Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 8, 2018*

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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16 OCT. 8, 2018 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY TODD D. BURLAGE B y his own admission, Miles Boykin is a recovering con- trarian, in all things sports and school. A Chicagoland native, the Notre Dame senior wide receiver isn't a Cubs fan; he prefers the White Sox. He also hates the Chicago Bulls, loves LeBron James and rooted for the rival Cleveland Cavaliers. He's not a fan of air travel, yet his brother is a professional pilot. And, predictably, growing up sur- rounded by thousands of subway and actual Notre Dame alumni, Boykin loathed Irish football growing up, and openly rooted for Alabama in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game. "I just hated them because every- body was always talking about them," Boykin said with a laugh, admitting he felt that there was no chance he'd ever end up at Notre Dame. His mother, Felicia, thought Michi- gan State was a lock to land her son. Miles' prep coach, Mark Cogli- anese, at Providence Catholic High School just west of the Windy City, believed Missouri was the best fit. And Miles' older brother, George, figured Michigan or Florida would reel little brother in. But staying true to contradictory form, Miles surprised everybody and decided on Notre Dame, mainly be- cause of love at first sight and the re- cruiting persistence of then-Irish of- fensive coordinator Mike Denbrock. "If you don't like it, fine," Boykin recalls Denbrock telling him, "but at least we tried." Denbrock's plan held. Accompanied by his mother and his high school quarterback, Justin Hunniford, Boykin made a trip to Notre Dame for the BYU game on a frigid day in November 2013. "That one visit pretty much changed everything that I thought about the place," Boykin recalled. He visited Notre Dame again the following March and one more time in June. Ironically, it was a follow-up trip to East Lansing, Mich., that sealed it. "I took that visit to Michigan State to prove to myself that Notre Dame was the place for me," Boykin said. "That's exactly what happened." BROTHERLY LOVE Interested in much more than just football, both George and Miles wanted to squeeze every ounce out of their college years. George studied aviation at nearby Lewis University just north of Chi- cago. Miles is set to earn his market- ing degree, and at one point had a color-changing piece he created in a wood sculpture class displayed in the Notre Dame Snite Museum of Art. But one tragic event changed ev- erything for these two. A gifted storyteller, Miles Boykin described the fear he felt after his brother's football career came to an abrupt end when George suffered a serious head injury during his junior year at Providence Catholic in 2011. "It was scary," said Miles, who speaks with a deep and rich voice that is often compared to that of James Earl Jones. "No one ever thinks they are going to get hurt playing football, at least head-injury wise." Slowly, George overcame his cere- bral setback and the slipping grades that were caused from it, but he was never cleared to play football again. So prior to the 2012 high school season, George gifted the 81 jersey number to his younger brother, a ges- ture Miles still uses for motivation. "Ever since then I've worn 81," Miles said. "I'm never going to change it." IN THE TRENCHES Boykin arrived as a consensus four- star recruit and one of the best high school wide receivers in the country, finishing his senior season at Provi- dence Catholic with 65 receptions for 1,035 yards and 19 touchdowns en route to Illinois Player of the Year honors from several media outlets. He was expected to make an im- mediate impact at Notre Dame. But two years into his career — which included a redshirt season — Boykin had managed only six receptions for 81 yards with one lonely touchdown. "I had to look inside myself and real- ize that I could do better," Boykin said. Of course, playing behind future NFL receivers Will Fuller and Equa- nimeous St. Brown in 2016 and then on the best rushing team in Notre Dame history last season would stunt most anyone's production. But Boykin's progression and im- provement last season was evident, highlighted by a signature career mo- ment with a one-handed, game-win- ning circus catch in the Citrus Bowl to seal a 21-17 victory over LSU. "[But] I didn't come to Notre Dame to win the Citrus Bowl," Boykin ex- plained afterward. "I came here to win a national championship." Boykin hasn't stopped improving since his breakout game, and the ex- pectations have risen correspondingly. "We've heaped a lot on Miles this year," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. "And I think the amount of scru- tiny has put him in a position where he feels like he needs to be perfect, and that's not what we're after." And Boykin's progression, at least in part, is fueled by the stiff practice com- petition between him and All-Ameri- can junior cornerback Julian Love. Boykin gets his satisfaction catch- ing TD passes over Love or out-de- signing his Chicagoland rival in ce- ramics class. Love reaps his rewards by breaking up practice passes tar- geted for Boykin or having ceramics classmates favor his pottery pieces over his teammate's. Together, they're making each other better in both play and clay. "When an offensive player and de- fensive player are both competing at that level, both are going to get some wins out of it," Kelly explained, "I sleep pretty good with that." As well he should. "I've got a lot of confidence in Miles," he added. "He'll be fine." ✦ FINISHING STRONG Miles Boykin hasn't stopped improving since his breakout game in the Citrus Bowl Through four games this season, Boykin had nine receptions for 167 yards (18.6 yards per catch). PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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