After watching a dozen quarterbacks get selected ahead of him Saturday, Phoebus High graduate Tajh Boyd was about ready to throw in the towel on his NFL draft chances by late afternoon.
Sitting in his car with his seat back and a hat pulled low over his eyes as he pondered his next move, Boyd's life suddenly changed with a simple occurrence that has become cliche in media reports, but so meaningful in the world of young football players seeking gainful employment in the league - the draft-day cell phone call.
New York Jets coach Rex Ryan was on the other end.
"He's like, 'Hey, how would you like to be a Jet?'" said Boyd in a teleconference with Jets reporters after he was selected. "It was probably the most refreshing call and most exciting call that I've ever received in my life."
Boyd, who went from Phoebus to a memorable career at Clemson before watching his draft stock plummet, had to wait until deep into the third and final day of the draft before the Jets made him a sixth round selection, taking him with the 213th overall pick. He'll join Geno Smith and childhood idol Michael Vick, a Warwick High graduate and former Virginia Tech quarterback, in Jets camps.
Though Vick is a decade older than 23-year-old Boyd, they've become close friends over the years. Boyd said he calls Vick to chat about everything from potentially life-altering decisions, like when Boyd was trying to decide whether to return to Clemson or not for his senior season, to normal, everyday chit-chat.
With such a significant age gap separating the Peninsula District greats, Boyd can still remember a time when his connection to Vick amounted to hero worship - back when Vick was cementing his place among the most decorated quarterbacks in the district.
"I got a chance to watch him," Boyd said. "I’ve got a lot of his high school tapes. There was always a debate about who’s the best quarterback to ever come out of this area. Was it Mike Vick, (Hampton High alum) Ronald Curry or (Bethel High product) Allen Iverson? I used to get a lot of their VHS tapes when I was little, pop them in and try to make comparisons to myself."
Boyd will have to compare himself to Vick on a daily basis in Jets practices. Getting a shot in the NFL is an opportunity Boyd is anxious to get started experiencing, but one he wasn't sure he'd get to have with any team as a draftee.
"It was just frustrating, because ultimately and honestly, you’ve got 'x' amount of quarterbacks getting selected before you, and I felt like I had proven myself at this level right here," said Boyd of his reaction as he watched other quarterbacks get taken before he was drafted. "I felt like half those guys I beat in games. You just don’t know what’s going to happen next.
"Ultimately, when you get a call, it kind of goes all away. You have a chip on your shoulder a little bit, but at the same time, you’ve got to go out there and be the player that you know you can be. I feel, obviously, (New York) took a chance. They didn’t have to use a draft pick on me, so I want to go out there and prove these coaches right."
It didn't hurt Boyd's standing with the Jets that Ryan got reports from his son, Seth, on Boyd's leadership exploits at Clemson. Seth is a walk-on wide receiver at Clemson.
"We probably had more of an insight to probably (Boyd's) character with my son being there," Ryan said. "My son had a thing about his leadership. He said he was the leader of the program, as far as a player is concerned. He said if Tajh would’ve called a meeting at 2 a.m., the entire football team would’ve been there. I think that’s impressive. I think it speaks about the type of person he is."
Indeed, Boyd is right about at least one thing. He had little trouble in his college career helping Clemson dispatch of teams led by quarterbacks drafted ahead of him, going 6-0 against teams led by those quarterbacks:
-3-0 against Virginia Tech and quarterback Logan Thomas, who was drafted in the fourth round by the Arizona Cardinals
-1-0 against Georgia and quarterback Aaron Murray, who was swiped up in the fifth round by the Kansas City Chiefs
-1-0 against Louisiana State and quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who went in the sixth round to the Tennessee Titans (35 picks ahead of Boyd)
-1-0 against Ball State and quarterback Keith Wenning, who was selected in the sixth round by the Baltimore Ravens (19 picks ahead of Boyd)
There doesn't seem to be a definitive answer as to why Boyd's draft outlook deteriorated so dramatically from first-round potential to ultimately what ended up being the 13th of 14 quarterbacks selected.
Outside of a question in October about gambling debts that seemed to vanish before the story really grew legs, Boyd never had character issues in college. He was regarded in Clemson by coach Dabo Swinney and others as the ultimate ambassador for the football program. Boyd set ACC records for touchdown responsibility (133) and touchdown passes (107).
He also established a laundry list of school records: passing yards (11,904), completions (901), completions per game (19.2), pass attempts (1,402), completion percentage (64.3), total offensive yards (13,069), total offense plays (1,907), 200-yard passing games (35), 300-yard passing games (18), 200-yard total offense yard games (36), 300-yard total offense yard games (22), consecutive starts by a quarterback (40), top-25 wins by a starting quarterback (40) and wins by a starting quarterback (32; tied).
Yet, his detractors have said he's been put in position to excel in Clemson's no-huddle, zone read spread offense orchestrated by coordinator Chad Morris, and may not transition well to a pro-style attack. Boyd ran for 1,165 yards and 26 touchdowns in his college career, but he possesses decent - not elite - speed for a quarterback (4.84 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL combine).
At 6-1, he's not the ideal size for an NFL quarterback. Some analysts have suggested that as long as he's not 6-3 or taller, he may be a little on the heavy side to play quarterback at the next level.
His Senior Bowl effort left a lot to be desired, as he completed just 7 of 16 passes for 31 yards and an interception, but he made up for it with a near flawless performance at his pro day in Clemson.
"I feel like up until that Florida State game, I was that top 10, that top 15 guy," said Boyd, referring to Clemson's 51-14 home loss to Florida State in which he completed 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions. "Then, you take an OK performance at the Senior Bowl, and it seems like everything that you had done in your career at Clemson goes to waste. As far as the draft goes, I felt like it kind of did. That’s in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do at this next level."
The fancy college statistics are undeniable. By leading Clemson to a 40-35 Orange Bowl win against Ohio State in a game that saw him complete 31 of 40 passes for 378 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions while running for 127 yards and a touchdown, Boyd capped his college career in style.
Now, it's up to Boyd to show those numbers and that final college performance were merely a preview of things to come in his football career. It's going to be an uphill climb with the Jets.
"I know Geno is the starter," Boyd said. "He’s earned that right...I’m going to go out there and compete. If they want me to go out there and be the backup guy, it’s not something I’m comfortable with, but you’ve got to go out there and ultimately be the best teammate that you can possibly be. I’m going to make the most out of it and I’m just excited to be at this level."
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