How The Chips Fall: After one bowl-winning catch, Miles Boykin emerges as Notre Dame’s go-to-guy in the receiving corps
Joe Everett | Friday, November 9, 2018
Editor’s note: A version of this story appeared in the Oct. 5 edition of The Observer.
The ball was on the Notre Dame 45-yard line. There was 1:40 left in the fourth quarter. Irish down 17-14.
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long dialed up the first-down play. Then-junior wide receiver Miles Boykin split out as the lone receiver on the boundary, facing a one-on-one matchup with LSU junior cornerback Donte Jackson.
Ian Book took the snap, looked off LSU safety John Battle, and lofted a ball to Boykin’s back shoulder along the near sideline. Boykin turned his body and leapt up, snagged the ball with one hand, avoided Jackson, juked the oncoming Battle, made Jackson miss again and took off toward the end zone — scoring the winning points in Notre Dame’s thrilling 21-17 win over the Tigers and vaulting himself into Notre Dame lore.
“I was really tired, I had run two go-routes before that,” Boykin remembered. “They called the play … and I just went up there trying to make a play, and everything else kind of unfolded. It was like tunnel vision, I don’t remember actually making the play, I just remember being in the end zone celebrating with my teammates.”
For Boykin, a 6-foot-4, 228-pound wide receiver, going up and making big plays is something he has a special ability to do. However, because of his size and skill in addition to his various passions growing up in Tinley Park, whether he would choose football as a career path was always in question, much less playing football at Notre Dame.
“I’m from the Chicago area, and a lot of people there either love or hate Notre Dame, and I was definitely one of the people that hated Notre Dame, just because everybody loved them,” Boykin said. “When I was growing up I was a basketball player mostly, and I didn’t play football until I was in the fifth grade. After that, I just fell in love with it. When I got to high school, I still thought I would be playing basketball in college, but I was getting recruited for both. Sophomore year I got my first offer for football, and so I decided to just focus on football from then on.
“ … My first visit to Notre Dame was for the  BYU game — I forget how cold it was, but it was one of the coldest games they’ve ever had here — and my mom was like, ‘OK, I know you don’t want to come back here,’ and I was like, ‘No, I kinda liked it.’ I came back a couple months later, and they offered me, and then I committed that summer, but yeah — fell in love with it off of my first visit.”
Throughout his entire journey, Boykin’s family has been with him and continues to support him to this day. The senior wide receiver especially draws strength and inspiration from his older brother, George, who suffered a serious head injury while playing tight end for Providence High School in 2011. George Boykin hasn’t played a snap of football since the life-threatening hit, but continues to support Miles’ football career as the two brothers both aim to take flight in their own way.
“They mean the world to me,” Boykin said of his family. “My brother had a bad injury and couldn’t play football anymore, so he lives vicariously through me playing football. He’s still doing awesome things. He’s a pilot right now, getting his masters in aviation, but yeah he’s definitely my No. 1 fan … and one of my biggest supporters.”
While Boykin’s production has certainly taken flight as of late, for much of his Notre Dame career he was grounded — stuck in the depth chart behind other notable Irish receivers. After spending his freshman season on the scout team, Boykin caught just six passes for 81 yards his sophomore year and nine passes for 151 yards during the 2017 regular season — unable to see much significant action. However, because wide receivers Chase Claypool (shoulder injury) and Kevin Stepherson (suspension) were unavailable for the Citrus Bowl, Boykin prepared intensely for what would be a much greater role against the Tigers.
“We were practicing for the bowl game here, and we were down two receivers, and so I was obviously going to have to start, so they moved [Equanimeous St. Brown] to the field and me to the boundary,” Boykin said. “Bowl games are fun, because in the scheme of things, a bowl game’s really just for fun. But also what you have with a bowl game, which a lot of people don’t know, is a whole month dedicated to one team that you’re spending time on — just one team. We knew LSU pretty well, they knew us pretty well … I was extremely locked in — that’s what I try to carry over to my preparation now — but I knew everything LSU was going to do before they did it, I had seen all the looks and studied their personnel, so really at that point [the question was]: ‘Who’s going to win the one-on-one [matchups]?’ So that’s what I went into the game intending to do.”
Boykin indeed won the most important one-on-one matchup in his career so far, and pointed to that moment as the one where Brian Kelly and the coaching staff began to see him and rely on him as an integral part of the offense moving forward.
“Not necessarily for me, but for everyone around me [it was a turning point],” Boykin said. “Started putting a lot of confidence in me. For me, I always knew I could play this game at this level … I knew what I could do and never doubted myself. It was definitely a huge play for this program, but I’m on to better things now this season — hopefully it’s a national championship.”
Boykin is already on to better things and bigger stats this season, having most recently caught 11 passes for 144 yards and a touchdown against Stanford on Saturday. The senior wide receiver noted that since Stanford was daring the Irish offense to throw the ball, it was his responsibility to go make plays for his quarterback and the team.
“[Stanford] played a lot of one-on-one coverage, off-press man — and that job on the boundary, you’ve got to win your one-on-one’s,” Boykin said. “Ian was throwing some great balls and making it easy to make plays for the team. So really, as a receiver, you just kind of hope you’re put in that position and get the chance to make plays for the team, and that’s all you can ask for.”
With a 5-0 start, Boykin and the Irish are flying high, but the senior has his eyes set on the ultimate prize. When asked about the potential this team has going forward, Boykin says the Irish can go much higher.
“We’ve gotten better every single game,” Boykin said. “I don’t think we’ve hit our ceiling yet — I don’t think we’re even close. We’re still working up to that week-by-week, but if we continue to progress at this level, then I think we’re going to have something special.”