Looking Back: Ben Boulware, Clemson’s Tasmanian Devil

Ben Boulware was the embodiment of what a linebacker should be and was so prolific doing it.

No offense intended but on the field of play, Ben Boulware was the preverbal bull in a China Shop, Clemson’s own Tasmanian Devil. Watching him wreak havoc on opposing offenses was a sight of beauty and extremely tiresome. I’d feel exhausted just watching, but never Boulware, his energy was constant.

While researching for this article I saw interviews with Boulware in high school and during his recruitment. If ever a young man wanted to be a Clemson Tiger it was Boulware.

However, former defensive coordinator Kevin Steele wasn’t too interested. I’m sure there were days Boulware doubted if he’d ever be recruited by his beloved Tigers. Then, the Orange Bowl Debacle happened. The Tigers were decimated and humiliated by West Virginia, 70-33. After that defensive performance, Steele was invited to seek new employment.

Enter Brent Venables, Clemson’s new defensive coordinator. In hindsight, there was no way, seeing both Venables and Boulware in action, they weren’t going to get together. They were a match made in football heaven. Once Venables acclimated to his new surroundings he became infamous for his sideline intensity. A new term appeared in our vernacular, the get back coach.

Boulware was recruited, offered and signed to play for Venables and Clemson. Dabo Swinney’s Tigers would benefit from this union. When two forces meet and combine, the outcome can be monumental. There meeting was and there’s a national championship to prove it.

If I could be a Clemson football player, there’s only two real choices for me, Ben Boulware and Hunter Renfrow. I’d be Boulware on the days the world needed a kick in the butt and Renfrow on the days spent flying under the radar, chilled, relaxed. Two totally different personalities that when allowed, and encouraged to be themselves, anything can happen.

My mind goes to the College Football Playoff and the 2015 Orange Bowl. I’ve never uttered these words before nor since, but on that day, I felt sorry for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield. That day, he was Boulware’s personal Piñata. He was battered constantly, until at the end and then he just broke. Only difference was, there was no candy in Boulware’s Piñata, only merciless pain.

Then, I remember earlier that same season, the epic, wet Clemson-Notre Dame matchup in Death Valley. It was a game that was literally played in a hurricane. The world watched as Deshone Kizer, Notre Dame’s quarterback, attempted a two-point conversion to tie the game. Then, Boulware happened. He was an immovable object.

He was so utterly delighted, running in celebration, he slipped and pulled off a perfect flip. It was an extraordinary moment in Clemson’s 2015 season. One that ended with a trip to the national title game. Unfortunately, Boulware and teammates came up short in losing to Alabama. But never fear, there was indeed a reason to proclaim, ‘wait till next year.’

Fast forward to the 2016 national championship in Tampa. This time, the Tigers were the better team, defeating Alabama, bringing the trophy home and Boulware was there on the sideline like a wild man. The sheer delight he showed, the emotions expressed was something I will never forget. It made this old Tiger, misty eyed, happy and left in awe. It is a beautiful memory.

Today, I read that Boulware is a successful businessman, founding and running his own fitness facility, “The Junkyard” in Anderson. I’m sure with his intensity, energy and enthusiasm he’d be successful at almost anything he chose, except maybe the owner of a China Shop. Ben Boulware, there will never be another.

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