CLEMSON -- When he walked out of the Georgia Dome early on the morning of Jan. 1, Tajh Boyd told himself he was gone - 100-percent gone to the NFL after his redshirt junior season at Clemson.
He said he didn't inform anyone of these plans at the time. The only person on the team who had an idea was Andre Ellington, whom Boyd told before the Chick-fil-A Bowl that he'd probably leave if he managed to engineer a victory over LSU.
That underscores the biggest news of Wednesday's announcement from Boyd that he'll return for his final season of eligibility with the Tigers.
Just about everyone thought Boyd's return was the worst-kept secret in town, but it turns out the best-kept secret was how close Boyd says he came to turning pro.
"I thought it was pretty clear at first," Boyd said, referring to his desire to leave. "But it's been wavering for about the past five days."
After Boyd wrapped up his press conference inside the team meeting room at the West End Zone football facility, he sat down and pulled out his cell phone to survey fan response to his announcement. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris walked into the room, snuck up behind Boyd and delivered a big, wet kiss on the top of Boyd's head.
If Boyd was as close as he says he was to bolting, this was a major boost for an offense that set all kinds of records with Boyd at the controls in 2011 and 2012.
Dwayne Allen, a close friend of Boyd's and a confidant through this process, left Clemson a year ago because he'd grown bored of the college thing and was ready for football to become a business.
A year later, Boyd elected to stay in school because he's not ready for the business side of it. He's still enjoying being the man at Clemson, still invested not just in making himself better, but making his program better.
And it's probably not even in that order. Boyd was asked if this decision was financially driven or legacy-driven. Actually neither, he said.
"Team-driven, honestly," he said.
Boyd said he wants to be distinguished among the great quarterbacks, as anyone in his position would. But he believes that's "for everybody else to judge" and is secondary to his prime objective.
"This team has an opportunity to be mentioned among the great teams," he said.
A mere two years ago, Boyd was a redshirt freshman backup who was inserted into the final two games against South Carolina and South Florida with Clemson facing big deficits. There wasn't much for anyone in orange to feel good about at that time, when the Tigers suffered their first losing season in 12 years.
So sitting in the present, Boyd would be justified for feeling completely content with what he's accomplished thus far. He's guided this program to back-to-back 10-win seasons after Clemson went two decades without a double-digit win total. Last season he helped deliver the Tigers' first ACC title since 1991, knocking off previous ACC dominator Virginia Tech by a combined score of 61-13 in two meetings. And his last time out, Boyd put forth a truly heroic performance in the face of constant, brutal pressure from perhaps the best defensive line in college football, helping lead Clemson to its biggest win in years with a 25-24 defeat of LSU.
The Tigers finished 2012 with an 11-2 record and a Top 10 ranking according to the coaches, their highest postseason ranking since 1990. But Boyd was not content to let his college career rest on those accomplishments. He still has visions of guiding this program into contention for a BCS title, the same visions Dabo Swinney shared with him in January of 2009 when Swinney was recruiting him and the two were shooting baskets in Swinney's driveway.
"It came down to my enjoyment here," Boyd said. "I love Clemson. I love college football. I think I'm good enough to go out and compete (in the NFL), but at the same time I'm not ready to stop this right now. There's a lot of things we have left on the table at Clemson. I think we've got something special going on here."
Boyd said the NFL folks told him he could go anywhere from the second round to the fourth round of the 2013 draft, and he believes he can be a first-round selection if he refines some parts of his game.
He also believes this offense could do some refining of its own despite all the pyrotechnics seen the past two seasons under Morris. Clemson has to get the South Carolina monkey off its back after losing four straight to the Gamecocks for the first time since the 1950s, and Boyd is nagged by the offense's struggles against them the last two seasons with him the starter.
Boyd threw two big interceptions in this season's loss to South Carolina, but he believes he answered a lot of questions with his showing against LSU. Still, there's "so much room to develop, so much room to grow."
"This game is about being consistent," he said. "I think I've gotten better at that and the team has gotten better at that. But is it a finished product? It's not even close."
Boyd's ascent to stardom has brought some pinch-me moments, including fairly regular communication with Michael Vick. Both of them are from the Tidewater region of Virginia, and Boyd remembers finding himself lucky to get a mere autograph from Vick when he was a kid.
Boyd picked Vick's brain during this process, and he said the advice was short and simple:
"He told me to make the decision for me. He said whatever decision you go with, you've just got to go full-throttle."
When Clemson's team buses pulled away from the Georgia Dome in the wee hours after the bowl triumph, Boyd thought he was headed full-throttle toward the NFL.
Fourth-and-16 seemed like such a great way to go out. But just as there were more downs to play on that drive after the incredible throw-and-catch to Nuk Hopkins, there's still more to see of Tajh Boyd, college quarterback.
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