Boykin, Smith shine, even though they didn’t start as highly regarded prospects
Throughout the years, as new high school football seasons dawned, the Matthews-Mint Hill area has had its share of highly recruited high school players. You’re familiar with many of the names: Independence’s Chris Leak and Mohammed Massaquoi, and Butler’s Robert Blanton and Kris Frost, to name a few.
Each one of those kids had a slew of major college scholarship offers entering his senior season. They’re all great kids who worked hard and deserved all the attention they received from fans, media and college recruiters.
But this story is a little bit of hope for the many players entering the 2011 season without being hailed as so-called blue-chippers.
Ever heard of Jarrett Boykin and D.J. Smith?
By now you have.
Boykin, a 2008 Butler graduate, currently is one of the best wide receivers in all of college football entering his senior season at Virginia Tech and is projected as a sure-fire NFL Draft prospect. You also might’ve seen his photo on the cover of one of Sporting News’ 2011 regional college football preview issues.
That’s pretty heady stuff.
Smith, a 2007 Independence grad who wrapped up his four-year career at Appalachian State University last fall, was so good while playing linebacker up in Boone that the Super Bowl-champion Green Bay Packers selected him in the NFL Draft this past spring.
Talk about elite company.
So clearly Boykin and Smith are phenomenal players.
But neither was considered a must-have college recruit as his senior high school season beckoned.
Smith sets the standard
There was never any doubt that Smith was good enough to play at a big-time college program. He was a leader, he was fast, and he was a ferocious tackler. Former Independence coach Tom Knotts identified Smith as a leader entering the 2006 season, and he didn’t disappoint, helping the Patriots to another state crown while earning team most valuable player and all-state honors.
But his height – 5 foot 10 – scared off many recruiters, and the major scholarship offers never really arrived.
It was the big boys’ loss.
Smith went to Appalachian State and immediately made his presence known. He ranked fourth in the Southern Conference in total tackles (121), even though he didn’t earn a starting spot until the seventh game of the season, and was a key ingredient in the Mountaineers’ run to a national title.
From there, Smith went on to receive numerous individual awards. He finished with more than 500 tackles for his career, including 144 during his senior campaign, when he earned All-American honors. By then, he’d drawn comparisons to another undersized Appalachian State linebacker, Dexter Coakley, who went on to a productive NFL career.
The Packers selected Smith in the sixth round of last spring’s draft. One of the first questions Wisconsin-area reporters asked Smith on the day he was drafted was, “How tall are you?” Smith, who had been generously listed at 6-1 in the Appalachian State media guide, laughed.
“On a good day, I’m 5-11,” he said, “but they say I’m 5-10.”
Smith was calm. But the tone of his answer seemed to say, “Go ahead and doubt me again, if you want. I’ll prove people wrong again.”
Now that the recent NFL lockout has been lifted, Smith gets his chance starting this week.
Boykin becomes cover boy
I know it might seem hard to believe Boykin wasn’t heavily recruited. After all, Virginia Tech is one of the premier college programs in the country, and the Hokies often have their pick of top players. But Boykin didn’t start as a player Virginia Tech just had to have.
In Boykin’s case, he was overshadowed by another stud Butler receiver, Mickey Brewer, entering the 2007 season. Plus, Boykin had been injured during a portion of his junior season, so he didn’t have a great deal of highlight footage for college recruiters to peruse.
But as the weeks passed that season, it became increasingly hard to ignore Boykin. The young man just made plays. He supposedly didn’t have great speed, but I rarely saw anyone catch him when he hauled in passes from standout quarterback Jacob Charest, who went on to sign with Illinois. It also was hard for defenders to get their hands on Boykin when he took hand-offs as an H-back or ran with the ball as a punt returner.
That season, he wound up with videogame-type numbers: He averaged about 21 yards per catch, hauled in 60 passes for 1,252 yards and 17 touchdowns and rushed for 276 yards and eight more scores.
Still, more than halfway through that season, the big-time colleges had been slow to offer scholarships. In an October 2007 interview, Boykin told me that the schools most interested in him included N.C. A&T and Appalachian State – fine schools indeed, but most players with Boykin’s talent and production were being wooed by bigger programs.
Finally, as Butler rolled through the regular season and Boykin continued to pile up staggering statistics, the big boys came calling. Within a two-day span, he received offers from both Virginia Tech and Illinois. The Hokies, he said, had been his favorite team for a while, so he wasted little time committing to them.
Since then, he’s added about 30 pounds of muscle to his 6-foot-2-inch frame, coming in at about 220 pounds. This fall, barring injury, he should become Virginia Tech’s all-time leading receiver.
And, of course, there’s that Sporting News cover.
The moral of the story
So as the 2011 high school football season nears, Boykin and Smith are two people Matthews-Mint Hill-area players should keep in mind, especially those kids who aren’t being inundated with recruiting letters and high “star” ratings from the scouting services.
Two players from this area have walked in your shoes. They know what it’s like to feel overlooked.
The cool thing?
One of them will be a star on Saturdays this fall, and the other has a chance to be on your television on Sunday afternoons.
Here’s to a great season for everyone associated with Matthews-Mint Hill football.