CLEMSON — Leaning back in a swivel chair, wearing a Minnesota Twins hat and tossing a football in the air and catching it with his free hand, Tajh Boyd is casually chatting through a Fox Sports Radio phone interview.
The world’s biggest little kid this side of NBA star Dwight Howard is at his best when he doesn’t take himself or his daily routine too seriously.
He is a goofball. An extrovert. But he’s cerebral, too. He recognizes what he’s meant to Clemson University, and while he’ll let the public decide his place in program lore, it’s clear that stuff matters to him.
Just after that radio interview, he’s got a few final questions to answer. Questions about his legacy. Questions about his track record against South Carolina.
Questions about how those two things might go hand in hand.
Six TDs, no wins
The interview begins with a sore subject for Boyd.
“Here are some statistics, Tajh. Your last four games against Florida State and South Carolina.”
Boyd: “Right.” He knows what’s coming.
“47 percent completions, 165 passing yards a game …”
Boyd looks down. “Mmmhmm.”
“… six touchdowns, six interceptions, and no wins.”
Boyd, 31-7 as a starter at Clemson but 0-2 against USC and 1-2 against Florida State, looks up. “Right.”
“Do those games stick with you? Does that drive you to want to make that right in that last regular season game?”
Boyd: “Yeah, that’s in any competitor’s nature. You want to go change that perception, you want to change that image.”
Image often wrestles with Boyd. Whether it’s his own body language on the sidelines if Clemson falls behind by a couple scores, or presenting a lavish portrait of his school for successors like DeShaun Watson, Boyd is ever the ambassador, the face of the program, the carrier of a heavy burden.
If Boyd is not universally beloved, he’s as close as it gets in this polarizing landscape of college football. He hopes detractors who point out his tough losses remember his great triumphs in the same conversation.
“I don’t think it’s to the point where you just don’t perform in big games — we’ve done that, we’ve won big games,” Boyd said. “But at the same time, each of those losses, the common theme is we didn’t go out there and perform with our best foot forward.”
Boyd was not born with the thickest skin. When Clemson was walloped, 51-14, by Florida State last month, the topic of discussion was whether Boyd was having fun and even if he might be regretting his decision to put off the NFL for a year. Boyd fervently denies the latter.
“It wasn’t necessarily not fun, but at the same time, I think it was some situations that if you let the wrong stuff get in your head, reading this or that or hearing this and that, you can let it affect you,” Boyd said. “If you let all that other stuff, all those outside perspectives hit you, then it can make you feel way more disappointment than you would treat yourself.
“That’s all about life, man. You’ve got to handle the good with the bad.”
“One last shot”
Of course, no game means more to Clemson fans than this one every year. Boyd won’t say it, but he wants no part of five dirty words being tied to his cherished legacy amid all the records and memories — he never beat South Carolina.
“You don’t have to remind Tajh Boyd of the importance of this game,” offensive coordinator Chad Morris said. “I think in the back of his mind, it affects him.”
Specifically, it’s the mistakes that haunt Boyd in those defeats at the hands of the Gamecocks, who have won the turnover battle each of the past four matchups.
“Against good teams — and they’ve been good over the last few years — you can’t do that, because you lose that game,” Boyd said. “That’s something you hope you can learn from. You get one last shot at it, you have to go out there and try to make the most out of it.”
In August, every player was asked to select his most important word for the 2013 season. Boyd’s pick, loosely translated: “legendegacy.”
“Legendary, legacy, those are two different words, but I kind of wanted to intertwine them,” Boyd said. “We’re just trying to finish off strong, and what a better way to go out as a senior than to go ahead and get a victory?”
Maybe Boyd is the greatest quarterback in Clemson history if he never plays another down. Even if he can’t slay South Carolina. He doesn’t know. He does care, though.
“I think it will be up to what people think it is,” Boyd said. “But I think it’s pretty critical. How are you going to be remembered? By your last game. So I think it’s a big game. I think it’ll be a huge game. But it’s just a game. You’ve got to perform to your capabilities and not make the game bigger than it is. We have to keep our mind fresh, and let the game come to us.”