Notre Dame WR commit Miles Boykin a challenge to cover
CHICAGO — How do you keep Miles Boykin out of the end zone?
It’s a question that high school coaches in the Chicago area have tried to answer for five weeks. Nobody has found the solution.
St. Rita coach Todd Kuska was faced with the challenge Friday night. He too didn’t have an answer. Boykin, a Notre Dame wide receiver commit, scored two touchdowns in a 41-27 win for Providence Catholic.
“He's a big kid,” Kuska said. “When you throw it up to him, he's going to make a lot of plays. I don't know if there's ever any one thing you can do.”
St. Rita (4-1) kept Boykin in check for most of the night with only four catches for 50 yards. But half of those catches came in the St. Rita end zone.
Boykin’s first catch capped the opening possession for Providence Catholic. He faked inside and ran to the sideline for a five-yard touchdown catch. A few plays earlier, Boykin was targeted by quarterback Justin Hunniford for the second time. When the pass sailed over his head, the St. Rita student section greeted Boykin with “over-rated” chants. He didn’t hear that for the rest of the night.
The second half started in a similar way for Providence Catholic and Boykin. As the Celtics (5-0) reached the red zone to end their first drive of the half, Hunniford again looked for the 6-foot-4, 225-pound target. He connected with Boykin on a fade route for an eight-yard touchdown to push the lead to 27-13.
Boykin, with 13 touchdowns in five games, expects the ball to come his way at least once when near the goal line. It’s taken four years of working with his quarterback to find a chemistry that maximizes the disadvantages for the defense.
“It's exciting,” Boykin said. “Justin's a great quarterback. He just puts the ball in the right place.”
Providence Catholic coach Mark Coglianese has confidence in putting the ball in the air whenever Boykin’s near the end zone.
"We can take that shot anytime,” Coglianese said. “Justin does a great job putting it where other guys can't get it. Miles will go up and get it.”
Making the leap
Boykin also plays basketball pretty well. Most of Boykin’s previous offseasons were spent on a court with football taking a backseat.
But when college scholarship offers to play football started coming his way as a junior, Boykin shifted his focus. He still played basketball for Providence Catholic, but he also made sure to find time to develop himself as a football player.
Paul Szczesny, president of Core 6 Athletes, saw Boykin at his training facility more frequently. Boykin paired his size with 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash and became a more complete wide receiver.
“You’re seeing a different player this year,” Szczesny said. “He finally was challenged, and he's risen up to that challenge. He has a great team this year, so a lot is expected.
“Being able to become more focused on football in the offseason helped him out a lot. In the past, he wasn't really sure if he was going to be a basketball player or a football player. He just didn't know. This past offseason he committed himself to football.”
A less-polished route runner as a junior, some projected Boykin as a tight end in college. His frame suggested as much. But Boykin’s ability to create in space has kept him at wide receiver for the foreseeable future.
“I know a lot of people, even us at some point, thought he was just going to be a tight end,” Szczesny said. “He was a little fast, but this past year he's learned how to use that athletic ability. He was always fast. He was always big. Now he knows what to do with those skills.”
Boykin didn’t take the tight end projection as a slight. He won’t even rule a future position switch as a dead possibility. But he wanted to prove that he could be a wide receiver.
“I've improved a lot on my route-running,” Boykin said. “I've gotten stronger. I can get off the ball without the ability to be pressed. I've gotten better at that. I think you need to make strides each offseason just to get better.”
Coglianese has seen the evolution of Boykin as a player. He can do nothing but smile at his fortune of having such a playmaker on his team.
“Every year he's just getting so much better,” Coglianese said. “Teams just can't handle him. They'll double cover him, and we're fortunate enough that we have some other guys we can go to. Miles is out there and we know that's an ace in the hole.”
Cover if you can
The stats mean little to Boykin. Even when he scored five touchdowns in the season's second game, Boykin first gave credit to his quarterback and offensive coordinator. The wins mean more.
“He's always been a good player, but this year he kind of took the team under his wings,” Coglianese said. “He realizes this isn't about him. He doesn't care about individual stats. He wants to take this team to a championship.”
The win over St. Rita puts the Celtics one victory from clinching a spot in the Class 7A playoffs. A prolific offense has put Providence Catholic in a strong position. Producing more than 2,000 yards of offense, the Celtics have a number of options other than Boykin.
Defenses trying to shut down Boykin are often left vulnerable elsewhere. St. Rita often played with a safety bracketing over Boykin in addition to the cornerback covering him. Boykin still worked his way open on many plays, but the offense found success without forcing him the ball. Hunniford threw for 213 yards and running back Richie Warfield rushed for 123.
Teams have thrown plenty of coverages Boykin’s way. The most extreme may have been last year against Loyola Academy, who Providence Catholic plays against next week.
“They had a corner at three yards, a linebacker shoot out and then a safety over the top,” Boykin said.
“That's probably the craziest I've seen."
Boykin still caught five passes for 81 yards and a touchdown in that game.
Szczesny, who knows Boykin’s strengths and weaknesses as well as anyone, is posed the question of how he would try to cover the receiver.
“What kind DBs (defensive backs) do I have?” he asked.
Unfortunately for Szczesny and opposing coaches, the only options are the high school players that rarely can match Boykin’s size and speed.
"Honestly, I don't even know,” Szczesny said. “At the high school level, I don't know."