By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
They were hot summer nights, perhaps not as hot as in his Miami home where the heat and humidity of summer weigh on your back like a 40-pound sack of rice, but certainly hot enough when you are attending football camp.
Time off the field was treasured, especially for Geno Smith, who at a couple of camps would return to his room and his roommate and talk about being high school kids and high school quarterbacks, each from a different part of the country.
His roommate was from Virginia, as talented a prospect as he was.
His name was Tajh Boyd.
Yes, that Tajh Boyd, the one who will be at quarterback for Clemson tonight when WVU and the ACC champions meet in the Orange Bowl.
“I just hung out with Tajh. We didn’t have TVs in the dorms, so we had a lot of time to talk. He told me a lot about his high school and how things were in Virginia, and I told him how things were in Miami. We really had a good rapport. It’s ironic we are facing off against each other. It’s going to be special,” Smith said.
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It seems that fate has drawn these two talented competitors together in this showdown for whatever reason.
You have to go back a few years, but when Boyd was coming out of high school he was drawn to West Virginia, went so far as to verbally commit to Bill Stewart.
Then Boyd saw WVU play Syracuse, winning 17-6 in as lackluster an offensive performance as anyone has ever seen out of a winning team. It got a kid to thinking, a kid who had visions of being a great, exciting college quarterback.
“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 this week to the Charleston Daily Mail. “I felt like I needed to take my time with things and re-evaluate everything.”
Stewart, at the time, was taken aback, and when asked about Boyd withdrawing his verbal at his weekly press conference replied:
“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.”
That was the end of that love affair.
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Attention was turned toward Geno Smith, who was ready, willing and eager to play at West Virginia ... whether Boyd had come or not. And it wasn’t exactly like it was a step down for WVU, Smith having been named a Parade All-American at Miramar High in Miami.
“I had no idea of what Tajh’s situation was,” Smith said. “It was a situation where Doc (Holliday) came down and started talking to me right after my Alabama visit. I just felt like West Virginia was the place for me. I had no idea what Tajh did nor was I shying away from any competition with him.”
What is forgotten now is just how star-crossed all of this is. See, Boyd was supposed to come to WVU with his receiver from high school, Logan Heatsie, himself a top 100 prospect.
In the end, that didn’t work out either, for Heatsie redshirted his freshman year, then exited, reportedly for Old Dominion in Virginia, although he hasn’t played there yet.
So the Mountaineers lost a quarterback-receiver combo and replaced them with, well, another quarterback-receiver combo, as Smith’s high school teammate Stedman Bailey followed him to WVU and has emerged as one of the nation’s top receivers.
It was certainly a fair tradeoff, and Smith is eager to get into this Orange Bowl competition, not because of a “me vs. you” kind of thing with Boyd but because that’s what you do when you are a high-profile athlete through high school and college.
“The relationship I built with the stars you see throughout college football is normal. You play against those guys in high school and come to know them. We play the best athletes week in and week out in Florida. It’s how you get good, facing that kind of competition,” Smith explained.
“It is a pipeline. Coming out of high school, Stedman and I were very popular guys down there. We still are. We go home and work out with the kids who are there now. We see those guys. I never try to persuade them to come to West Virginia for my personal benefit. I tell them to do what’s best for them. If they feel West Virginia is the best place, they should be here.”
One thing is certain, Smith knows that when you get a kid out of Florida, he figures to be ready to play.
“The competition down there is different than anywhere in the country, and that’s what makes the pipeline so special,” he said.
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Boyd, too, is eager for the competition against the team that he almost signed with.
“When I was watching the bowl-selection show on ESPN, I thought it was kind of ironic that we were playing West Virginia,” he admitted. “It is an intriguing matchup, and I am excited to be playing those guys. It was funny. I was wearing a WVU hat the day after the game was picked, and guys were getting on me. I told them it goes way back, but it was one of those deals. But it has been a fun week and we are excited to be here.”
Everything, apparently, has worked out for the best.
“I think things really fell into place with (Geno Smith and me). At first I didn’t know how things would turn out, but I have had success at Clemson and (Smith) has had success over there. I think things could not have turned out better in regards to our situations. He is a very good quarterback as well, and both of us have to perform in this game, and I am excited about that.”
All you have to do is look at the numbers to understand that.
Boyd was a redshirt in 2009 and was a backup last year before Chad Morris came out of Tulsa as offensive coordinator to revise the offense. Under Morris, Boyd 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.
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Boyd, of course, is not from Florida, but he can play, and Smith enjoys watching him play, uses it to help himself get better.
“Tajh is a really good quarterback. I watched him play three or four games on TV,” Smith said. “I want to be better than all those guys. I watch them and try to elevate my own game. I steal things from everyone. I try to learn as many tips as I can because you are never as good as you can be.”
And Smith should be able to learn from Boyd, just as Boyd should be able to learn from Smith.
“We’re similar players,” Smith explained. “Not in size. He’s shorter but a lot heavier. He’s mobile, has a strong arm, can make every throw, is decisive in his reads and is very smart. I think I have a lot of those same characteristics.
“You can lay out the pros and cons any way you want, but we’re similar.”
Dana Holgorsen, WVU’s head coach, knows something about quarterbacks, and he has now seen a lot of both of them.
He thinks a comparison between Boyd and South Florida’s B.J. Daniels might be a better comparison as far as styles go, Boyd having more of an athletic style than pure thrower.
“B.J. Daniels throws the ball pretty well. He is a little reckless with the ball where Boyd is not as reckless. He does a better job of taking care of the football. I’d say Boyd has some guys around him that are difference makers. B.J. didn’t have as many guys around him that can make a difference,” Holgorsen said.
As for Smith and Boyd, Holgorsen sees it this way:
“Two tremendous players that have the ability to keep a play alive,” he said.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.