CLEMSON — Tajh Boyd and David Watford are in different places in their careers, just as they were the last time they met on a football field.
Five years ago, Boyd’s Phoebus Phantoms were on a mission to claim their second Virginia high school state championship in three years, a quest they would eventually complete. Watford’s Hampton Crabbers were a city rival and posed little resistance, losing 42-6 that night.
“We kind of crushed them a little bit,” Boyd recalled.
But Boyd, a senior at the time, took note of the sophomore Watford. There was always a mutual respect between quarterback products of the 757 area code.
“He’s a good quarterback, can run, but he’s really a good passer as well. Very poised. And he was the same way in high school,” Boyd said. “He was actually less of a runner in high school. It’s been good to watch him grow through the maturation process.”
Boyd is again the top dog in the matchup, leading No. 8 Clemson (7-1, 5-1 ACC) to face Watford and Virginia (2-6, 0-4) Saturday afternoon in Charlottesville, 150 miles northwest of Hampton Roads.
This is the second time Boyd has played in the state of Virginia, and the closest he’s ever played college football to his teenage residence in Hampton.
“Man, I’m excited to go back to the home state. It’ll be something else,” Boyd said. “It’ll help cap off the senior season, a nice little homecoming.”
Boyd and Watford have stayed in touch, since Boyd recognizes the value of a mentor. He himself looked up to other Hampton-area passers like Michael Vick, Aaron Brooks and Tyrod Taylor.
“We talk pretty frequently. He’s a couple years younger than me, but it’s always good to see a guy perform like that,” Boyd said. “And as a person, he’s just a great kid in general. Great values, great morals, surrounded by a Catholic family beside him, and for a guy to be another representation of that area; being an older guy, you want to make sure you can help out any way possible.
“If he calls and asks for advice in certain situations, I’m going to be there.”
It’s been appreciated by the youngster.
“I saw what he was doing, how good he was, the potential that he had,” Watford said of Boyd earlier this week. “He kind of took me under his wing when I was in high school, so we’re pretty close from that.”
Watford’s found mixed results in his first year as a starter; he’s eighth in the league in total offense (1,836 total yards), but he’s the owner of the second-lowest passer rating among ACC qualified quarterbacks.
Boyd’s also familiar with the Cavaliers’ starting weakside linebacker. Daquan Romero was Phoebus’ tight end catching passes from Boyd.
Many of the Virginia Beach Mustangs, Boyd’s Pop Warner team as a preteen, are expected to make the two-hour trip to watch Boyd play.
“To see some of those kids and have an impact on their lives is probably the most important thing for me,” Boyd said. “Just gotta keep on being a positive role model and carry myself with the best image possible.”
The battle cry around Clemson in the wake of Florida State’s 51-14 rout was to take the pressure off Boyd, who had been starting to tighten up with the expectations mounting by the week.
Now that the Tigers are off the national championship radar, and he’s off the Heisman short list, Boyd’s trying to settle in for his final month of the regular season.
“This is my last go-around. So for me, my whole stigma is about trying to enjoy it fully,” Boyd said. “Sometimes you get kind of concerned what people think, but that’s not what you play for. That’s why it’s so important for us as a program and as a team, to go out there and relax and have fun.”
Boyd rebounded from a brutal night against the Seminoles to roll up 328 total yards and a pair of scores in last Saturday’s 40-27 win at Maryland.
“You don’t want your quarterback going into a game worrying about doing too much,” senior tailback Roderick McDowell said. “If you simplify everything and take a lot of pressure off him, Tajh can do so many great things. When you do that for Tajh, man, Clemson’s gonna be all right.”
Now come the Cavaliers, who based on cumulative schedules have played the nation’s most difficult slate. Clemson is favored by 17 points, but via standard protocol, it’s not overlooking Virginia.
“It’s not going to be an easy game by any means,” Boyd said. “So I’m looking forward to it.”