T.L. Hanna linebacker Ben Boulware may not be winning friends among his own offensive teammates, but there is little doubt the future Clemson player will be a popular figure at Death Valley.
“The boy’s got a motor, that’s the biggest thing,” South Carolina assistant Wade Cooper said following his team’s 23-19 victory in Saturday’s Shrine Bowl. “He caught our attention the first time we started practice on Monday and I’ll tell you he didn’t have very many friends on our offense by Tuesday because he would go so hard at practice. It’s all we could do to keep him reined in.”
It wasn’t shocking that once the hard-nosed 6-foot-1, 226-pounder was allowed to unleash his full fury on the opposition that he ended up not only as his team’s defensive MVP, but also was easily the best defender on the field from either squad.
“I was wondering if I could fit in up here (with the elite players) and I guess I’m holding this (MVP) trophy so it proves that I can,” Boulware said.
He credited at least a portion of his outstanding play to having been chomping at the bit to hit somebody in an actual game after his season at T.L. Hanna concluded on Nov. 2, leaving him with nothing but a growing desire to get after it once again.
“I’m a lot more fresh than a lot of these guys because so many of them went deep in the playoffs and we didn’t even make the playoffs,” Boulware said. “I just love football and was real excited to be playing again.”
And play he did, as he estimated he competed close to 90 percent of the defensive snaps and he wasn’t hard to find on the majority of them. If you simply watched wherever the ball went there were abundant chances you were going to see Boulware either making the play or hurdling toward the pile as the play ended.
Boulware, one of five finalists for the state’s Mr. Football, tied teammate Devon Durant (a Greenwood linebacker) with a game-high nine tackles, including a game-leading 2-½ for loss, while adding an interception and return for 26 yards. He also saved a fumble after a teammate lost the ball after an interception.
“(Boulware) and Durant are the best linebackers I’ve ever seen in my life,” Gaffney defensive lineman Jaylen Miller said. “Boulware is phenomenal. Everybody is phenomenal in this game, but they stand out more because they’re going 110 percent and somehow find a way to get to the football on every play.”
Boulware’s grit and aggression were already known entities, but the stocky linebacker displayed some nimble hands and feet not only on his interception return but also in retrieving a fumble by teammate Gerald Turner, who had just intercepted a pass. Boulware juggled the ball momentarily before corralling it one-handed as he fell out-of-bounds.
“I kind of took Gerald’s spotlight a little, so I feel kind of bad because he made a great play,” Boulware said with a smile. “He caught the ball before the dude came in and punched it out and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. It was just kind of lucky on my part.”
While there was some good fortune involved on that play, the rest of his remarkable performance was solely based on sheer force of will as he gave Clemson fans a little preview of what could be to come.
Sealing the deal
Miller posted only one tackle, but ended any chance at some real drama over the final seconds when he blocked Matthew Wogan’s PAT with 36 seconds left that kept it from being only a field-goal margin before N.C. tried an onside kick.
“I’ve blocked field goals just about every year and those are the kind of big plays I like to make,” Miller said. “When I get my adrenaline flowing like that I don’t really pay attention to nothing, I just see where I need to go and if somebody is in my way then I’m sorry but I’ve got to run through them.”
North Carolina finally got things moving a bit after switching eventual offensive MVP Pharoh Cooper to quarterback, but the first half was all South Carolina’s defense. The Sandlappers held the Tarheels to one first down and 41 total yards on 26 plays, including only four passing yards on two completions, while forcing a pair of turnovers.
“We just had a great staff who coached us up real well,” Miller said. “All our defensive guys really bonded together and when you have that much talent all come together and play hard as a team that’s really hard to beat.”
The University of South Carolina had signed the last four Mr. Football winners from in state, including last year’s winner Shaq Rowland, but this year’s player of the year, Tramel Terry, is committed to Georgia.
The talented Goose Creek multi-purpose player struggled Saturday. He fumbled away the opening kickoff, then left the game with a knee injury after being hit by USC recruit Devan’te Covington and never returned. There was no word on the severity of the injury.
Byrnes receiver Akia Booker caught one pass for eight yards and ran twice for 16 yards.
“This game was really just for the kids and the Shrine Bowl community and I just enjoyed being out here no matter what happened,” Booker said.
Union County quarterback Keiston Smith saw very limited playing time behind Hilton Head’s Michael Julian (9-for-23 for 147 yards and one touchdown). Smith had no completions and one interception among three attempts and ran twice for four yards.
Dorman defensive back Brandon Pinckney posted four tackles, including three solo stops. Byrnes offensive lineman Isaiah Pinson also participated.
Kickers from both sides each missed their initial PAT attempts. …In a game dominated by defense both punters stood out after getting abundant attempts. North Carolina’s Wogan punted six times for a 44-yard average with a long of 48, while counterpart Ben Hinson booted seven for a 43.2 average and long of 51 yards. …South Carolina fumbled a whopping six times and lost two. …It’s hard to not give notice to one of the cooler names in prep sports as Myrtle Beach defensive back Chocolate Wilson posted his team’s second-highest all-purpose yardage with 44 combined yards on punt and kickoff returns.