Former USC football player Boyd ‘keeping options open’ as JuCo basketball star
James Boyd looks down and tugs at the ring and pinky fingers on his left hand.
He appears to be making sure everything is in place. Just a few nights prior, they weren’t. The fingers are now taped together after having dislocated one of them. A small thing to him, just the result of a rebounding accident.
Rebounding is his job for the El Camino College Compton Center basketball team, he says.
It’s a job that he takes seriously. A 16.6 rebounds per game-kind of serious, which has the 6-foot-5, 265-pounder leading California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) in that category.
"He really is the backbone to our team," Compton Center head coach Keith Higgins said. "He’s making us tough. To be 6-5 and average 16 rebounds, that has to be a mentality."
Boyd, who’s also leading the team with 17.2 points per game, chuckles when the stat is recited to him.
For all intents and purposes, he’s a power forward in a defensive end’s body. He’s certainly aware of his status as the nation’s leading rebounder, but the 23-year-old didn’t exactly think rebounding statistics is what he’d be making headlines for at this point in his life.
If the name sounds familiar, this may jog your memory. It was 2008 and Boyd was a rare athlete, indeed. Playing in Jordan High School in the shadows of the Jordan Downs Housing Projects in Watts, Boyd was a quarterback-sacking, touchdown throwing, four-star recruit. Simply put, just your typical two-way player who lined up at defensive end on one side of the ball and quarterback on the other.
As a senior in 2008, he threw for over 4,000 yards and 44 touchdowns — his 4,266 passing yards that season were among the top-10 yardage totals in state history.
On the defensive side of the ball, where he was an All-City lineman as a junior in 2007, he led the team with eight sacks and 10 forced fumbles as a senior.
Football was my first dream. It’s still alive. I’m just keeping my options open.
-- James Boyd
He was also All-City in basketball, averaging 23.8 points and 22.4 rebounds.
Boyd signed with USC under head coach Pete Carroll and would also join the basketball team under Tim Floyd.
His time with USC was brief but eventful. In his lone season under Carroll, he redshirted as a tight end and was also slowed by a knee injury.
Boyd moved from tight end to defensive end to quarterback — where under first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, he threw a touchdown pass in the spring game — back to defensive end for the 2010 season.
After one season under Kiffin, Boyd left the program after reported differences with the head coach.
Boyd then transferred to West Los Angeles College as a student, not participating in any sports.
From West LA, he headed to UNLV where his focus was on football.
He competed at quarterback during the spring before moving to defensive end for the 2012 season.
Boyd played in eight games, recording 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He entered the 2013 NFL Supplemental Draft and went undrafted.
That’s not the way the story was supposed to end for the player possessing a skill set his high school coach said only comes around "once every 20 years."
For Division I college recruiters, knocking down the doors of Los Angeles Jordan High School is almost as rare as the quarterback-defensive end combination itself.
Carroll sought Boyd coming out of high school. So did Steve Sarkisian, who was in his first season as head coach at the University of Washington, and others.
Boyd is not the first nor will he be the last highly touted recruit to not live up to expectations at the Division I level for one reason or another. But Boyd isn’t playing the ‘woe is me’ card nor is he blaming anyone else for his perceived shortcomings.
"My attitude was a big thing but I worked on it," he said. "(I) hate losing but it had an effect on a lot of my actions.
"(In) life you don’t have regrets. You just learn from your mistakes and learn from everything. I looked at it as a lesson, found out what my mistakes was and tried to fix it.
"I was highly recruited. Things didn’t work out. You got two options and the one thing I learned is that you always should have a backup plan — a plan B, C, in case things don’t work out."
Boyd hasn’t giving up on his gridiron dreams be it in the Arena League, Canada, or another shot at the NFL.
He looks every bit like the defensive ends you see lining up on Saturdays or Sundays, only masked in a black practice uniform with Compton Center written across the chest.
At this moment, however, basketball is his focus — it was never far behind. He’s spent the last few summers playing in the world famous Drew League, where last season, he was named Player of the Week for Week 2. Basketball is helping him stay in shape while he’s helping Compton Center enjoy success they haven’t had in recent years.
His teammates voted him a team captain at the start of the season. He finished the fall semester with a 3.0 GPA and made the Honor Roll. With Boyd in the fold, Compton Center is having its best season in five years and, with a win in the regular season finale, can clinch a playoff berth.
Barely two years removed from his time as a Division I athlete, those times are not forgotten. He admits he carries it with him every time he steps on the basketball court, knowing that others with a story similar to his gave up opting to fall back into gangs or drugs or both.
"I just really look at everything and put it on the court," he said. "I just feel all of the stuff that happened, it’s like you can let it out on a positive way on the court instead of just going out and doing drugs and all that activity.
"It’s all about finishing. Like the Drew League says ‘No Excuse, Just Produce.’ That’s it and I take that."
Added Higgins: "His story is not going to end here. He’s going to play somewhere else which is an amazing story."
Boyd is six classes away from attaining his bachelor’s degree in sociology. His NCAA clock will expire at the end of the spring semester but he can transfer to an NAIA school and has a list of suitors who’d like to bring him in to play basketball. By choosing to go that route, Boyd can complete his degree which he says is important to him.
As Compton Center works through one of its final practices leading up to the big regular season finale, Boyd is on the floor moving teammates out of the way with his 265-pound frame.
He goes up and snatches a rebound, unaffected by the pinky and ring fingers taped together on his left hand, and with the right, uncorks a pass that travels the length of the court and hits a teammate in stride for a layup. It looks natural, perhaps an homage to his days as a quarterback.
It’s also normal — an occurrence that happens quite often with Boyd on the floor as he mixes what Higgins likes the call the rare combination of competitiveness with unselfishness.
"Football was my first dream," Boyd said. "It’s still alive. I’m just keeping my options open."