From defense to dancing: Clemson’s Ben Boulware talks his team, family and more
In some ways, Ben Boulware playing college football is an accident. Him being at Clemson, however, is not. The junior linebacker grew up just down the road from the school, and says fate was in control when joined the Tigers. He loves the way it's working out: Clemson is 3–0 after a 20–17 win at Louisville last week. The Tigers have a bye this Saturday, which means that Boulware had plenty of time to talk with Campus Rush about his team's vaunted defense, his beautiful beard and his coach's sense of rhythm (or not).
Campus Rush: It's bye week, and you grew up just 20 minutes from campus in Anderson, S.C. Will you do anything fun with your family this weekend?
Ben Boulware: My family has a huge tailgate, so I'll go hang out at that [with] about 40 people, between my immediate family and extended family. Right when I wake up Sunday morning, I usually go home. This weekend I'll probably go home on Saturday and do the thing everyone wants to do: lay on the couch all day and watch football. It's a much better feeling when you do that at home, surrounded by your family, than by yourself.
CR: Any games in particular you're excited to watch?
Boulware: I have no clue who's playing.
CR: [Laughs.] Great honesty. Was Clemson always your dream school? I know your older brother, Garrett, who is now a catcher in the Cincinnati Reds farm system, played baseball there.
Boulware: I'm not sure I would call it my dream school, but I felt like I was destined to come here. My entire family has been through here: My parents went here, my brother played baseball here, my little sister is here now, my grandparents came here, all my cousins. I really had no choice.
CR: What is it like to go against quarterback Deshaun Watson every day in practice? What makes him so good?
Boulware: It's pretty exciting because you see his playmaking ability up close. But also, you get to see all the little things he does outside of football when there aren't cameras around. Just how [meticulous] he is about his game, how hard of a worker he is. There are lots of ins and outs to his game that people don't really know about. That's why he's such a playmaker on the field—because there are 85,000 little things he's done Sunday through Friday.
And he's a humble dude. He's probably the most popular Clemson athlete in the last 10 years, with the publicity and media attention he gets, but he carries himself so well. You'd think someone with that much hype would get arrogant, cocky, that type of thing, but he's so levelheaded.
CR: The Tigers' defense last year was one of the best in the country, but it lost a lot of talent to the NFL. What are you guys doing this year to create your own identity?
Boulware: Whoa, whoa. First of all, statistically we were the best last season, not one of [the best]; we've got to get credit for that. I think every one of the guys we lost, they brought leadership. This year we've had the next-man-up mentality, and [have] vowed there won't be a drop-off. So far, through three games, it's been pretty good statistically, and we've been proving what we were saying.
CR: I'm guessing, then, that you believe you play for the best defensive coordinator in the country in Brent Venables. How intense is he?
Boulware: He definitely sets the tone every morning. He comes in and he's wired. It pays off, because we have to try to match his energy every day. It's almost impossible because he's kind of crazy. He's a very intense, very focused individual, but it's part of why he's coached so many top defenses for so many years in his career.
CR: How sick do you get of hearing the term Clemsoning?
Boulware: I definitely heard it when I was growing up, and Clemson proved it a lot of times when they were playing low-level opponents. But I haven't heard it much in the past few years because we haven't really done it. It's kind of a thing of the past and I'm glad I'm not hearing it nearly as much.
CR: Next week you play Notre Dame, which has been bitten by the injury bug. Have you ever played on a team that was ravaged by injuries? If so, what is that like mentally?
Boulware: I've been on teams where we've lost our best dudes, our best playmakers. But just like with our defense, it's the next-man-up mentality. I know they've lost a lot of guys, but I'm sure they have that same mentality, too.
CR: I'm sure you've started studying film of the Fighting Irish already. What's the biggest difference you see between Malik Zaire, who started the year as the quarterback, and DeShone Kizer, who is playing now?
Boulware: We haven't watched that much film of Zaire, but they obviously both have great arms. Kizer is a little bigger body [6' 4", 230 pounds, compared to 6 feet, 222 pounds], but what they bring to the table is pretty similar, so we'll play them the same way.
CR: So this summer, you shaved your beard and it got a lot of media attention. Why was that such a big deal in the Clemson area? And why did you do it?
Boulware: I honestly couldn't tell you why it got so much attention. Probably because it was beautiful, just a beautiful beard and it took me six or seven months to grow it. Still not sure why I did it—just went through a phase where I wanted a beard and kept going. But it got old, was always in the way, so I decided to shave it. It ticked a lot of people off, actually. I wouldn't say I regret it, but there are some days I really miss it.
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CR: I read that your younger brother, Cameron, is autistic, and that you guys are very close. What is the greatest lesson you learned growing up with him?
Boulware: I think the main thing with Cameron is that you learn [to] just live your life how you want to live it. Don't let society tell you what to do. I have a few tattoos, and I have one on my ankle—it's a pair of mismatched socks. Cameron is a senior in high school, and for the longest time we thought he didn't know how to match his socks. But what we realized is that he just doesn't care. He'll walk around with one long black sock and then one white ankle sock. He didn't care what outsiders perceived about him, he was just going to be happy and do what he wanted. So the main reason I got that tattoo is to say, Screw what everyone else thinks, I'm going to be happy and live life the way I want to. I have eight or nine tattoos, and that's my most meaningful one.
Boulware: [Laughs.] So my whole family, we grew up in the motocross scene. Me—my older brother and my four cousins, all boys—we're all kind of the same age and grew up doing it. I was homeschooled until third grade because [motocross] was so time-consuming. My cousin had a track at his house and we'd go practice there every day. We traveled every weekend: Florida, Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, etc.
In the third grade, I broke my arm and the bone came through [the skin] and there were all these complications. I had three surgeries; they almost had to cut my arm off because it got so infected from the dirt that got into it. I was out for about a year and a half. It scared my mom, so she made us stop. That's when we started playing baseball and football. Me getting hurt sort of screwed everything else up. The whole family had to quit.
CR: O.K., on a scale of one to 10, with 10 being Beyoncé, and one being a So You Think You Can Dance? reject, please rate Dabo Swinney's postgame dancing skills.
Boulware: Oh man, I thought you were going to ask how I dance. Coach Swinney is a one.
CR: Describe his dancing in three words.
Boulware: Very, very poor. He could definitely learn some things and take some notes from guys on the team. But me, I'm definitely Beyoncé. If you go to my Twitter page, you can see my moves.