Boulware blown away by first game

CLEMSON – Ben Boulware is used to nerves. That's fine.

When you play football, you'll have some butterflies in the pit of your stomach in the hours and moments before kickoff.

But once toe meets leather and the first play unfolds, they disappear.

That wasn't the case Saturday night inside Memorial Stadium.

"Usually in high school games after one play the jitters go away, you're not nervous anymore," he said. "For me, I got out there and I was nervous the whole time. There are so many people and it's so loud and the game was on ESPN, so there's millions of people watching. It's insane."

The Clemson freshman linebacker's first collegiate game nearly had an ugly postscript, but everything turned out fine in the end for the T.L. Hanna product. Boulware was introduced to America when a late punt inadvertently grazed off his chest and into the end zone – where it was smartly recovered and run out by walk-on C.J. Jones – but no harm was done, and he received valuable special-teams coverage experience.

He hopes to build on that first night with defensive snaps this week against FCS foe South Carolina State. Debuting against No.5 Georgia, however, will always be a special memory.

"You can't describe it, honestly," he said. "When I went out there for the kick return and they start playing music, you're in the zone. No one can tell you what to do, you feel like you're on top of the world. 85,000 people watching you screaming, jumping up and down, I was on KOR, just dancing, getting in my zone. It's indescribable, honestly."

Boulware is known for his hard-charging, intense style; he piled up 174 tackles as a T.L. Hanna senior while playing from sideline to sideline, even returning kicks and running on fake punts. Scout.com rated him as South Carolina's No.1 prospect last fall.

That style is a big reason why he saw the field Saturday night. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is an intense, maximum-effort coach – and he prizes linebackers like Boulware who always give effort.

"I think that Venables is an old-school coach," Boulware said. "The main thing for him is he likes great effort guys, aggressive guys, guys that play through the whistle. I feel that fits him perfectly, the way I play. I feel like once he realized that, he couldn't keep me off the field."

Was there a period of adjustment in preseason practice? Well, a small one.

"I think the main scrimmage – the first half I played pretty bad when they first let people (connected to the program) in there," he said. "Not that many people, but I saw people there. The first one there was no one there, I didn't even worry about fans or anything. When they actually had people there, I got a little nervous. I got over the jitters. For the most part, all the scrimmages, I had a decent game."

Saturday, Boulware started on kickoffs, kick returns and punt returns. Of course, he was only really noticed when the punt grazed him and went into the end zone – which could have turned a 38-28 Clemson lead into 38-35, very quickly.

Boulware said he was simply trying to block Georgia players so the ball would roll into the end zone for a touchback rather than being downed at the one-yard line.

"(Coaches) thought it was a smart play, they understood what I was trying to do, but the fact they pushed me into the ball, it was a live ball," he said. " I think if it'd have been reviewed, they'd have seen that they pushed me into the ball and it would have been a dead ball. I saw (special teams) coach (Danny) Pearman and said, ‘Coach, let me explain.' He said, ‘I love you, I still love you,' he gave me a hug, that's all it was.

In the maelstrom of a packed Memorial Stadium, Boulware had no idea of the chaos he'd narrowly avoided.

"When I was coming onto the sideline, I saw C.J. had picked up the ball and I didn't know why he'd picked up the ball," he said. "When I was in the game I didn't see it at all. I didn't feel it touch me, I saw it when I was running to block those guys, I saw it rolling, but when I dove at them I didn't feel it touch me. I didn't know it hit me till I asked a couple guys on the sidelines, did it hit me?

"(Someone was like, ‘Yeah, it hit you right in the chest.' I was like, ‘I'm going to get so much crap for this. It's going to be bad.'" Thanks, C.J.

"I need to get him some dinner. He saved my life," Boulware said. "Thank God he was there." That play will be far from the last time Clemson fans hear Ben Boulware's name in the next four years. You can count on that. With the initial jitters behind, he's focused on earning more playing time quickly.

"I feel I want to keep playing each practice like it's my last, don't take anything for granted," he said. "Being under Stephone (Anthony), he's a great player. I want to just stay on his butt, keep asking questions so I can learn a lot from him."

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