Incoming freshman Clelin Ferrell was getting the low down on his soon-to-be Clemson teammates from some of his friends on the team prior to the start of fall camp in 2015.
The defensive end, who went on to redshirt that season, was told the leader of the unit was junior linebacker Ben Boulware. Ferrell knew little about Boulware as he had played behind eventual first-round pick Stephone Anthony up until that point and Boulware entered his junior season with two career starts.
“I didn’t know who he was like that,” Ferrell said Wednesday. “Coming in they talked about this guy, Ben Boulware, he was going to be the leader of our defense. I was like, ‘Ok, he must just be like another guy, an upperclassmen type guy.’ ”
Ferrell quickly found out why Boulware was referred to as the leader of the defense.
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“When you saw him and the way he talked in meetings, and the command that he took in the defensive huddle, it was huge,” he said.
Coach Dabo Swinney might be the head of Clemson’s program, but Boulware believes the upperclassmen are responsible for making sure the underclassmen know what’s expected of them.
Studying extra film, making sure guys properly balance fun and play, Boulware sees that as part of his job.
“It’s up to the players to kind of control the team,” he said. “Coach Swinney is obviously a big part of it, but there’s some things he can’t control behind closed doors, and that’s where the leadership steps in.”
Tigers safety Jadar Johnson feels that Clemson needs a voice like Boulware’s in the locker room. His fiery personality rubs off on everyone associated with Clemson’s program.
Johnson added that getting a passionate message from a teammate means more than hearing it from your coach.
“We take advice better from other guys our age, that’s just the generation that we live in,” Johnson said. “Hearing stuff from coach Swinney, it might go in one ear and out the other, but actually hearing it from Ben, somebody that we work out with every day, somebody that’s going through the same thing that we’re going through, we’re out there tired and we’ve still got to run full speed, guys that are actually going through the same thing that we are going through, we take that advice a little better. … Everytime he gets up everyone’s attentive and we all take heed to it.”
One of Boulware’s most memorable speeches came Friday night prior to Clemson’s game against Louisville and Lamar Jackson.
Jackson was being built up as Superman after his strong start to the season, and Boulware went on a rant about how Clemson was ready to slow down all of his hype.
“Ben had this thing where we all wrote kryptonite somewhere on our bodies before the game,” Ferrell recalled. “That was huge for us. I really liked that. It was one of the things where that was a reminder throughout the game of what we were playing for and just a little bit of motivation throughout the game.”
Jackson had a big second half, but Clemson came out on top thanks in large part to a goal-line stand.
For as much attention as Clemson’s offense gets, Boulware and the Tigers’ defense has come up big throughout the season.
Boulware describes himself as an entirely different person away from football, adding that he’s low key. But he’s anything but low key on the field and throughout the week in preparation.
“I just kind of flip a switch out there. I’m very focused throughout the week, very focused come game day, getting loose, looking at my notes, getting everybody on the same page, and just realizing come game time I’m ready to play,” Boulware said. “If you want to play at a high level you’ve got to play a little crazy.”
Who is Ben Boulware?
High school: T.L. Hanna
Ht./Wt.: 5-11, 240
Key stats: Led the Tigers with 113 tackles, including nine for a loss and three sacks. He forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass.
Honors: Won the 2016 Jack Lambert Award, presented to the nation’s top linebacker by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio.
It’s personal: He was an all-state baseball player in high school.
When: 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. | Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
TV: ESPN | Line: Alabama by 6 1/2