Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd summed up the ills of playing 10 consecutive weeks of football last week: “If you’re not nicked up or banged up a little bit, you haven’t played enough football.”
Few players know – and feel – that more than junior linebacker Ben Boulware. The former T.L. Hanna product has seen some of the most snaps on the entire defense. And it’s hard to believe there are many Tigers hurting as much as Boulware, who played through the rivalry game against South Carolina and the ACC title game against North Carolina with a severe shoulder stinger.
“I’ve been playing with one arm the last two games,” Boulware said after No. 1 Clemson’s 45-37 victory over the Tar Heels. “Nothing’s broken and it’s not ligament stuff. It’s just a bad stinger. It’s not really my AC joint. It’s beside that and my collarbone. I don’t really know how to diagnose it. It just hurts.”
Pain wasn’t enough to keep Boulware on the sideline in the 13-0 journey Clemson’s enjoyed heading into the College Football Playoff.
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He suffered the injury in the first half of the Nov. 21 victory over Wake Forest. Boulware said an offensive lineman laid a very hard blow right on top of his shoulder, which forced him out of the rest of the game.
It didn’t keep him from playing in the regular-season finale at USC, where Boulware played every snap and finished with 11 tackles. Against the Tar Heels, he again saw plenty of action and had three tackles.
“He’s a war daddy. He’s a battler,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “He’s as tough as they come. He’s as prepared as they come and really, really proud of him.”
Boulware said he rehabbed his shoulder between games, didn’t have any contact in practice and took an injection before the UNC contest to help numb the pain. He also wore a sling that didn’t allow for full range of motion, and hasn’t had his normal strength. After a few hits, he was right back to where he started with the injury.
“I tip my hat at Ben,” fellow starting linebacker B.J. Goodson said. “It’s guts. He’s a very tough guy.”
It'll be nearly three weeks before Boulware has to face game contact again.
“This month is going to be huge because I can get my shoulder completely back to what it was,” Boulware said. “I'll finally get to play with two arms so that’s pretty awesome. If I can have two weeks, I'll be back to where I was.”
Clemson will need him healthy for the Dec. 31 playoff semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma. Boulware’s third on the team with 71 total tackles and has logged double digits in tackles in seven games. He’s got seven tackles for a loss, 2.5 sacks and one interception to go along with his team-high three forced fumbles and fumble recovery. Boulware also leads the Tigers with 10 QB hurries and tied for second with six pass breakups and seven passes defended.
The final four
No. 1 Clemson (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1)
Dec. 31, Orange Bowl, Miami Gardens, Fla., 4 p.m.
No. 2 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 3 Michigan State (12-1)
Dec. 31, Cotton Bowl, Arlington, Tex., 8 p.m.
National Championship Game
Jan. 11, 8:30 p.m., Glendale, Ariz.