How TCU’s Boykin went from afterthought to Heisman contender

Could TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin win the Heisman this season?

Tony Gutierrez/AP

FORT WORTH, Texas – Trevone Boykin never wanted to be anything but a quarterback.

Pop Warner. Junior high. High school. The inclination was ever-rigid.

All that time, Boykin was quick enough and fast enough to play receiver or running back or defensive back and was quick to let childhood friends and teammates like Gary Owens know it. In between trash talk about how his hands were better, he’d prove it by running routes and catching balls after practice.

No matter how many balls he caught, his aim to throw them never wavered.

When the topic of a position change arose in conversations with college coaches, Boykin tended to tune out.

TCU and UTEP were the only schools who believed he could be a quarterback, so Boykin hopped on Interstate 30 in Mesquite, Texas and signed up for four years as a Frog, making a move 40 miles west.

Boykin earned a reputation for a smile permanently tattooed on his face in high school and that didn’t change when, as a redshirt freshman, coach Gary Patterson asked his backup quarterback to get in line for some work at running back. It wasn’t a full position change, but it wasn’t a good sign for his future as a passer.  

"Whatever the coaches wanted him to do, he would do," Boykin’s high school coach, Gary Overton, told FOX Sports Southwest.

Boykin stayed quiet and went to work, still bent on a return to quarterback.

Less than a week later, Casey Pachall was arrested for driving while intoxicated. News broke on Oct. 4, 2012, a Thursday morning. That Saturday afternoon Boykin threw three interceptions and Iowa State rolled over TCU in Fort Worth by two touchdowns. He rebounded the next week with four touchdowns in a 28-point rout of Baylor, but the Frogs lost five of their final seven games and Boykin threw just nine touchdowns and seven interceptions in that span.

Pachall returned to the team that spring, which meant a return to backup quarterback for Boykin. That changed when Pachall broke a bone in his arm in the season’s second game.

Boykin had split his time in the offseason working at receiver and quarterback. It showed. In four Big 12 starts, Boykin threw one touchdown (against Kansas, it should be noted) and seven interceptions.

"I’d text him and say keep your head up," Overton said. "I never got into the details. He didn’t really want to."

Pachall returned in November and easily pushed Boykin back to receiver. After Boykin’s lackluster performance in October, the move looked permanent. TCU signed two quarterbacks in its 2014 recruiting class and welcomed Johnny Football’s backup at Texas A&M, Matt Joeckel, to the team shortly after spring practice ended.

"I don’t think he ever thought about not sticking it out," Patterson said.

Nobody would have blamed him if he’d left.

Baker Mayfield left Texas Tech for Oklahoma. Daniel Sams left Kansas State for McNeese State so he could play immediately. Michael Brewer graduated from Texas Tech and used his immediate eligibility ticket to play for Virginia Tech.

A year earlier, Wes Lunt left Oklahoma State for Illinois.

Boykin could have joined them. When 2013 ended, he was one of the most consistent members of an inconsistent group of receivers, catching 21 passes in the season’s final four games. At the very least, Boykin’s position switch silenced talk of his inaccuracy and poor decision-making as a passer.

The Frogs won just one of their final six games, stumbling to a 4-8 season.

If he wanted to be a quarterback, TCU wasn’t the place he could do it.

"For two years people have been telling him he can’t play quarterback and we’d never win," TCU coach Gary Patterson said. "He’s like anybody else I know with fire in him. They’re going to try to prove people wrong."

Boykin stuck around to fix it and dug into learning a brand-new offense from new coordinators Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie, who Patterson hired after the season.

His work at quarterback in the spring looked like a waste. Quarterbacks like Joeckel, with a degree in hand and one year of eligibility left, don’t transfer to sit on the bench.

The writing was on the wall. Boykin ignored it.

"He just loves the game. It’s fun to him," Overton said. "It translated into his play as a high school player and now as a college player."

Meacham and Cumbie’s new offense sounded like tons of fun to Boykin. Throwing the ball 40 times a game? Being in charge of an uptempo attack? Having the freedom to freelance on the run?

Boykin shocked everyone and held off Joeckel to retain the job in fall camp. Patterson wouldn’t even commit to naming a starter before TCU began 2014.

It’s been a perfect marriage since he made the commitment to Boykin.

Boykin threw for 320 yards–12 short of his career high–in TCU’s season opener and has topped 280 yards in six of eight outings this season. He’s thrown 22 touchdowns to just four interceptions.

"When we watched Vince Young and those big-name players when we were in high school, I thougt he was that kind of guy, if not more," said Owen, now a receiver at Indiana State. "It’s amazing to see what he’s doing now."

He topped 400 yards twice, including a 433-yard, seven-touchdown day in an 82-27 route of Texas Tech that’s thrust him into the thick of the Heisman Trophy discussion, something that seemed unthinkable as soon as a month ago.

"We always knew that was in Trevone. I’ve seen it for three years," cornerback Kevin White said. "It was only a matter of time of what we’ve seen in practice show up in games. He’s getting recognition he deserves."

TCU coach Gary Patterson said this week as the recognition has rolled in, he’s asked too much of his star quarterback when it came to media appearances. TCU declined multiple interview requests for Boykin from Fox Sports Southwest for this story.

"I think he’s the best player in the country," Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said. It’s night and day compared to last season."

In the process, Boykin has seized hold of a new status as the team’s unquestioned leader. After completing just 12-of-30 passes for 166 yards last week against West Virginia–by far his worst outing of the season–he apologized to the team in the locker room for his performance.

Before Jaden Oberkrom’s game-winning field goal, Boykin pulled him to the side and reminded him the team would love him whether the ball split the yellow uprights or not. Of course, maybe it loved him a little more after it did.

Before games, he’s made a point to make a brief stop at every teammate’s locker to pound a fist and offer a word or two of encouragement.

"He’s friends with everybody, and I don’t know if you could say that about a lot of teams," White said.

Saturday, Boykin will face No. 7 Kansas State in the biggest game of his career on a primetime stage. He could announce himself as more than just a Heisman contender and put TCU over its biggest remaining hurdle in a season it hopes ends with a bid in the College Football Playoff. Win Saturday and only Kansas, Texas and Iowa State stand between the Frogs and a likely spot in the game’s final four.

"This will be the game that he’ll be judged on," Patterson said. "That’s just the way it is. Quarterbacks get judged in the biggest games they can possibly play in. …You’ve got to get to where you get there and you do it. If there was ever a week for him to do it, it would be this one."