Few can say they bought in on Dabo Swinney before Tajh Boyd. The former Clemson quarterback and 2012 All-America honoree knew right away. He was a part of Swinney’s first recruiting class after the coach went 4–3 in an interim capacity in ’08.
Between 2010 and ’13, Boyd and Swinney won 38 games together and kicked off the Tigers’ current stretch of five straight seasons with 10 or more wins. Boyd and Swinney’s belief in one another helped to spark the rise that now has Clemson in the national championship against Alabama on Monday night.
In his four seasons with the Tigers, Boyd threw for 11,904 yards (second in ACC history), rushed for 1,165 yards and scored 133 touchdowns. He led the Tigers to 11 wins and an Orange Bowl victory in 2013.
Now Boyd plays for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, but as his Twitter bio notes, he remains an unofficial ambassador for Clemson. Boyd joined the SI College Football Podcast to discuss the Tigers’ season and how they match up with Alabama.
Below is an excerpt of the Q&A with Boyd. Listen to the entire interview with him at the bottom or catch the complete national championship preview episode of the SI College Football Podcast here.
Lindsay Schnell: What stood out to you from Clemson’s Orange Bowl performance? Did anything impress you or were you standing on the sideline going, “Yeah, this is what I was waiting for?”
Tajh Boyd: Nothing really surprised me. I loved the physicality of the team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There was a lot of talk about Baker Mayfield and the explosiveness that he has, and the receivers and Samaje Perine, but for me the battle was the defensive line attacking Baker Mayfield and just making him uncomfortable as early as possible. I definitely think they had an opportunity to do that, and [they] did. I think they just controlled it in the front. Same thing on the offensive side of the ball. The receivers played great, the quarterback played great, but the offensive line was just amazing. Deshaun had all day to throw. And I think that’s one of the two key points that not many people talk about.
LS: Tell me a little bit more about that. What do you think people don’t talk about enough that’s getting lost in the conversation about Clemson in general?
TB: Probably the offensive line, a very stout group, very different from years before. Jay Guillermo is a key point up front. When you add a guy like that and you add a guy like Eric Mac Lain—they’ve been there before. They’re veterans, they understand how the game works, they understand the flow of everything. When you add in the younger guys like Mitch Hyatt and things of that nature, they’re able to go out there and execute as much as possible. If you control the game up front, you can control the game in general. Wayne Gallman played an unbelievable game, and Deshaun was able to do it with his feet I think a lot more than people gave him credit for.
LS: You were on the roster when Watson was being recruited. Did you help recruit him a little bit?
TB: Yeah absolutely, Deshaun is like my little brother. [We’re] very close. I was able to go and see him play a couple of times in high school, was able to host him on his visit, and he used to come by Clemson and just hang out with me all the time. Just understanding who he is as a person and as a player, it’s been a privilege to watch him mature and grow.
LS: What’d do you think when you watched him in high school?
TB: Deshaun is a very humble person, and as you can tell, for him it’s more about the team than it is himself. But what makes him different is his poise, the way he is under duress. He doesn’t really fold or anything of that nature. If he makes a mistake—throws an interception, fumbles, et cetera, et cetera—he’s able to bounce back like nothing happened. And that’s rare, especially for a player of his age.
LS: Why do people not respect Clemson?
TB: I think it’s an ACC bias more than anything. And a lot of people tell me that the ACC is top-heavy. I understand that. I know that the ACC is top-heavy. I played in it. For me, that’s no different than the SEC. There’s only a few teams that are elite. Florida got embarrassed by Michigan, and they were playing in the SEC title game. But besides that, Alabama is obviously who they are, long history and tradition. Ole Miss played exceptional this year minus a game or two. Tennessee is a program on the rise. And then LSU is LSU, but, I mean, they’ve had down years. So I mean, just for people to know, regardless of what they say, Vanderbilt’s not beating anybody in the ACC at this point. Wake Forest would give them a game. I’m not really biased towards the ACC. Clemson doesn’t play for the ACC, but it’s a good representation of the conference.
LS: What has it been like to watch this from a distance? Do you talk to coach Swinney a lot? It’s got to be incredible for you. I’m sure you feel a tremendous amount of pride.
TB: Oh absolutely. And I talk to Swinney about two or three times a week. He’s been instrumental in my career, one of my mentors. He advised me to go over to Canada, get some more opportunities, get some more reps and continue to grow.…
To be able to watch and to be able to wear my orange with pride, that’s all that any alum wants to happen. I’m sitting there, and people are like, “Woah, what if Deshaun breaks all your records?” That’s fine with me. Nobody wants to be a stagnant program. Whenever you leave, you always want to feel like you left a legacy. To see what these guys are doing, what they’ve built off of, it’s very impressive. And it’s going to happen for a long time.
LS: What did Swinney bring to Clemson? Why is he different? Why do you think he’s been successful?
TB: It’s just his mentality. I was able to play under Swinney in his first year as a head coach, part of his first recruiting class, and the reason I went to Clemson was because of his story. I had Jim Tressel at the door, Mike Bellotti at the door, Bill Snyder at the door, but what set Swinney apart was his story. He was pretty much destined for failure and found a way to succeed. And when I’m talking to him and understanding all the adversity that he overcame—and a lot of recruits feel the same way—if you can get a guy like that, not only are you going to get better as a player but you’re going to get better as a person.
LS: So how good of a dancer do you think he is?
TB: Definitely not a good dancer, but he’s improved. He used to do some of the dancing when I was there, and it was rough.
LS: If you had to tell people one coach Swinney story or anecdote to kind of sum up who he is as a person, what would it be? What do people not know about him that you wished they did?
TB: He’s very competitive and he’s never wrong. That’s what I try to tell some of the younger guys who try to argue with him, you’re never going to win it. We were in a situation where we were in two-minute-drill mode senior year, and we were just in practice. It was third down, and I spiked it. Well, in his mind it was fourth down. He just went livid, like “You just lost us the game. You blew it.” I’m arguing, yelling that it was third down. He was so convinced in his argument, you really would have thought it was fourth down. Sammy [Watkins] and Martavis [Bryant] are looking at me like, “Bro.” I was like, “I know he’s wrong.” But that’s just who he is, and when you’ve got a guy like that who will compete for you, man, it means the world.
LS: Who do people not talk about enough? When you watch Clemson, who stands out to you?
TB: Wayne Gallman. Marcus Lattimore is really good friend of mine, and Marcus is like, “Look, bro, I think Wayne is the best back in the country.” And I say I agree with it. That’s one of the things when you look at this matchup. Yeah, they have Derrick Henry. And that’s fine. But give me another position that people think that they’re better than Clemson at. You can’t tell me one position, from the kicker to the punter to the running back. If Wayne’s not better, then he’s damn near even.
LS: You think Clemson has the edge in lot of positions. What does Alabama do well that’s going to be tough for Clemson? What makes you even a little bit nervous?
TB: I think one of the things is that Saban’s been here before. The experience Saban having been here time and time again, you can’t overlook that…. With Saban being there and the experience that he’s had there, that’s kind of the only advantage that they have going in to it, not necessarily from a playing standpoint but from a coaching standpoint. But Swinney has been there as a player, as well, being a player at Bama.
LS: Why has Watson had success?
TB: Because he understands the game. He understands situations, he understands football. [He’s] very mature mentally. He knows when to run, he knows when the throw is there. He can anticipate a lot of different things. He’s so controlled. He doesn’t waver.
LS: I know you’re going to pick Clemson to win. Can you give us a score prediction?