On Monday morning, when the Virginia Tech football team reviewed film from last Saturday’s season-opening win over Appalachian State, one play involving Hokies wide receiver Jarrett Boykin had all of the team’s coaches talking.
It wasn’t Boykin’s four-yard touchdown reception. Nor was it the ball he bobbled along the sideline, a rare drop for someone with hands so big they frequently bust the seams of his XXXL-size gloves.
Instead, every single member of the Hokies football team marveled at a second-quarter run by David Wilson in which Boykin sprinted from the left side of the field all the way to the right sideline to make a block that sprung Wilson for an additional 10 or 15 yards.
“I think everybody just kind of went ‘wow’ because that’s special,” offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring said. “A guy that prides himself on making a lot of catches, but sprinted a long way to make that block.”
Boykin, a senior, is poised to become the all-time leading receiver in Virginia Tech history when the Hokies travel to East Carolina on Saturday. He is just two catches from breaking Ernest Wilford’s record for most career receptions (125). Boykin also is only 134 receiving yards from surpassing Ricky Scales for first place in that category.
But these accomplishments don’t seem to fit a player who “you will not recognize in the meeting rooms, because he doesn’t talk until you ask him a question,” wide receivers coach Kevin Sherman said.
And so, during a week when he’s on the verge of etching his name into school lore at a position known for big personalities, Boykin can’t help but insist that “I don’t want all the attention centered around me.”
His track record at Virginia Tech suggests otherwise. Last year, Boykin led the Hokies in receiving yards for a third straight season, finishing with career highs in catches (53), yards (847) and touchdowns (six). No Hokies wide receiver has ever had a 1,000-yard season in Virginia Tech’s run-first offense, but Boykin has already registered two of the five best seasons in school history in terms of receiving yards.
It all sounds reasonable now, but there was a time when the 6-foot-2, 218-pound Boykin was an afterthought fighting for attention on the football field. He started his high school career stuck behind future NFL star Hakeem Nicks at Independence High outside Charlotte, and even after transferring to nearby Butler High, Boykin began his junior year on the junior varsity team.
Before his senior year, though, Boykin made a transformation even his closest friends struggle to comprehend. Virginia Tech safety Eddie Whitley, Boykin’s high school teammate, remembers returning from summer all-star camps, matching up with Boykin and coming away with the impression that “he’s just the same, and those are four- and five-star receivers I’m going against in camp.”
Virginia Tech noticed, too, and offered the self-described “late bloomer” a scholarship in the fall, a move that looked all the wiser when Boykin finished his senior high school season with more than 1,200 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns.
When he arrived in Blacksburg in 2008, Boykin was thrown into the fire whether he was ready or not. The Hokies’ top six receivers from a year before — including current NFL players Josh Morgan, Eddie Royal and Justin Harper — had all graduated.
His inaugural season didn’t go without some hiccups — coaches still talk about a September game at North Carolina when the Hokies were forced to use two timeouts in a row because their young receivers couldn’t figure out how to line up correctly — but Boykin started eight games and established his business-first reputation.
“The only way you know he’s on the practice field, the only way you know he’s in your huddle, is when he gets his mitts on the ball,” Stinespring said. “He just goes out there and performs.”
Which makes the hoopla this week all the more strange for Boykin. He’s been forced to talk about the record as if he’s already broken it, and wondered aloud if he’ll be able to keep his record-setting ball (according to NCAA rules, Virginia Tech is allowed to give it to him following the season).
Last Saturday, with the Hokies leading by a large margin early in the third quarter against Appalachian State, Boykin even phoned up to Sherman in the coaches’ box, asking to stay in the game so he could break the record at Lane Stadium.
“We’ll get it done next week,” Sherman responded.
If it does happen Saturday, though, don’t expect Boykin to break character.
“I actually kind of thought of what I wanted to do after I do it, but it’ll probably just happen at the spur of the moment,” he said. “Just anything that’s not flashy and doesn’t get a penalty. Just something to let you know that I finally achieved it.”