Aaron Boyd seems to have overcome his own worst enemy: Aaron Boyd
Former 4-star signee to start Saturday for Wildcats
Aaron Boyd shut his mouth, and the whole world opened up again.
After four up-and-(mostly)-down years as a Kentucky football Wildcat, the former high school phenom will hear his name called with the starting lineup as he and his UK teammates take the field for their home opener Saturday night against Kent State. This was the plan from the start, only, it’s taken a lot longer than anyone imagined.
In 2008, Boyd turned down Oregon and committed to the Wildcats. At a gathering of students, teachers and media at Henry Clay High School, when he went to make his announcement, Boyd first picked up an Oregon cap, but hidden inside was a UK cap, which he promptly donned.
Boyd, his family and Kentucky fans everywhere expected him to succeed Keenan Burton in the UK lineup as the big-play pass catcher. Instead, the Lexington native seemed to put everything BUT football ahead of his athletic career, which kept him nailed to the bench. That, finally, has changed.
“Staying home (playing in Lexington), it was almost like a trap. Everybody knows me and I know everybody else,” he said. “It’s easy to get into things.” In fact, after playing sparingly as a freshman, then-head coach Rich Brooks announced prior to the following season that Boyd would redshirt – in part, for disciplinary reasons. He’s been battling for playing time ever since.
“I had to focus on being a football player instead of being a cool guy, or whatever I was doing,” he said. “I just had to figure out what was important in life.”
Now a fifth-year senior, Boyd finally realized he couldn’t get by strictly on athletic superiority, as he’d done all his life. He re-dedicated himself, and his head coach noticed.
“He does a better job of blocking, and that’s being unselfish,” said Joker Phillips. “He’s done everything we’ve ever asked of him. He’s shut his mouth and started to play; therefore, he deserves to be the starter this week.”
Phillips is the top man now, but when Boyd first signed, he was the receivers coach and quickly tired of Boyd’s lack of discipline. When Phillips became head coach, Tee Martin took over coaching the position and likewise had little use for Boyd.
Martin’s departure to Southern Cal this past winter brought in Boyd’s third position coach in five years and, fortunately for him, Pat Washington worked from a blank canvas.
“I didn’t hear anything about him coming in,” Washington said. “I didn’t ask any questions about the receivers coming in. I wanted to see for myself. Sometimes others’ opinions are based on two plays. (A coach might) watch two plays, and think, ‘That’s him.’ And there’s about 15 plays that wasn’t like him.”
His performance during spring drills convinced Washington that Boyd deserved a spot in the rotation. “I just watched him in the spring and what he was, was consistent,” Washington said. “He showed me he could be where he was supposed to be and do what he was supposed to do, and do it consistently.”
It earned him playing time in the Louisville game, and Boyd made the most of it.
“It felt surreal,” he said. “I was out on the field (at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium) and I was running, and I looked down and saw the cardinal (painted on the playing surface). I was like, man, I can’t believe I’m playing again.”
After reviewing the video, the coaches decided it was time for Boyd to become one of the first 11 on offense.
“Sometimes in life you have to figure out what’s more important,” he said. “I took time out and dug deep in my soul and figured it out.”
“I’m so proud of Aaron,” Phillips said. “He stayed the course, he’s grown up a lot. He’s a lot more mature, handles his business the right way. He’ll be a starter. Other guys will play, but he deserves to be a starter.”
One of the first people Boyd called with the good news was his brother, Shane, a former Wildcat quarterback who had to wait until his senior season to start as well. Shane was stuck behind Jared Lorenzen but waited his turn, only to suffer a shoulder injury early in the season which dramatically curtailed his ability to scramble.
Aaron learned about patience from his brother. “You can’t focus on the outside,” Aaron said. “All that really matters is my teammates and my coaches, and what we have inside. I try to keep positive people in my life. My brother’s been one of them.”
And now he’s a starter for a new no-huddle, up-tempo offense. It could pay dividends for a newly-dedicated wide receiver who isn’t necessarily blessed with explosive speed and quickness, but has the size and hands it takes to make catches in traffic.
“I’m just excited for the opportunity I’ve been given,” he said. “I’m trying my best to keep it going.”
Dick Gabriel is in his 24th year with the UK TV and Radio network, and can be heard each Monday-Friday at 6 p.m. on The Big Blue Insider, on 630 WLAP-AM.