Orange Bowl: Once recruited by WVU, Boyd makes right pick with Clemson
MIAMI -- Tajh Boyd promises he still has the T-shirt.
The Most Valuable Player of the ACC championship game says he can walk into his bedroom at his home in Hampton, Va., and find it: the most ironic memento entering the 2012 Orange Bowl.
It's a gold T-shirt with large letters spelling out what was supposed to become the motto of West Virginia's offense: BOYD TO HEASTIE.
"I felt like it was going to be a pretty hot item," he said.
Boyd committed to the Mountaineers in 2008 and he and a bunch of his friends and teammates in the Hampton Roads area vowed to do memorable things at WVU.
Wide receiver Logan Heastie was the other important part of the expected entourage and the two proudly donned the haughty T-shirts, as well as the eye black patches with the Flying WVs, at all the camps and clinics and recruiting expos.
They were top-shelf talent in the 2009 recruiting class.
It just seemed inevitable that Boyd, regarded across the nation as a top-100 player and top-10 quarterback at Phoebus High School, was going to throw a lot of touchdowns to Heastie, a star at Chesapeake's Great Bridge High.
"The T-shirt was one of those things we did at the time because he thought we were going to be special," Boyd said. "It was all about West Virginia and what we all were going to do there."
Today, Boyd is the all-conference starter for No. 14 Clemson (10-3), which takes on No. 23 WVU (9-3) Jan. 4 at Sun Life Stadium. Back then, Boyd and Heastie smiled for the cameras and said all the exciting things for reporters and didn't back off pledges to be Mountaineers.
And then one day, early in Bill Stewart's first season at WVU, Boyd decided he was no longer as sure about his future and that he would re-open his recruitment. The Mountaineers had just beaten Syracuse, 17-6, thanks in large part to a 92-yard touchdown run by Noel Devine late in the game.
Even with that, the Mountaineers had just 268 yards of offense at home against one of the worst defenses in college football. The team was 6-2, but the offense under first-year, first-time coordinator Jeff Mullen had inspired enough concern to make Boyd wonder.
"I thought I had rushed my decision a little bit and things didn't look like they were going to work out like I wanted to," Boyd said. "I felt like I needed to take my time with things and reevaluate everything."
Boyd said he no longer was considering the Mountaineers, but privately hadn't given up on them. Not with all of his friends, like Heastie and Phoebus teammates Dominik Davenport and Shawne Alston, headed to WVU. Boyd knew if he opened things back up, he might find something more to his liking, but that he would also be welcomed back to WVU.
Then Stewart spoke.
"I will tell you I will call the plays, Jeff Mullen will call the plays, Jeff Casteel will call the plays on special teams, offense and defense. No player will call plays. They will play," Stewart said at his weekly press conference a few days after Boyd's announcement. "I'm glad I found that thing out sooner rather than later. No player's daddy is going to call plays."
Coaches are prohibited from specifically commenting on unsigned prospects, and while Stewart never named anyone the timing left no doubt whom he was commenting on at that moment.
Not even Boyd could misinterpret what Stewart was alleging.
"In all honesty, my dad never directed anything toward anybody," Boyd said.
"We wanted the gist of how the offense was going to work and everyone there took it the wrong way. That was one part of the situation I never understood.
"At that point, I was like, 'Man, this is how it's going to be before I ever get there? How's it going to be when I do get there?' I had a lot of respect for Coach Stewart, but at that point I felt like I had to look somewhere else."
The Mountaineers were a little more than three months from signing day and already had told prospects they planned to take one quarterback. With Boyd no longer the target, WVU had to hurry, but quickly recovered and added Geno Smith, who turned out to be a Parade Magazine All-American at Florida's Miramar High. Smith came to campus with his high school receiver, Stedman Bailey. Neither Alston, Davenport nor Heastie changed their minds.
They enrolled at WVU and were part of the team, but Heastie and Davenport left after redshirting their first season. Heastie was expected to enroll at Football Championship Subdivision team Old Dominion, but hasn't had any statistics to show for it. Davenport was academically ineligible at ODU, enrolled in an Iowa community college and then played this past season at Virginia University Lynchburg.
In the meantime, Boyd committed to Tennessee after watching the Volunteers play Alabama. He was a little worried about the speculated future of longtime Coach Phil Fulmer, but Boyd said he was told by the athletic director not to worry. Fulmer was fired a few weeks later. Boyd and Fulmer's replacement, Lane Kiffin, eventually agreed to end the association between Boyd and Tennessee.
"I had no idea where he would end up, but at the same time I knew he'd end up going to a good Division I program because of what type of a quarterback he was and the potential he had," Alston said. "When we were in high school, people were talking about him going pro. He always had that potential. It was about finding the situation that was best for him."
That one came out of nowhere and only when Boyd ended up listening to his mother, the one who first came up with those T-shirts. Clemson called Boyd and asked him to visit, but Boyd hadn't considered the Tigers and knew nothing of the school's tradition, which included the 1981 national championship won in the Orange Bowl. His mom told him to make the trip.
Boyd was hooked again, though for the last time.
He redshirted in 2009 and played sparingly as the backup last year, but starred for the Tigers this season. The redshirt sophomore completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,578 yards, 31 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Smith was first-team all-Big East and broke a list of single-game and single-season passing records. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 3,978 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Bailey set the school record for receiving yards with 1,197 and Alston had 10 rushing touchdowns on just 77 attempts.
"I feel like this happened for a reason because of the way this situation worked out for everyone," Boyd said. "Nothing against West Virginia, but I don't think I could have put myself in any better position as a player than I've put myself in here and I hope the same is true for all them."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.