The 2007 Virginia Tech football roster had a number of weapons who could make plays on the outside. Eddie Royal, Justin Harper, Josh Morgan and Josh Hyman all made big catches throughout their careers.
The only issue? They all graduated following that year, leaving a huge void at the wide receiver position heading into the 2008 season.
It opened the door for a lightly recruited kid from Matthews, North Carolina to earn an offer his senior year of high school and make his way to Blacksburg. Little did the Virginia Tech coaching staff know that a childhood friendship with Eddie Whitley would allow them to land Jarrett Boykin, the Hokies’ eventual all-time leader in receptions and receiving yards at the end of his career.
“Eddie Whitley, we played little league football together, high school football together, obviously collegiate football together,” Boykin said. “We were in each other’s back pockets and held hand in hand. In the NFL and even to this day, we’re the best of friends. He got an offer and he committed there, so I went up there for a visit. Virginia Tech was playing Florida State. Just the atmosphere, it was ridiculous.
“The opportunity for me to come in as a first-year just made sense. The commute wasn’t that far from home. It was like two hours and 30 minutes, so my family could still go up there. Just fell in love with it, and it was one of the best decisions I ever made.”
Boykin landed in Blacksburg alongside fellow freshmen wide receivers Danny Coale and Dyrell Roberts. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing from the start. In fact, with a trio of freshmen thrust into starting roles, Virginia Tech wide receivers didn’t catch a touchdown pass through the first 10 games of the 2008 season.
It was discouraging for Boykin in that freshman season to not make an immediate impact. He sat down with team chaplain Johnny Shelton and had a heart-to-heart, looking for some emotional and spiritual guidance. A week later, Boykin burst onto the scene, finally hitting pay dirt on a 19-yard reception through the air from Sean Glennon in a 14-3 win vs. Duke.
“It’s just ironic that the play we scored on was called ‘Devil’. It went hand in hand with that aspect of it and me speaking with Johnny the chaplain,” Boykin said. “I just thought it was a crazy connection right there. That might not be one of the most exciting plays, but for me to score my first collegiate touchdown that week after that with the name of that play, I just thought that was very interesting.”
With the ups and downs of that freshman season behind him, Boykin steadied himself as a consistent performer over his final three seasons in the maroon and orange. During his sophomore year in 2009, the 6-foot-2 wide receiver hauled in 40 catches for 835 yards and five touchdowns, nearly doubling his production from the year before. Boykin also had four games of over 100 receiving yards, including a 164-yard performance against NC State, which was then the sixth-most reception yards in a single game in program history.
Still, the Hokies missed out on an ACC Championship and an Orange Bowl appearance, leaving Tyrod Taylor and Co. with unfinished business heading into his senior year. The only problem was that the 2010 season was filled with a disastrous start.
“Boise State was a heartbreaker,” Boykin said. “I think we laid it all out on the line. Every single last one of us. Going into that next week, you kind of felt that mood.”
That state carried into the following week where the Hokies were upset by JMU, 21-16. However, after an 0-2 start to the year, Tech turned its season around, reeling off 11 straight wins, culminating in a 44-33 win over Florida State in the ACC Championship Game.
“Coach Beamer went up there and uplifted the team,” Boykin said. “He let us know, ‘Hey, you have to turn it around and turn it around fast,’ which for us to get where we wanted to go, we had to. I remember visibly a couple players went up there, Roc Carmichael and Tyrod Taylor. Just the leaders of that group at the time, the older guys. We just went out there every day and ripped off 11 straight. We ripped those wins off after that and salvaged the season.”
After another stellar season in 2011, Boykin concluded his Virginia Tech career alongside Coale and Roberts, the two players he arrived with in Blacksburg. Over those four years, the big-bodied receiver on the outside tallied 184 receptions for 2,884 yards, both Virginia Tech records at the time that were eventually broken by Cam Phillips and Isaiah Ford.
“If records were to be broken, then they’ll be broken,” Boykin said. “For that to happen, it means you have to be doing what you have to do. I’m glad all that stuff happened. I’m OK with where I’m cemented in history at VT. I remember when we played ECU and I broke the record, but it wouldn’t have mattered had we lost. None of that stuff matters because it’s about the overall success of the team.
“I appreciate [Bryan] Stinespring and [Kevin] Sherman and those guys for giving me those opportunities. Isaiah Ford and Cam Phillips are great wide receivers and they deserve everything that has come their way. I’m proud of those guys. I honestly believe that if you go in there and work every day and you put in what you have to do, things like that will happen for you.”
