Virginia quarterback David Watford knows all about the tradition of quarterbacks who have grown up in the Tidewater area of Virginia. Watford’s cousin, Marques Hagans, had a noteworthy college career at Virginia after starring at Hampton High School. And even before Watford entered Hampton himself, he worked out with Tyrod Taylor, then a five-star prospect.
Once Taylor moved on to Virginia Tech, Tajh Boyd emerged as the region’s next standout signal-caller at Phoebus High School, while Watford learned the trade across town. When Virginia takes on No. 9 Clemson on Saturday at Scott Stadium, Watford and Boyd will face each other for the first time since October 2008, when Boyd led Phoebus to a win over Hampton and Watford, then a sophomore.
This time, the stakes will be higher: Clemson has an outside chance at returning to the ACC championship game and could earn an at-large berth to a Bowl Championship Series game, while Virginia is hoping to end a five-game losing streak. For Watford and Boyd, it will be a reunion and a chance to add to the rich history of the regional lineage to which they belong.
“Me and Tajh, we have a pretty close relationship,” Watford said this week. “Just to learn from that guy, I saw what he was doing and how good he was and the potential that he had, and he kind of took me under his wing when I was in high school. So we’re pretty close from that.”
During his first season as a starting college quarterback, Watford has leaned on Boyd for advice.
“It’s something I think everybody takes pride in,” Boyd said this week. “When someone kind of looks up to you in a sense and tries to gain some knowledge and grasp some things, you kind of got to make sure you handle that in stride and make sure you can help those guys out as much as possible. It’s pretty important to me.”
That’s, in part, because Boyd sought the same sort of guidance from Newport News native Michael Vick when he weighed whether to return to Clemson for his senior year or declare for the 2013 NFL draft in the offseason. Even though the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback left Virginia Tech for the NFL after just three years in Blacksburg, he was the one who ultimately convinced Boyd “if you want to be the best, go back to school.”
Boyd has responded by throwing for more than 2,200 yards and 17 touchdowns through eight games and remains a top quarterback prospect for this year’s NFL draft. But he has also kept a watchful eye on Watford, who has tied or set a career high in passing yards each of the past three games and set program records for completions (43) and attempts (61) last week against Georgia Tech.
“I talked to him [Monday], told him how proud I was of the game he just had now, just to continue to keep working and leading because it’s never easy being the quarterback of a program when you’re not winning as much as you want to,” Boyd said. “So it’s important to make sure he stays upbeat, stays positive and just continues to lead his troops, and I think he’s been doing a great job of that.”
Boyd considers this week more of a homecoming than his first ACC road start at Virginia Tech in 2011, and he’s trying to find enough tickets for the friends and family he expects to be in Charlottesville on Saturday. This will be his second and final college start in the state of Virginia.
“Just the atmosphere and just kind of the set up and scene of it, later in senior year, I think it plays out really well,” Boyd said.
Boyd still remembers his first high school game facing Watford at sold-out Darling Stadium in Hampton. “I couldn’t let the young guy beat me,” he joked. But after watching film of Watford this year, Boyd was reminded of the poised and dynamic high school sophomore he saw five years ago.
What he may not recognize, though, is that Watford’s game is merely a product of growing up among so many idolized quarterbacks in the Tidewater area.
“I can remember in rec league just playing with my teammates and wanting to be like those guys,” Watford said this week. “Just looking at what they did and take something out of their game, put into my game, and that’s what I tried to do in high school. I had to find my own identity but still take parts of their game and make it my own.”