enhance the resume of a sixth-ranked Clemson team aiming for a BCS bowl invitation.
“It’s more about what we need to accomplish as a team than any particular player,” Boyd said. “It’s not about one player. It’s not about him. It’s not about me. It’s about a program, and that’s kind of how we’re looking at the situation.”
Boyd places the onus on himself for the two games in which he was the starting quarterback. It’s not unfair to say that South Carolina has not gotten Boyd’s best. Clemson is 1-3 in the four games in which he has completed fewer than half his passes.
“There’s not been one particular thing,” he said. “We’ve just not played a good game.
“It’s not necessarily about them but about playing to our standard,” he said. “There are no excuses.”
If there’s any animosity toward Clowney or any of the Gamecocks, Boyd kept it to himself. He said he has become friendly with backup quarterback Dylan Thompson through their affiliations with FCA, and he admires starter Connor Shaw for “laying it all on the line. That’s what I try to do here.”
There’s never been a reason to question Boyd’s courage. As a senior in high school, he played half the season on a torn knee ligament, took his team to a state championship and was named MVP of an All-American all-star game. That convinced Dabo Swinney that Boyd was the quarterback to lead Clemson back to prominence.
Based on what has been reported by Clemson this season, he played through knee, ankle and shoulder injuries.
“He’s incredibly tough,” said Swinney, comparing him to Shaw, another kid who’s played through a laundry list of injuries. “He’s a winner. He’s won a bunch of ball games. He’s willing to do whatever he’s got to do to win the game.
“He lays it on the line.”
His coaches frequently refer to him as “a warrior.”
The goal last Saturday for his final home game was to provide him a stage for a final good-bye, then exit with everything intact. Swinney instructed him not to run, not to take a hit. “What’s he do?”
Leading 42-3 in the third quarter, a virtual chip shot field goal from The Citadel 21-yard line, Boyd decides to run on third down and 10. Rather than sliding, he tried to dive for the final 3 yards. “My bell was a little rung.”
“That’s how he’s wired,” said Swinney, “that’s his DNA.”
Whatever the team needs, whatever it takes.
“I’m going to put everything out there. In a game like this, this is the last game of the year,” Boyd said. “There’s not a championship game next week. There’s only a bowl game, so you have to lay it all on the line.”
Owner of 52 school records, one of the two winningest quarterbacks in Clemson history, on the short list of virtually every major award for quarterbacks, beating USC remains one of the biggest holes on Boyd’s resume, “for sure.”
“We’ve done some great things here,” he said. “This is just one of the things that’s been a burden to us.
“You’ve just got to find a way to get it done.”