Once he stepped off the cloud and floated back to earth, quarterback Tajh Boyd decided that returning to Clemson for one final season was the best choice.
Initially seduced by Clemson’s victory against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Boyd said the decision “was pretty clear at first.” Named the game’s most valuable player after a career performance in the dramatic victory, Boyd said Wednesday he was ready to jump to the NFL and forgo his senior season.
Over the past week, he sought advice from friends, family, former teammates and childhood idol Michael Vick, the former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback from the same area of Virginia where Boyd was reared.
Boyd said an evaluation from the NFL Draft Advisory Board projected him as a potential second- to fourth-round pick, a bump after the bowl game from earlier projections. The league assessment recommended he work on his footwork and passing accuracy, which sounded relatively pedestrian. Former teammate Dwayne Allen was able to provide more clarity.
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Allen, who Sunday completed his rookie season as a tight end with the Indianapolis Colts, said Boyd has the arm and raw athleticism to play in the NFL. Much of Boyd’s work over the next year, he said, requires refining his skill, attention to detail and embracing the role as the leader and face of the team.
“It wasn’t necessarily a bad decision for him to leave, and it definitely was not a bad decision for him to come back,” Allen said.
“He wants to have the opportunity to compete for a national championship, to further what he’s done at Clemson,” he said. “He wants to take that to the next level.”
This, now, clearly becomes Boyd’s team, a proposition he admitted once scared him.
“At one time, I was terrified at the thought,” he said. “You had guys like Dwayne last year and Dalton (Freeman) and those guys to lean on.
“I thought about it and decided, well, it’s your turn.”
Boyd came to Clemson after a whirlwind courtship, one of 12 players signed in Dabo Swinney’s first class as head coach, after helping his high school team to two state championships, the second on a torn knee ligament that required surgery shortly before signing day.
After watching Kyle Parker for two seasons, in 2011 he helped Clemson win its first ACC Championship in 20 years. Last fall, he led the Tigers to 11 wins and the stunner New Year’s Eve in Atlanta.
Boyd holds 39 Clemson records for passing, scoring and total offense. This season, he was named first-team All-American by the American Football Coaches Association and ACC player of the year by the media and the coaches.
He completed 287 of 427 passes for 3,896 yards and 36 touchdowns — an ACC record — and rushed for 547 yards and 10 touchdowns. His 46 touchdowns rushing and passing were surpassed only by Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel’s 47.
Returning brings risks, so Boyd will look at securing an insurance policy for a career-ending injury, but he visited the dark side when he injured the knee in high school.
“You feel like your whole world is over,” he said “It’s just the nature of the game. When you sign up and put yourself in that uniform and in that venue, you’re a modern-day gladiator.”
With as many as seven starters returning on each side of the ball — including four offensive linemen and receiver Sammy Watkins — the potential of the 2013 team was impossible to ignore. After finishing ninth in the USA Today coaches’ poll, Clemson could be in the conversation for the national title, especially if it gets by Georgia in the opening game.
“I feel like we have the opportunity to create something special here,” Boyd said. “We come here and compete and win championships. Your ultimate goal is to come in and leave a legacy.
“I feel this team has the opportunity among the best teams,” he said. “Hopefully, my name will be mentioned among the best quarterbacks.”