Notre Dame will have to replace 70 percent of the receptions it totaled in 2015, and Miles Boykin is poised to contribute to those efforts.
Boykin, a former four-star recruit who redshirted this past fall, drew rave reviews from coaches and teammates in December leading up to the Fiesta Bowl. The Tinley Park, Ill. native and graduate of Providence Catholic used his redshirt year to add muscle to his 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame, which, coupled with his widely-praised athletic ability should make him a factor by the time Notre Dame opens its 2016 season in September against Texas.
“You can just tell looking at Miles how good he’s going to be,” former Irish receiver Will Fuller said. “He’s like a big, goofy dude running around, catching balls. He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet so once he puts everything together, it’s going to be scary.”
Notre Dame has played plenty of receivers as true freshmen under coach Brian Kelly, from T.J. Jones to Chris Brown to Fuller to Corey Robinson and, last fall, Equanimeous St. Brown and C.J. Sanders (Torii Hunter Jr. and DaVaris Daniels, though, both redshirted). But Boykin didn’t necessarily spend the year on the sidelines because he wasn’t ready to play; with established upperclassmen in Brown and Robinson ahead of him on the depth chart, there wasn’t a compelling reason to push him onto the field.
With Brown’s eligibility exhausted, Boykin will battle with Robinson — who saw his production sharply tail off in 2015 (16 catches, 200 yards, 1 TD) — for targets as Notre Dame’s boundary-side receiver. The common theme regarding Boykin’s development is getting him to learn how to use his hulking frame to beat opposing defensive backs.
“(He’s a) really good kid,” Brown said. “When it’s his time he’s gonna be really good. Really big kid who’s yet to know how to use his real strength yet and that’s his size. Being able to go and box out. We saw a part of it in some of our preparation. He’s gonna be really good.
“… He’s really quick for his size. When he’s able to use his strength to clubbing off the line just boxing guys out, he’s gonna be a problem.”
Boykin’s position coach shared a similar assessment.
“He needs to get more aggressive to the football at times,” associate head coach/wide receivers Mike Denbrock said. “He’s got great hands. He’s gotta trust them and he’s gotta go snatch the football out like he’s capable of doing on a consistent basis. When we get him there he’ll be a big part of what we do.”
Boykin chose Notre Dame knowing he’d be in for an uphill battle for early playing time. He had scholarship offers from — and serious interest in — a handful of other big-time programs that could’ve granted him an opportunity to see the field as a freshman. But Notre Dame’s pull of football and academics, plus its tight-knit Catholic school feel similar to his high school, led him to South Bend.
“He had so many other places that he could’ve went to and played as a freshman,” Boykin’s mother, Felicia, said. “He could’ve went to Michigan State or Michigan and been a freshman playing there. But he knew going into Notre Dame that he might not be playing, but he still chose it, so I hope he was looking at the education and the football.”
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December provided Boykin an opportunity to take more reps in practice outside of his usual scout team duties. Kelly said on multiple occasions Boykin was one of the freshmen who stood out during those pre-bowl practices.
Felicia Boykin had a chance to catch up with her son’s coaches in the middle of the month at the team’s annual awards banquet. And what they told her is what they, and Boykin’s teammates, said for weeks before and after that evening.
“They just talked about how they just loved him and how much he had developed from when he first started,” Boykin said. “They were like, he’s going to be awesome next year.”