Boykin’s propensity to make contested catches with his massive hands and control his body landed him a spot in the NFL as an undrafted free agent. He didn’t just find a destination anywhere, however: he joined Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
“Going into it as a rookie, it’s like you have to get the star-studdedness stuff out of you real fast,” Boykin said. “You go in there with the big eyes like ‘this is him’. I’ve seen these guys on TV, but now it’s time to strap it up and prove that you belong. I remember in conversations like, ‘OK, let’s get you going. Let’s prove that you belong.’”
It took some time, but eventually Boykin got the chance to prove exactly that. After playing sparingly in 2012, Boykin got his moment in the sun during the 2013 season. The release of Greg Jennings and injuries in the wide receiver room allowed Boykin to show Rodgers that he could become one of the guys.
“You have to gain that trust factor,” Boykin said. “Once you gain that trust factor with a guy like Aaron Rodgers, you get opportunities to get out there on the field. That was one thing about me. I just tried to do anything and everything that I could to prove that I wanted it just as bad as those guys and we were both chasing the same thing.
“Getting out there with a guy like Aaron Rodgers, you expect perfection. You should want it, and you shouldn’t expect anything less than that because it’s big-time ball at that point. You want to go out there, excel and compete at a high level every snap.”
Boykin played in 16 games that season and started eight of them, compiling 49 catches for 681 yards and three touchdowns. There’s one moment that everyone still recalls from his time in Green Bay. Words fail to describe this zany play, so just watch the video.
“That was to get us into the playoffs. That was a must-win game,” Boykin said. “Just being preached on as a kid, ‘Don’t stop until the whistle blows, don’t stop until the whistle blows.’ You never know because you could get a cheap one like I got right there. Just carrying the ball and no one said anything. You can’t hear the sideline. A-Rod pointed and the refs didn’t blow the whistle, so I took it into the end zone and let them figure out from there. It ended up being a touchdown and that was a great swing in that game.”
After playing mainly on special teams during the 2014 season, Boykin effectively saw his NFL career come to an end. He bounced around several training camps, but never appeared in a game again after 2014.
When Boykin officially retired from the game, he set aside some time to relax and took a little bit of a mental break. It wasn’t long before he developed the itch to return to the sport he loves. He began helping out at his old high school before he reconnected with Edgar Bennett, his wide receiver coach with the Packers who brought him on as an intern with the Oakland Raiders. Afterwards, Boykin returned to North Carolina as a volunteer assistant at UNC-Charlotte.
Those connections eventually led to Boykin becoming the wide receiver coach at Wingate University in 2020, the position he still holds today.
“Just understanding and realizing that it’s for me,” Boykin said. “I love the relationship building of it. I love helping younger guys and showing them what worked and what may not have worked for me and seeing how I can make it better for these guys down the road.”
In his first season at Wingate, the Bulldogs played just four games in a COVID-shortened season. Still, he sees progress and knows the expectations that are there for his room going into the fall this year. He’ll continue to implement different perspectives from the game of football that he learned over his years at Virginia Tech and around one of the brightest NFL minds in Rodgers.
“It’s diving deeper and analyzing certain defenses, certain coverages, what you’re getting in certain scenarios,” Boykin said. “Just film study. What do you think they’re going to bring in third-and-short or third-and-medium? Those types of things, once you’re one step ahead of the game like chess pieces, then you can counter punch with what you think is going to happen. Once you start realizing that stuff outside of just running routes, now the game slows down for you and you can find soft zones and soft spots and turn a catch into a big play.”
Most friends Boykin keeps up with today are coaches. Eddie Whitley is at JMU and Dyrell Roberts is at Western Illinois. They’ll chop it up and talk about schemes, but more than anything, it’s the same fuel that drives all of them.
“I’m always a competitor in anything I do,” Boykin said. “I want to live a life worth living. For me, I’m at the point in my life where I just want to grab people and bring them along the way. See how far I can take them, not only in the game of football, but off the field as a role model.
“I want to be someone they can count on to call up years and years down the road just like I have with some coaches to this day. I just know that that’s for me. Outside of that, it’s just the love of the game. That passion and that zeal is still there, and I don’t think it will ever end.”
Boykin is staying humble every step of the way. It’s the same way he carried himself at Virginia Tech and it’s the same way he’ll carry himself moving forward, wherever that may be.
“Honestly, I just want to be the best me,” Boykin said. “I tell everybody that. I just want to be the best me, be where my feet are. Whatever God has in store for me, then what is meant for me is what will happen. My main focus and my main thing is just making sure the guys I have in my room get better every single day and we’re taking steps. Later on down the road, whatever doors open, that’s what will happen and I’ll think about that then. It’s just being the best me and being the best coach I can be.”