CLEMSON, S.C. — Defending Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year Tajh Boyd led Clemson onto the practice field as the Tigers opened fall camp Friday.
Boyd is back for his senior season after thinking hard about leaving for the NFL after a record-breaking season. He helped the Tigers go 11-2 for their most victories in three decades and surpassed his own season school marks with 3,896 yards passing and 36 touchdown throws.
The Tigers are beginning preparations for their Aug. 31 game when Georgia comes to Death Valley.
“I’m supposedly one of these quarterbacks around the country who’s supposed to produce,” Boyd said after practice. “It’s time to go out there and play like it.”
Boyd has acknowledged several times since deciding to return last January that he was on his way to the pros moments after leading Clemson to a dramatic, 25-24 victory over Louisiana State University at the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year’s Eve. After a few more days of consideration, though, Boyd realized he wasn’t finished in college.
“As you get older, you start to see how fast time goes,” said Boyd, a senior. “The five years I’ve been here, I thought it was going to take forever. Now it’s down to five months. The question is, ‘What is your legacy going to be?’ ”
It might seem like Boyd’s already carved that in stone with what he’s already accomplished over the past two years. He’s helped Clemson to a 21-6 record and thrown for 69 touchdowns and 7,724 yards. He won the ACC’s player of the year award last season and is projected as the preseason favorite to repeat as the ACC’s top player.
“Tajh has been a super leader for us,” Swinney said. “He understands the opportunities out there for the team.”
Still, Boyd’s been tagged a system quarterback by critics, simply running the high-paced script written up by offensive coordinator Chad Morris. And in the state rivalry, he’s dogged by losing to South Carolina all four years he’s been on campus.
In the last meeting, the Gamecocks beat the Tigers 27-17.
Boyd and the Tigers gained some redemption a month later against LSU as they rallied for a game-winning field goal as time expired. Boyd finished 30 of 56 passing for 346 yards and two touchdowns. He showed his mettle on the final sequence with a game-saving, 26-yard completion to DeAndre Hopkins on fourth-and-16 from deep in Clemson territory.
“Tajh Boyd was phenomenal,” LSU coach Les Miles said right after the loss. “I did not expect the heroic, if you will, efforts that he had.”
Boyd hopes for even bigger heroics this season. Swinney, Clemson’s coach, hasn’t walked back his views on the enormous expectations surrounding the program this year.
“It’s a lot about putting our best foot forward and I feel like we have the team to do that,” Boyd said.
The Tigers were picked eighth in the recently released USA Today preseason coaches’ poll. Swinney said on national TV seconds after Chandler Catanzaro’s 37-yard field goal went through for the victory that the Tigers were a national championship-type club.
Boyd’s comfortable chasing the lofty goals <0x2014> and won’t stand for any mistakes.
When Martavis Bryant dropped a pass on Clemson’s down-field, offensive speed drill, Boyd called the entire unit back to the goal line to start again.
Morris and Boyd kept drilling the skill players on the little things at practice. “You’ve got to get out of it if you recognize it,” Morris told Boyd on a reverse to receiver Charone Peake.
Boyd won’t have to handle the offense alone. Receiver Sammy Watkins is back, looking to regain the form that made him an All-American his freshman season two years ago. Watkins had 57 catches for 708 yards, a stellar season for many players but not close to the 82 receptions for 1,219 he had in 2011.
Rod McDowell will get first crack at filling in for tailback Andre Ellington, who twice went past 1,000 yards in a season. D.J. Howard and Zac Brooks are close on McDowell’s heels, though.
Boyd’s comfortable with whoever gets the call to play. “I feel like we’ve got the people to make special things happen,” he said.