Boyd enters stretch run

CLEMSON – I believe the noted rock philosophers Cinderella said it best: "Don't know what you got till it's gone."

Some Clemson fans could stand to dust off that 1980s classic power ballad over the next few weeks and watch it while they YouTube highlights of Tajh Boyd.

The Tigers' star quarterback's final season is rounding its final turn. It might be hard to believe, but Boyd has only three regular season games – two in Memorial Stadium – plus a bowl game remaining.

When those are finished, one of the great careers in Clemson and ACC history will be complete. Boyd will begin his NFL draft training and Clemson fans will focus on the upcoming spring quarterback battle between Cole Stoudt, Chad Kelly and incoming four-star freshman DeShaun Watson.

Before that, however, those same fans should take a minute and appreciate just what Boyd has brought to Dabo Swinney's program.

The Hampton, Va., native has his detractors among Clemson's fanbase for his shortcomings – not beating South Carolina in two tries as a starter and his ill-timed poor performance against Florida State last month in the biggest game in recent ACC history – but judging him by those moments is like failing to see the forest for the trees.

When Boyd walks off the field for the final time in Clemson's bowl game, he'll do so as the top quarterback in program history.

Consider this: He is No.1 in Clemson history in passing touchdowns, passing efficiency, passing yardage, total offense and touchdown responsibility. If he starts against The Citadel, he'll break Charlie Whitehurst's record for most consecutive starts by a quarterback. And if the Tigers win out, he'll be the program's all-time winningest quarterback, passing Rodney Williams.

On the ACC level, he is responsible for more touchdowns than anyone else in league history, passing Philip Rivers last week with 117 overall. He has over 10,000 career passing yards and over 11,000 yards of total offense, both second in league history behind Rivers. And with three more 300-yard games, he'll pass Rivers for most 300-yard games by an ACC quarterback.

Just as importantly, Boyd has done so as a model citizen and an exemplary representative of Clemson's football program.

I've seen Boyd numerous times inside and outside of the football facilities, and he has always greeted me and other reporters with a smile, a handshake or a grasp of the shoulder. He connects with people in a way that is rare in today's increasingly sterile, stratified college media environment.

I've never seen Boyd turn down an interview request or treat a reporter or fan with anything approaching surliness. Even at his worst moments, he puts his best foot forward.

It would have been acceptable for Boyd to be crushed following the Florida State game. On the biggest stage of his career, he just wasn't very good, with his early turnover helping dig Clemson a hole it never got out of.

His hopes for a Heisman Trophy, BCS national title and likely an ACC title were gone. His left foot was in a protective boot. If ever there was a time for Boyd to be short and curt with reporters, this was it.

But he was just Tajh, answering every question that was posed of him and looking ahead, not back. That's a rare quality. I've covered Clemson for eight years, and I still remember Will Proctor snapping, "Next question, next question" following an awful 2006 performance at Virginia Tech.

And it certainly was noticeable when Kyle Parker skipped his media obligation – for whatever reason – following a 29-7 2010 defeat to South Carolina.

A leader stands as his team's representative and takes accountability, good or bad.

That's Boyd. And that's the guy Clemson's program has benefited from for the last four years, whether it's throwing touchdowns on the field or quietly sweeping up his teammates' popcorn in a darkened movie theatre following the Friday night pregame movie.

I understand those who want to downgrade Boyd for his poor performances against South Carolina and Florida State, and Boyd himself will be the first to tell you he needs to do better. When he met with reporters this week, he pointed out without prompting that Clemson needed to beat the Gamecocks this month to complete his career.

But it'd also be unfair to note just how far Clemson's program has risen with his influence.

Boyd turned down Oregon and Ohio State to sign with new head coach Swinney. His first extended time came at the end of a lost 2010 season: once Parker suffered broken ribs near halftime of a half-empty Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, the keys to the car were Boyd's – and he nearly led a huge second-half comeback over South Florida.

Since then, the Tigers have won an ACC title, won or shared two Atlantic Division titles and won back-to-back games over SEC Top 10 opponents – something no non-SEC program has ever done. Boyd might not be perfect, but he's pretty darn good.

And a great career will likely look even better in retrospect.

My advice? Enjoy it while you still can, live and in living color, over the next two months. You'll be glad you did.

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