Pitt WR Tyler Boyd transcending shadows of Larry Fitzgerald

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Tyler Boyd grew up in Larry Fitzgerald’s shadow.

Of course, everyone in Pittsburgh did. Fitzgerald was the biggest thing at the city’s biggest university, an anomaly of strength and skill. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound wide receiver with the black dreads bobbing out of his helmet seemed magnetically attracted to touchdowns, hauling in at least one in 18 consecutive games. He was a shooting star, if said star could deaden a pigskin in its massive, smothering grip.

In his two seasons at Pitt, Fitzgerald caught 161 passes for 2,677 yards and 34 touchdowns, averaging 16.6 yards per reception. His 128.6 receiving yards per game and 22 touchdowns led the nation in 2003, and Fitzgerald became the first sophomore to be named the Walter Camp Player of the Year as a result.

In the nearby suburb of Clairton, Pa., a 9-year-old Boyd saw it all — again, and again, and again.

“He was pretty much the king of college football at the time, so I definitely locked into him and seeing the things he did well,” Boyd said. “I emulated my game after his. I always used to watch his highlights on YouTube.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that Boyd’s collegiate career has followed a similar trajectory. The 6-2, 200-pound do-everything athlete was a local legend at Clairton High School, leading the Bears to four consecutive state titles. He set a league record with 117 career touchdowns, shining as a running back, wide receiver, quarterback, defensive back and punt returner. Under Boyd’s watch, Clairton steamrolled to a four-year record of 63-1.

A four-star prospect and U.S. Army All-American, Boyd had his choice of college destinations — Michigan State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame among them.

And still, he chose Pitt. He chose home. He chose Fitzgerald’s significant shadow.

“Pitt wasn’t necessarily my favorite team (growing up), but I always loved watching Pitt because of the type of players that they always had,” Boyd said. “They always had players that were next-level type of caliber guys.

“But specifically, the last couple years they weren’t where they should have been with those types of players on the team. I just felt like if I could help bring all the talent back to Pitt, then we would get more respect and Pitt would transform into a whole other team.”

The results have been positively Fitzgerald-like, as Boyd became the only Pittsburgh player — besides the aforementioned Fitzgerald — to record two 1,000-yard receiving seasons.

Moreover, both players did it in their first two seasons with the program.

Now midway through his junior campaign, Boyd is already the all-time catches leader in school history, and he needs just 49 receiving yards to grab that crown as well. He leads the 2015 Panthers in catches (63), receiving yards (578) and touchdowns (4).

The team’s second-leading receiver, Dontez Ford, has just 16 catches, despite playing one more game than Boyd.

“He is dynamic,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “He can run the ball as well on offense. They're using him at the running back position, wide receiver. He's a game wrecker.”

Just because No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) identifies Boyd as a problem, however, that doesn’t mean there’s a solution to be found. Senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell may have a fourth quarter interception in each of the last two games, but this is a different challenge.

Boyd isn’t just talented; he’s motivated.

“It’s Notre Dame,” said Boyd, who played in 7-on-7 tournaments with Philadelphia native and Irish wide receiver Will Fuller in high school. “Even if it wasn’t on ABC or it wasn’t primetime or any of that, or if neither team was ranked, it’s still that team on your schedule where you’re like, ‘We need to take them down.’”

Boyd has already taken down several of Fitzgerald’s gaudy records, and he’s still hungry for more. With the NFL ahead of him, and his hometown program on the rise, Pittsburgh’s prolific playmaker is casting a shadow all his own.

“Larry Fitzgerald is probably one of the all-time greats to ever do it, and he’s even still doing it,” Boyd said. “That’s shocking to me that I’m overtaking the things that he did. It’s surreal. I’m just soaking it all in.

“But I don’t want to get a big head over this, because I don’t want this to be the end of my legacy. I still want to leave Pitt with my legacy going forward.”

mvorel@sbtinfo.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Virginia cornerback Maurice Canady (26) hits Pittsburgh wide receiver Tyler Boyd (23) after making a catch in the third quarter of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015 in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh won 26-19. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)