For Miles Boykin, Notre Dame transformed from hate to home
There’s nothing neutral about Notre Dame.
For a kid growing up in the Midwest, the Irish are everywhere — printed in newspapers, neatly folded on store shelves and polluted through the phone lines of sports talk radio shows. Their golden helmets are frequent visitors, arriving in a soft glow on television screens on consecutive Saturdays in the fall. They belong to a small club with a massive following, the kind of fan base that extends beyond any one town, state or region.
The program carries with it a tangible heft, the weight of tradition built upon national championships and gridiron legends.
All things considered, there’s a lot to love.
“I hated Notre Dame,” said Miles Boykin, a wide receiver who signed with the Irish in February. “I didn’t like them because everybody else loved them. But I was a Michigan State fan, too.”
Boykin — a 6-foot-3, 225-pound wide receiver from Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, Ill. — was raised in the swell of a Notre Dame wave, where the Irish are as much an ideal as a college destination. The more his surroundings embraced the Irish, the more he forcefully rejected them.
He was a lone, overwhelmed minnow swimming mightily against the current.
“I’m not really sure why, but Notre Dame always seems to be, at least in the Midwest, the place to go, the place to be,” said Mark Coglianese, the head coach at Providence Catholic. “If you get a Notre Dame education and play for Notre Dame, with the media and everything that goes with it, it’s pretty tough to beat.”
So, when Boykin’s quarterback at Providence Catholic asked him to tag along to a Notre Dame game in Nov. 2013, the up-and-coming wide receiver laughed it off. There was no expectation of recruitment, no hint that he might someday step on campus, and never really leave.
“He was like, ‘Let’s just go. You probably won’t like it, but do it for me,’ ” Boykin recalled. “I was like, ‘Fine, whatever. Let’s just go.’ ”
And so they went, and watched the Irish defeat BYU in front of another in the seemingly endless line of consecutive sellouts inside Notre Dame Stadium. They stepped behind enemy lines and found that perception didn’t match reality.
Simultaneously, Notre Dame won a football game and smothered Boykin’s long-standing grudge.
“I hated Notre Dame until I took my first visit, and then it was like, ‘OK, I actually like this school,’ ” Boykin said with a chuckle. “I got down there and I could just really see myself playing there.”
Added Coglianese: “He visited so many other schools, and they’re all great schools. But there was something about Notre Dame, where I think he was sold from the first time he went there.”
The feeling was mutual. In Boykin, Notre Dame’s coaching staff found a long, athletic receiver who set up camp in the red zone. He approached the football like a power forward, using a wide frame to clear out space and attack jump balls like defensive rebounds.
Considering that DePaul, Illinois-Chicago and Western Michigan were prepared to offer him a basketball scholarship had he chosen that path, the comparison holds weight.
“Playing basketball as much as he did growing up, he has a way of getting his body in the right position to go up and get the ball,” Coglianese said. “At the high school level, there weren’t too many kids who could match up with him.”
Boykin’s appetizing blend of physicality, footwork and dependable hands yielded 1,035 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns in his senior season, as the consensus four-star prospect helped lead Providence to a Class 7A state title last fall.
And despite offers from the likes of Michigan State, Ohio State, Florida and Michigan, Boykin kept visiting Notre Dame.
Increasingly, the school he hated was the school he loved.
“Every time I went there, I saw something new,” Boykin said. “The first time I went there, I just went to a game, so I didn’t really get to see any of the campus. The next time I went there, I got a tour of the football facilities. The third time I got the full tour of the campus and everything. I think the fourth time I got to meet some of the football players. And I think the fifth time was my official visit when I had already committed.”
Since signing with the Irish in February, Boykin has been in constant contact with the fellow members of his recruiting class, like-minded players who shed their own childhood allegiances to chase something greater at Notre Dame.
“Nobody has any egos coming in,” he said. “We’ve just got one common goal, to go out and win a national championship. That’s all. That’s what we’re there for. Obviously, getting a degree (is important).
“But we’re there to win a national championship. I think everybody has the same mind-set.”
The pursuit of that goal, of course, could require personal sacrifices, and Boykin acknowledges that he may not be chosen to contribute immediately in the fall. As a newcomer in an equally crowded and talented receivers room, his primary task is to improve — to become quicker in and out of his breaks, to sharpen his routes, to continue to add muscle to an already imposing frame.
If he plays, great. And if he doesn’t, he’ll keep working.
A few weeks ago, Boykin said, his emotions suddenly shifted, from a lingering nervousness to an unbridled enthusiasm. He stands on the verge of a new challenge, the next step in an ever-evolving relationship.
In a few short years, Notre Dame transformed from hate to home.
“It’s just hard to believe that I’m going to college at all,” Boykin said. “Four years ago, you’re a freshman and you don’t know what you want to do after high school. Obviously, you want to go to college. But you don’t know what you want to do, where you want to be.
“It’s just a surreal feeling. Even my parents, I know they’re getting a little sad, because they know I’m going to be gone in a little bit. But not everybody gets this opportunity, and I’m truly blessed to get this chance.”
Today's feature story on Notre Dame incoming freshman wide receiver Miles Boykin is the seventh in an ongoing weekly series of profiles taking a look at the members of the incoming Irish freshman football class.