What’s the right title for University Christian quarterback Clayton Boyd? Maybe Northeast Florida’s Mr. Championship.
No active quarterback in Jacksonville has more championship experience, and he’s about to add one more title game to his growing resume.
“It’s just being able to know what the big-time games feel like and having the mentality to go in there and just dominate the game,” Boyd said.
The senior leads University Christian for the third time into the Class 2A state championship game, set for 10 a.m. Friday at Camping World Stadium in Orlando against Hialeah Champagnat Catholic.
Boyd is on course to become the first Northeast Florida quarterback to start three consecutive state championship games since Union County’s Andrew Zow from 1994 to 1996.
“He’s earned the respect of everyone in these three years under center,” UC coach David Penland III said. “The past two years, we’ve had home run hitters like Hussein [Howe] and Otis [Anderson], but coming into this year we knew we’d have to run Clay a lot.”
When he started in 2015 and 2016, Boyd spent much of his time handing off to elite running backs Howe and Anderson, who stampeded most opponents to death.
In the 2015 final, the ground game was so effective, gaining 412 rushing yards, that Boyd only had to throw 10 passes in a 61-16 rout of Tampa Cambridge. Last year, UC’s defense and special teams did most of the damage to stifle Champagnat 24-8.
But those two have moved on - Howe is the leading rusher at East Carolina, while Anderson has emerged as a freshman game-breaker at unbeaten UCF - leaving Boyd as the central figure on the offense.
He’s been up to the challenge, as a passer, rusher and leader.
“The leadership that he brings is just irreplaceable,” Penland said.
The toughness, too.
During last year’s final against Champagnat, Boyd went down hard in the second quarter on a tumble that injured his elbow. But he stayed in the game, even running for a touchdown as University Christian pulled clear to win after halftime.
A few weeks later, he said a doctor told him the elbow injury was a serious one - a broken bone, a torn ligament and a dislocation.
“They said that was a big-time thing to be able to play through,” he said.
Boyd isn’t the only big-play threat on an offense that also includes Jalen Dunnigan and Max McClendon carrying the ball and Jonathan Jones and Jaedon Stoshak at wide receiver.
With 528 rushing yards and 1,210 passing yards during the regular season, he’s shown that it’s his offense now — and, working with his rushers behind him, he’s been able to make it work.
“I love having the team on our backs, being able to be the workhorses that we are,” he said.
Just as important as knowing how to move the offense is knowing what not to do. Boyd has learned those lessons in his three years, and it’s a big reason why UC averaged only one turnover per game during the regular season.
“If everybody’s surrounding me, don’t try to make some hero play,” he said. “Be smart with the football and, for sure, don’t give it up.”
For Boyd, his experience gives him the tools to help a young team know what to expect under these far-from-usual circumstances — a field hours from home and a kickoff in the morning, not under the Friday night lights.
Get that right, and he can end his high school career with another state title, bringing University Christian’s all-time total to 10 and joining Bolles and St. Thomas Aquinas as Florida’s only programs in double figures.
“We’re just hoping to be able to continue the great legacy that we’ve built here, being able to go out with that W and continue the winning mentality,” Boyd said.