CLEMSON – If one were looking for a couple of Clemson football players who tend to play “on the edge,” as coaches are wont to say, Ben Boulware and Mackensie Alexander would be the leading candidates.
They both could be categorized as brash and bold and certainly willing to push the limits of aggressiveness, but that’s a good thing for the most part. After all, this is football we’re talking about, not tiddlywinks or hopscotch.
Boulware, a junior linebacker, has been knocking heads and taking names since arriving on campus two years ago. And when he’s done with that, he regales the media on a regular basis.
He’s engaging, insightful, humorous, and perhaps best of all — at least from our perspective — you never know what he might say. In other words, he pulls no punches.
Unfortunately, Boulware pulled no punches during Saturday morning’s scrimmage in Memorial Stadium, either, getting tossed from the game after engaging offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain in a brief hand-to-hand combat.
“We’re two weeks into camp, and these guys, they’re tired of each other,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “They’re together all day every day. They’re beating each other up. They’re ready to hit on somebody else. We had a couple of guys lose their tempers out there today, and he was one of them. So he was thrown out. We tried to make it as game-realistic as possible. Guys have to be disciplined.”
Boulware, who was ejected from the Georgia Tech game in 2013 for “targeting,” spent the rest of the scrimmage watching and coaching.
“He needed to be a coach and help out the guys he put in a tough position,” said defensive coordinator Brent Venables. “Him not being out there really messed up our chemistry with that first group.”
To this point in his career, Alexander, a sophomore cornerback, has done most of his talking on the field, where he regularly jaws with opposing receivers.
Well, that held largely true until last Wednesday, when he confirmed with no degree of uncertainty that he considers himself the best cornerback in all of college football.
“It’s not even close,” Alexander said. “Look at my body of work.”
It’s not like Alexander is writing checks that he can’t cash.
Last season, for example, he went through a five-game stretch during which he allowed just a single completion. The first freshman in Clemson history to start 13 games, Alexander also didn’t surrender a touchdown pass over the Tigers’ final nine games.
“What’s mine is mine,” he said. “And I don’t want to let anybody take what’s mine. I thrive on competition. I thrive on one-on-one matchups. I just love to compete.
“I think every guy who talks about me knows I’m the best corner in college football. I don’t care who they are. Hey, if you can play, you can play, but I’m still working every day. I’m a hungry man, and I’m never going to settle.”
Bold? Without question.
Incorrect? Check back in December.
“I’m going to reserve judgment,” Venables said. “I just want him to be the best guy out here today and every day. Mackensie works hard, he takes coaching well, and he wants us to have great confidence in him. It means a lot to him that he does his job well.
“He doesn’t walk around here acting like he’s above reproach. Occasionally you’re going to see a little edge to a guy out there, and that’s OK as long as you can back it up.”
So far, so good.
Both Boulware and Alexander not only back it up, but seem to embrace those opportunities on a regular basis.
Call it the will to win or the curse of the competitor, but by any description it works for those two.
There is a fine line between being aggressive and drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
This is where Ben Boulware lives.
There also is a fine line between confidence and cockiness.
This is where Mackensie Alexander makes his home.
Yes, sometimes they may stray over the edge, but on most occasions it serves them well.
Remember, this is football, and given the choice, a vast majority of coaches – if not all – would rather have players who push those boundaries to the fullest.
And Boulware and Alexander are quite good at doing just that.