Boulware leaves one final, lasting impression
|Wednesday, January 11, 2017, 7:19 AM- -|
TAMPA, FL – Whenever talk turns to the players Clemson will have to replace following its National Championship season, it starts with quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson’s contributions on the field are too numerous to name, and he will be missed.
But Watson is a quiet leader, and the one player that might leave the biggest void is linebacker Ben Boulware, the boisterous, rowdy, outspoken and passionate leader of the defense. In many ways, it’s Boulware’s heart that keeps the team alive, and he showed how much the title meant to him in the delirious aftermath when he kissed the trophy, sang at the top of his lungs and made sure he credited many former Tiger players for setting the stage for the championship run.
Ben will be missed, but he told the media Tuesday that he thinks Clemson’s will just reload.
“I think on the defensive side of the ball, that's all we've done the past four years, we've reloaded every year,” Boulware said at the Champions press conference, “We've been a top-10 defense. My sophomore year we lost eight guys to the league. Next year we were top 10. Last year we lost seven or eight guys. This year we're top 10 again.
“So I know defensively we're not losing near as many guys on our side of the ball. I know Coach (Brent) Venables and the rest of our staff is going to bring in some of the best talent in the country, so the talent is always going to be there. So that's not really something we worry about.”
Boulware grew up just down the highway from Clemson, and he knows the contributions those former players (many of whom were in attendance) made to the program.
“There's definitely -- the guys that came before us, our forefathers like C.J. Spiller, Tajh Boyd, all the guys I listed last night that laid the foundation out for us, the Stephone Anthonys, the Grady Jarretts that showed me how to work and go to work and grind every day and become a leader,” he said. “So those are the ones that started this foundation, and this senior class is the one to put the finishing touches on it. But you've got to give respect where respect has been earned, and all those guys earned all the respect from us and all the respect from our university. So that's why I wanted to give them their shout-out.”
As someone who was raised in the shadow of Death Valley, he understands more than most what the championship means to the school and the community.
“It's huge. Just really for our entire community, it's a bunch of blue-collar people down there just going to work. It's been 35 long years in that community, in Clemson, the entire upstate has been waiting a long time,” Boulware said. “For me and the rest of the guys on our team, to bring it back home, it's a very satisfying feeling, especially to see the fruit of your labor. We've been grinding all season, and that's kind of been our main thing we wanted to do, just bring it back to the fans. To finally get that done is very satisfying.”
Boulware didn’t celebrate until he was sure the game was over, but once the final gun sounded he went into full Ben Boulware mode.
“Yeah, I realized it (that Clemson had won) when he took a knee. I was waiting until then to make sure there was 0:00 on that clock. I knew anything could happen in college football, so I was -- when it hit zero, that's when I realized we're national champions,” he said. “I didn't really celebrate last night. I didn't get any sleep at all. I was actually up all night. I did not get a minute of sleep. So I'm super tired. I feel like crap. Hopefully, I can get some sleep on this plane ride home because I'm hurting really, really bad.”
An exhausted Boulware arrived back in Clemson late Tuesday afternoon, but took the time to thank the Clemson fans for their support.
"After four years man, my times up," Boulware tweeted. "It's time for some of these younger boys to take the reins of this program and build a dynasty, but I can wholeheartedly say that I have gave Y'all everything I had. From the day I moved onto campus in the Summer of 2013 to my last snap last night, I emptied the tank. I wore that Paw with pride and exhausted every opportunity I had on that field. I told y'all on January 12th and August 1st of last year that we would be back, and I'm a man of my word. We promised a National Championship, and we delivered. It might've taken 35 long years to bring that trophy back to its rightful owner but it's back home, with Little Ole Clemson, Clemson Nation, we did it. 2016 National Champions."