When Tajh Boyd dons a cap and gown Dec. 19 to participate in graduation ceremonies at Clemson, he'll retrieve a piece of paper that may indicate his major areas of study were sociology and criminal justice.
His diploma certainly will be well-earned, but it'll only tell part of the story of what he's learned and who he's become in his 4 1/2 years in the football-rabid town in northwest South Carolina.
A man named J.C. Cook III was named mayor of Clemson in March 2012 when he ran unopposed for the position. With all due respect to Mr. Cook, he's fortunate No. 10 for the Clemson Tigers wasn't on the ballot.
Boyd runs the town.
"I should've been a political science major, man," said Boyd, a Phoebus High graduate who will lead No. 9 Clemson into Charlottesville on Saturday to play Virginia (2-6, 0-4 ACC). "I've grown into quite the politician since I've been (at Clemson)."
Congressman Boyd, maybe Senator Boyd — there's a certain ring to it.
In a world where accomplished athletes hide behind gates, tinted glass and buffers of go-between associates and entourage hangers-on, Boyd is the exception.
He's a human traffic jam when he passes through a crowd. He can't help himself. He's never met a microphone, camera, autograph-seeker or well-wisher he could resist.
"I never thought I would have a football player to deal with who would approach (former Clemson running back) C.J. Spiller in terms of dealing with the media, but Tajh is right there," said Clemson assistant athletic director and long-time sports information director Tim Bourret.
"He is the most outgoing personality I have dealt with in 36 years at Clemson. You take him through a crowd and it takes forever. Everyone knows him and he seems to know everyone. He's like a modern day Arnold Palmer."
As much as Boyd has earned the good-guy award for his accessibility, you don't earn idol status in a place like Clemson without having some serious chops on the football field.
A pretty decent indication you've had a strong college career is when a senior season that has featured early Heisman Trophy candidacy and 64-percent completions for 2,243 yards, 17 touchdowns and five interceptions is considered anywhere near a down year in statistical terms.
Though he was indeed gaining Heisman momentum early in the season, his campaign came to a screeching halt Oct. 19 in a 51-14 home loss to Florida State in what was the most anticipated ACC game in at least 15 years. His usual mastery of Clemson's no-huddle, zone-read based offense was off, and he completed just 17 of 37 passes for 156 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
"I took a few hours for myself," said Boyd on how he spent the night after the game. "It was a tough deal. I didn't sleep too well, honestly.
"It was just a little time for self-evaluation and to think. You just put things in perspective. Being a leader, guys are really looking to how you'll respond in those situations."
The loss was particularly painful for a Clemson program that believed it was finally primed to make a national championship run, but coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris weren't about to hang responsibility for the Tigers' shortcomings on Boyd.
"The biggest thing we need to say right here is we wouldn't be in a position of even being close to being on a national stage in a game of that magnitude without the performance of Tajh Boyd over the last 2 1/2 years," Morris said.
"He's a guy that makes it all happen. Am I going to miss him when he's gone? Absolutely. I'm going to miss his leadership and what he's done for me. He's made me a better person. He constantly smiles, he's always willing to learn, always willing to ask questions and he's always challenging me and I'm always challenging him."
Morris has another reason to appreciate Boyd's presence in his life. Morris' 12-year-old son, Chandler, who also plays quarterback, looks at Boyd like a big brother.
"I think my son is a little spoiled," Morris said. "Whereas everybody thinks Tajh Boyd is the coolest thing around, my son is giving him a hard time. … My son thinks it's the coolest thing ever that he has that kind of relationship with Tajh."
Memories of how various former Hampton Roads area standout football players treated Boyd during his pre-high school days have shaped Boyd's approach to fans and media.
When Boyd was a seventh grader growing up in Virginia Beach, before he and his family moved to Hampton, he remembers frequently crossing paths with former Landstown High quarterback TJ Mitchell.
Mitchell went on to spend a season at West Virginia before transferring to Hampton University, but Boyd remembers Mitchell during his high school days always taking time to throw passes and talk with kids several years his junior. It made an impression on Boyd, as did his encounters with less-inviting players.
"People look at you and have this perception that you're just this figure, this enormous guy," Boyd said. "I think it's important for people to realize they can touch you, especially the kids.
"I can remember being one of those kids that ran up to these guys from the 757 that were big time and meeting them, and they weren't what I thought they were. They weren't as humble as I thought they were going to be. They weren't as approachable as I thought they were going to be. That kind of helped mold me into the kind of person I am now."
Boyd's role as ambassador of all things football-related isn't one he's adopted solely in his days at Clemson. He was the same way at Phoebus.
Virginia Tech defensive end James Gayle was a junior at Bethel High at the same time Boyd was a junior at Phoebus. Gayle said they met when he sacked Boyd in a game. A few weeks later at a high school basketball game, they got to know each other better.
At the time, Boyd was already a big deal in recruiting circles, with scholarship offers from Virginia, Maryland and Boston College, and significant interest from schools like Virginia Tech, Georgia, Auburn, Florida, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest.
Gayle was a self-described nobody in the eyes of college recruits. Though Gayle didn't have a single offer, Boyd never made Gayle feel inferior.
"I wasn't really even on the scene, but he asked me if I had any offers," Gayle said. "I mean, at that time, I wasn't even planning on playing college football. He was just a nice guy who really took an interest. It's to the point where I've heard people say, 'Man, I don't like that guy because I think he's fake.' That's not true. He's just a genuine guy.
"He's just the kind of guy you have to root for him. There's nothing you can say bad about him. Seriously."
Charlottesville is a fitting place for Boyd to travel at this stage in his career. His first start in an ACC road game came two years ago at Virginia Tech in a 23-3 Clemson victory. Now, he's finally back to play in his first game in Virginia since that win in what also happens to be his last ACC road game.
He won't need any introductions in the Commonwealth. Everybody knows Tajh.
"The biggest impression I want to leave is just how I played the game," Boyd said. "I don't want anybody to question how I competed, or ever question my toughness. I want people to think whenever I'm out there I've left everything out on that field."
Wood can be reached by phone at 757-247-4642Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun