Notre Dame WR Miles Boykin prepares to fly in junior season

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Miles Boykin remembers the moment he decided mediocrity wasn’t for him.

It was just after Notre Dame’s dispiriting 45-27 loss to USC, a decisive drubbing that appropriately capped a devastating 4-8 season. On the last Saturday in November, on the typically sun-drenched south side of Los Angeles, it poured rain. Boykin was held without a catch, Notre Dame fell to its rival and the Irish seniors closed their careers not with a bowl game, but another blunder.

“For me it was just an embarrassing game,” Boykin said last week, “going out there and losing to USC. We played hard but that’s not what it’s about. I want to win every game I play in.

“I had to look inside myself, look inside all those seniors that were leaving. This isn’t what I wanted to do. I had to make a change.”

That change, for Boykin, centered around expectation. Not so long ago, this 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver was a consensus four-star recruit, an offensive dynamo that carried Providence Catholic (Ill.) High School to a state title in his senior season. He was named the Illinois Player of the Year by the Champaign News-Gazette and the Prep Athlete of the Year by the Chicago Tribune in 2014. He chose Notre Dame over an army of offers — Florida, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State to name a few.

And in his first two seasons in South Bend, he made six catches, with one touchdown.

That wasn’t good enough. Not for Miles. Not anymore.

“Obviously the season didn’t work out the way we wanted it to,” Boykin said. “I had to look inside of myself and realize that I could do better than this. I am better than this. I’m not going to demand anything less of myself anymore.”

Maybe that’s why Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly singled Boykin out last week, saying the soon-to-be junior is enjoying a “really good spring.” Maybe it’s why, during media access, he snatched a pass on a slant route from Brandon Wimbush and bolted past cornerback Nick Watkins, gliding 70-plus yards untouched to the far end zone.

“He’s very sneaky,” Kelly said. “He eats up a lot of ground with those long strides, and before you know it he’s running past people.”

Boykin didn’t run past many people in his first two seasons at Notre Dame, after redshirting the 2015 season behind Will Fuller and languishing last fall behind fellow sophomore Equanimeous St. Brown. But with a new staff, comes new opportunities — for first impressions and first team reps.

“Just looking at what he’s done, I know that Miles has run good routes,” first year wide receivers coach DelVaughn Alexander said on Wednesday. “I know that he’s understood our offense. We’ve moved him around and he’s obviously made some plays. That’s the only Miles I know.”

The Miles Boykin that Alexander met this winter is plenty motivated. He’s also an improved route-runner, a more confident pass-catcher and a capable student.

But will he be a difference maker when the Irish host Temple on Sept. 2?

“I don’t think that was something I was necessarily ready for my first couple years here,” Boykin admitted. “I was still learning a lot. But I’m a junior now. I’m one of the oldest ones here, and I’m ready to take that next step forward.”

Each step Boykin takes is for himself, and for his brother. During his junior season at Providence in 2011, George Boykin — a tight end for the Celtics — suffered a serious head injury that ultimately cut his career short.

“All my skills up to that point — reading, writing, doing homework, all my math skills — were lowered to a point where I couldn’t actually do that without some help,” George Boykin said.

Eventually, George overcame his cerebral setback. His grades improved, but he was never cleared for a return to football.

Prior to the 2012 season, George gifted his old number to his little brother, Miles.

“Ever since then I’ve worn 81, and I’m never going to change it,” Boykin said.

Now 22, George is set to pursue a Master’s degree in aviation and transportation at Lewis University in Romeoville, Ill. The same guy who grew up going to air shows in Chicago with his parents and little brother hopes to be a commercial pilot, to fly the friendly skies.

But when he can, George makes the trek east to South Bend on fall Saturdays, to watch No. 81 stamped on a navy blue jersey at Notre Dame Stadium, in front of 80,000 fans.

“That number still resonates with me,” George Boykin said.

If Miles has his way, 81 will go for 7 more than a few times in the coming fall. He won’t settle for anything less. Now it’s his time to fly.

“I just had to get that mindset,” Boykin said. “I have it now and I don’t think there’s anything that can take it away from me.”

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @mikevorel

Notre Dame's Miles Boykin (81) runs drills during practice, Saturday, April 9, 2016 inside the Loftus Sports Center at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune photo/BECKY MALEWITZ