NEW ORLEANS — Whenever a Virginia Tech offensive coach is asked how the most prolific receiving duo in school history came to be, inevitably the first road game in 2008 against North Carolina comes up.
Midway through the first quarter, Virginia Tech had to call two timeouts in a row because then-freshmen Jarrett Boykin and Danny Coale couldn’t seem to line up right, and “they had those big eyes out there looking around,” Kevin Sherman, their position coach, said recently.
Now that Boykin and Coale have only Tuesday’s Sugar Bowl remaining before leaving Virginia Tech with every major school record for a wide receiver, they’ve taken a different stance.
“I still don’t think that was on us. Macho [Harris] was in the game and he lined up wrong,” said Boykin, as Coale sat next to him nodding in agreement.
Just add that to the list of slights these seniors have had to overcome.
Boykin has been the team’s leading receiver the past three seasons, using hands that need size XXXL gloves and a knack for out-maneuvering opposing cornerbacks in the air to set a single-season school record for receptions this year (57). He will end his career with more catches (180) and yards (2,854) than any other Hokies receiver.
Coale, an Episcopal High graduate, leads Virginia Tech with 785 receiving yards this year. He is right behind Boykin in the school record books and became the team’s starting punter by the end of this season. Coach Frank Beamer has frequently marveled how “Danny just always seems to be open.”
And yet neither warranted even honorable mention all-ACC status this year, a snub that quarterback Logan Thomas said made him “extremely upset” and left Beamer wondering about the media members who participated in the voting.
In retrospect, Boykin said he recognizes the lack of notoriety is partly due to Virginia Tech’s offensive philosophy. The Hokies have always been known for their rushing attack, and this year was no different. Running back David Wilson earned ACC player of the year honors during a year when Thomas set multiple records for a first-year quarterback.
“There’s just some things that we were held back from being able to show,” Boykin said, “that we’re just as good as [South Carolina wide receiver] Alshon Jeffrey and [Oklahoma State wide receiver] Justin Blackmon. I feel like they’re great athletes, but at the same time we’re right up there with them.
“It’s great playing wide receiver here because once we throw the ball, you have opportunities to get big chunks of yardage. What we can’t do is we’re not going to catch 100 balls for 1,500 yards and 22 touchdowns.”
The other issue is that neither has the sort of attention-grabbing personality or pedigree associated with big-time wide receivers these days.
Coale has graduated with a degree in finance and was named the ACC’s top scholar-athlete this year. He speaks in measured tones reminiscent of a CEO and has yet to join Facebook or Twitter. Boykin is so quiet around the team facility that Beamer said he sometimes doesn’t notice him until he’s making catches on the practice field or in games.
Coming out of high school, Coale was barely recruited. Before showing up to a camp in Blacksburg one summer, his only scholarship offer was from VMI, where his father is the head of strength and conditioning. Coale still jokes that when he spent his redshirt year (2007) on the scout team, former Virginia Tech wide receivers and future NFL wideouts Eddie Royal, Andre Davis and Josh Morgan “must have thought I was a walk-on. I prefer to just fly under the radar.”
But their accomplishments haven’t gone unnoticed now that the clock is ticking on their careers. Quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain said Thomas’s comfort level during his record-setting first year under center is a direct reflection of Boykin and Coale. “Not only are they gonna run the right route with the right timing, you know they’re gonna catch the ball,” he said.
Years of lining up together has also created a special bond between the two, and it played out before the ACC championship game this year.
Boykin was supposed to deliver the pregame speech, but always reticent about public speaking, he was afraid he might stutter and not be taken seriously. He asked Coale to take his place.
“I’ve been through his struggles, he’s been through mine,” Coale said. “He’s a guy that I know I can count on, whether it’s five years from now, I just know I can count on him and he’ll be there. I know when I look back, part of my Tech experience is going to be him.”