DIPLOMA IN HAND
There is no element of surprise in the voices of Alfred or Lisa when they talk about their son graduating. This, after all, was the expectation since he first got out of the crib.
"My Mother didn’t get a chance to go to college, and I was the first person from my family to go to college," explained Lisa. "I knew that education would be the way for me as well as any children that I may bring into this world. It started to be our family tradition. So it was an expectation for both our boys. And they knew growing up that it was not an option. It was an expectation in order for them to be successful."
Boykin left Georgia after the fall semester of his senior year to prepare for the draft. That left him short of the credits he needed to graduate with a journalism degree.
So the past two offseasons, he’s committed himself to tying up loose ends. That meant sometimes writing six- or seven-page papers at night and suiting up for OTAs the next day. Earlier this summer, he completed his remaining workload and got his diploma.
"I knew the sooner I did it, the easier it would be, so I didn’t really care what I had to do," Boykin said. "I just wanted to finish."
He learned to take school seriously from an early age. And if he ever doubted how important getting an education was to his parents, seeing how they treated Al cleared things up quickly.
"He played on the best baseball team in the state. I don’t want to put him out like this, he’s gonna be mad," Boykin said with a laugh, pausing for a second. "He didn’t make a good grade or something in some class in high school. They were playing for the state championship in baseball. They made him sit. They made him dress and told the coach to sit him in the dugout and not let him play. So he just was wondering, 'Why am I not in the game?' And they told him afterwards. But that was crazy."
Added Lisa: "Brandon knew if it happened to Al, it would definitely happen to him if he made the same error. So he learned from his brother. He didn’t have to go through any of that."
THE NEXT STEP
Rookie wide receiver Jordan Matthews is always looking for ways to get better. So before a training camp practice in early August, he approaches Boykin and suggests the two square off in wide receiver/cornerback one-on-ones that day.
On the first rep, Matthews runs down the seam. He turns towards the quarterback to look for the ball, but Boykin reaches his arm around and swats it to the ground. For Boykin, it’s not about just getting his hand on the football. It's about playing with a violence and physicality that suggest he wants to bury the ball 10 feet underground. He plays every snap - whether it's practice or a playoff game - like he wants to send a message to the receiver and let him know he never had a chance at making the grab.
"He’s intelligent," said Matthews. "It’s one thing for a guy to be physical. It’s one thing for a guy to be fast or athletic. He has a combination of a bunch of things, but he’s extremely intelligent. He’ll come to me after plays and be like, 'I knew you were about to do that.' And it wasn’t even about anything you did. It was about how the other guys lined up. Sometimes you don’t even have a chance against a guy like him. The dude’s just really a great player. Working against a guy like that is priceless."
Later during the same practice, Boykin breaks up a Nick Foles pass attempt to Matthews on an underneath route. Towards the end of the session, he’s matched up with another rookie wide receiver, Josh Huff. Mark Sanchez throws the fade, but Boykin rises up, violently attacks the ball in the air and comes down with the interception.
His helmet gets kicked off in the process, but Boykin doesn’t care. He’s playing with an edge today and stands to his feet in delight, tossing the ball to the sideline as his defensive teammates go nuts.
Any onlooker who watched Boykin that day had the same thought: He very well might be the Eagles' best defensive player.
So why then does he have to stand by his locker day after day and answer questions about why he only played 51 percent of the team’s snaps a year ago?
"I just think I fit best in this scheme inside," said Boykin. "The way that we blitz and the types of routes that we get on the outside are fade routes and things like that. And with our scheme, we’ve got tall corners. They want quicker guys on the inside because, believe it or not, I get just as many balls as they do thrown at me. With my statistics, you would think I was outside, but it’s just because how often we’re on the field and how many chances I get. I really, honestly don’t have a problem with it. I am capable of playing outside. I’m capable of playing inside. And I’m sure at some point, I’m gonna have to play both. So it’s good that I get all these reps."
Boykin’s opinion seems to have changed somewhat from a year ago when he voiced a desire to get a shot as a full-time starter.
But with Kelly and defensive coordinator Billy Davis, not having size on the outside is a problem. When Kelly was first hired, he provided Roseman and the personnel staff with a list of preferred measurables at each position. Given the way that Boykin has performed, combined with the Eagles’ issues against the pass, it’s fair to say that him being 5-foot-9 is a sort of deal-breaker. Kelly covets size on defense and believes the ability to match up with big wide receivers is a must.
While we're only talking about a two-inch gap, there has been no indication that the coaching staff is willing to give Boykin a fair shot at a full-time role - one that would have him start on the outside and move inside when the defense shifts to nickel.
There's also the financial aspect of it. Boykin can restructure his deal and sign an extension with the Eagles after the 2014 season. Or he can play things out and become a free agent after 2015. Outside corners get paid more than nickels. There's certainly a chance that another team would give him that opportunity.
"If you continue to just play and not worry about that stuff, do what you’re supposed to do, I think financially you’ll be taken care of regardless," Boykin said. "I feel like at some point, how much is enough? If you get $50 million as opposed to $70 million, are you really gonna be that mad? I guess you want to get all you can, but at the end of the day, I feel like if I can just take care of my family and be good… I like it here. I love the scheme and the coaching staff and the organization, so God willing, I’ll be here and I’ll let that [work itself out]. I’m just gonna play and try to make as many plays as possible."
Boykin has talked to Al about the different scenarios.
"I think it’s definitely tough," Al said, making it clear that his brother loves playing in Philadelphia. "It’s always in the back of your head. But at the end of the day, it’s a win-now league and he has to focus on the here and now. That’s exactly what he’s doing. He just wants to do whatever the team needs him to do to win. And in the end, after the season’s over or once his contract is up or however things shake out, that’s when he’ll worry about the next step as far as his career is concerned with the outside."
For now, Boykin seems at peace. If he can put together another strong season, he’ll likely be recognized as the top nickel in the league. His family comes to all the home games, and he has his degree in hand. Boykin and his fiancee Tess Echols are planning their wedding in Turks and Caicos for next July.
At just 24 years old, he’s accomplished a lot. But by all indications, there are bigger things ahead.
"When I think about where he is... the first few years, I had to pinch myself," said Lisa. "Like am I really looking at my son? He accomplished his dream. And just a few weeks ago, he graduated. For a mom or a dad, it doesn’t get any better than that."