Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd held court at the conference's preseason media gathering Sunday, and no one was more comfortable. He's occupied center stage since leading Phoebus High School to a pair of state titles, and his senior year with the Tigers holds similar promise.
"I think we're capable of greatness," Boyd said.
So is he.
Boyd this season could become the first quarterback since Duke's Leo Hart in 1968-70 to make first-team All-ACC three times. He could become the league's first repeat player of the year since Florida State's Charlie Ward in 1992 and '93.
Ward, you may recall, won the Heisman and led the Seminoles to their first national championship in 1993. Projecting a national title for Clemson, or any ACC program, is folly these days, but with an experienced offensive line, pro-caliber receiver Sammy Watkins and innovative coordinator Chad Morris, Boyd certainly could produce Heisman-caliber numbers.
"They couldn't have picked a better quarterback for that (up-tempo offense)," North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner said of Boyd, his close friend. "The job he's done, the records he's set. We had a chance to play them two years ago … and he took over the game in the second half."
Renner recalls well. Boyd threw for three touchdowns and ran for another during a 35-point third quarter as the Tigers rolled, 59-38. For the day he passed for 367 yards and five scores.
Considering the opponent and venue, Boyd was even better in last season's Chick-fil-A Bowl, completing 36-of-50 passes, without an interception, for 346 yards and two touchdowns against a fierce LSU defense. He also ran for a touchdown and guided a drive that produced Chandler Catanzaro's last-play, game-winning field goal.
"The LSU game, I think, was a stepping stone for this program," Boyd said.
Clemson is 21-6 with Boyd as the starter the last two seasons, finishing among the Associated Press' top 25 in consecutive years for the first time since 1990 and '91. The Tigers averaged a program-record 41 points as Boyd, capable of breaking down defenses with his arm and legs, came of age in his second year with Morris.
Morris joined Dabo Swinney's Clemson staff after one season as a college coach, that as Tulsa's offensive coordinator. Talk about a risky hire.
"There were a lot of question marks, him coming from Conference USA to the ACC," Boyd said of Morris. "But it's all about buying into the system."
Boyd went all-in and developed into a NFL prospect — his 73 career touchdown passes are 22 shy of the ACC record the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers established at North Carolina State. Boyd seriously contemplated declaring for the draft after the LSU victory, but among those who encouraged him to remain at Clemson was Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and fellow Peninsula District alum Michael Vick, who left Virginia Tech two years early for the NFL.
"He's a really good mentor," Boyd said of Vick. "He asked me, 'Do (you) want to be the best? If you want to be the best, go back to school and do everything you need to do.'
"Why not go out there and (take) one last shot at it? I don't want to live with regrets in anything I do. I didn't want to make that (NFL) step and regret not coming back. … I know this is the right move for me."
Indeed, returning to Clemson offered Boyd myriad opportunities.
He's one course shy of completing his sociology degree and will face a challenging non-conference schedule bookended by the opener against Georgia and finale against South Carolina — Clemson has lost four straight to its state rival. Moreover, he can work on the nuances that define elite quarterbacks, from footwork to coverage recognition.
Boyd certainly has the Type A traits you associate with the game's centerpiece position. To wit: Prodded by teammate Spencer Shuey on Sunday, he broke into Church's hit:
"To this day when I hear that song, I see you standin' there on that lawn, discount shades, store-bought tan, flip flops and cut-off jeans."
Boyd then filled notebooks and recorders for 40-plus minutes with an ease and confidence that probably translate well to a third-and-9, fourth-quarter huddle.
"I've been pretty confident in myself for awhile now," said Boyd, accustomed to attention from Phoebus' success and a circus recruitment that included premature commitments to West Virginia and Tennessee.
The attention will only intensify if the Tigers can build upon their LSU success and conquer Georgia.
"This is my fifth year at Clemson," Boyd said, "and now it all comes down to five months. To me, it all comes down to embracing opportunity. Every workout, every time we step on the field."