Tajh Boyd admits that, like the Clemson football team in 2011, he got fat and happy.
Boyd averaged 297 yards passing and threw for 24 touchdowns against three interceptions in Clemson’s opening eight games. The Tigers were unbeaten. Boyd averaged 241 yards passing and matched his nine touchdown passes with nine interceptions over Clemson’s final six games. The Tigers stumbled to a 2-4 finish.
Boyd’s season was the reverse of most college quarterbacks starting for the first time. He earned his all-Atlantic Coast Conference status thanks to 386- and 344-yard passing performances early in the season against Auburn and Florida State, respectively. Over the last half of the season he gained weight, lost his sharpness and bottomed out with an 83-yard passing performance against South Carolina in the regular-season finale.
Then came the offseason makeover of Tajh Boyd, a redesign that Clemson believes will shape the redshirt junior into a consistent performer from the Tigers’ opener against Auburn through another ACC championship game and bowl appearance.
It all starts and ends with Boyd becoming the leader of the Clemson team.
Earning that distinction meant Boyd shedding the 15 pounds he packed on during last season. It meant Boyd taking on the responsibilities that go with being a leader. It meant understanding that he must play within the Clemson system and not freelance in his decision-making. It meant taking to heart an off-season talk by a motivational speaker as well as the example set by an NFL player during a spring quarterback academy.
“It’s his actions, how he carries himself, both in the good and the bad times,” is how Chad Morris, Clemson’s offensive coordinator, describes what is necessary for Boyd to be the team’s leader.
“That’s something he’s really stressed to me, he really wants me to monitor him and hold him accountable,” Morris says. “When things are going good on the field, not to be too high. When things are going bad on the field, not to be too low.”
Boyd attended a quarterback academy in California under the tutelage of George Whitefield, who primarily worked on the redshirt junior’s throwing mechanics and footwork. Boyd returned to Clemson most impressed with Andrew Luck, the former Stanford quarterback and first-round selection of the Indianapolis Colts.
“Coach, his body language is so strong and so incredibly positive and confident,” Morris recalls Boyd telling him about Luck. “Coach, I’ve got to have that confident body language.”
Boyd was known a season ago to hang his head after an interception, or challenge a coach on the sideline.
“The team morale is based on how the coaches and the quarterback act,” Boyd says. “If you’re out there pouting, (your teammates) are like, ‘We’ve got nothing left. It’s a wrap.’ So, staying positive is big.”
Boyd says he made an attitude adjustment after hearing Jon Gordon, a nationally known expert on the power of positive thinking, speak to the Clemson team this summer. It led Boyd to read Gordon’s book “Energy Bus: Ten Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work and Team with Positive Energy.”
Boyd says Gordon’s speech and book helped him better appreciate being a college football player. He says he gained a different perspective on the game.
“Are you going to feed that positive vibe or that negative vibe?” Boyd asks rhetorically. “Are you going to feed that positive vibe? Put gravy on it. Just feed it. No turnovers today! No fumbles, no picks!”
While Boyd might have gone to the far end of the psychological spectrum, he also can provide some tangible evidence that he is prepared to better lead Clemson.
Under a challenge from Morris and the team’s strength coaches, Boyd discontinued the consumption of fried foods, stopped frequent runs to Chick-fil-A and substituted water for soft drinks. He says the new diet was a matter of setting an example for his teammates.
After ballooning to 235 pounds, Boyd now weighs 220. With the added weight, Boyd no longer was a threat to run with the ball and opponents occasionally dropped eight defenders into pass coverage. Boyd rushed for 218 yards a season ago. Morris says he should run for 700 this go-round.
“For us to be successful, everybody has to play their part,” Boyd says. “For me, being overweight is like playing with 10 people instead of 11. I have to be in the best shape possible for us to be the offense we can be.”
Boyd also must make better decisions and — in the parlance of Morris — play within the system. Sometimes, Morris says, that is one and the same.
Of the 24 sacks Clemson allowed a season ago, Morris says 10 were directly attributed to Boyd not knowing when to tuck the ball and run and not knowing when to throw the ball away.
Morris and Boyd agree that means better knowing the system.
“We have certain plays designed for certain things,” Boyd says. “Sometimes you can put your own spin on it. That’s not the bad part about it. The bad part about it is when you completely ignore the system. There are some situations where I did that.”
Add it all up and Morris says he is confident that instead of being fat and happy this season, Boyd will remain lean and focused throughout the season. That will be the best example he can set for his teammates.