Georgia’s Brandon Boykin may have locked up the Paul Hornung Award when he ran back a punt 92 yards for a touchdown during the Outback Bowl against Michigan State.
LOUISVILLE -- Here last week, Brandon Boykin was the featured celebrity in a galaxy of headliners as he received the Paul Hornung Award as the nation's most versatile athlete. In addition to the host, the Golden Boy himself, Brandon's coach, Mark Richt was there to pay tribute along with Mike Ditka, former coach of the Chicago Bears, and Gil Brandt, one-time vice president of the Dallas Cowboys.
Versatility has always been a Brandon Boykin hallmark, beginning with the youth leagues when he played all sports -- whatever was in season. Like a Renaissance man, he has multiple interests and usually excels at any game or activity with which he becomes attached. At this stage in his life, his goal is to not only to become a member of a National Football League team roster, but to learn, grow and prosper in the play-for-pay league.
Winning the Paul Hornung Award is based on collegiate performance, and Brandon comes to Louisville with an objective which is certainly not original but is not altogether commonplace with college athletes today. He has already begun planning his first pro offseason. While he makes no assumptions, he has confidence that he will succeed on the next level, but as he pursues a pro career, he is going to take care of some very important unfinished business -- a college degree.
"I need to complete three courses," he says. "One can be taken online and the other two I will find a way to manage until I am a college graduate. That is very important to me."
To understand Brandon, you have to know his parents, Lisa and Al Boykin of Fayetteville.
"A degree," says Lisa, "is not an option. It is expected."
It was Al who introduced Brandon to sports when he was four years old. Baseball was Brandon's first love. He didn't take up football until he was 9 years old. With his affection for baseball, Brandon resisted football initially, but once he started, the game struck his fancy intensely. Before you knew it, football was a consuming passion which he played with relentless commitment.
"I do love the game," he says.
A journalism major, Brandon has an interest in a broadcasting career. A brief conversation stimulates evidence that he is already ahead with respect to life after football. Owing to his mother's influence -- that of underscoring good eye contact and learning what to say and how to say it -- Brandon doesn't have the disease that permeates the conversation of so many athletes who beat you down with that tried "you know" phrase. His conversations are efficient, succinct, thoughtful and mature. On top of that, he has a face for TV.
As a player who brought Bulldog fans to their feet by making tackles for losses, running reverses, kickoff and punts for touchdowns, Brandon has a low key style -- walk softly, but carry a big stick. Just as he wants to make an impact on the football field, he aspires to make an impact in life, reaching out to others and finding time to support charitable causes. He enjoys being a good role model.
Boykin, the player, and his versatility have been well documented by such highlights as being the only player in Southeastern Conference history with three 100-yard plays of any type, finishing his career with four kickoff returns for touchdowns and one punt return for a touchdown. He also had a reverse for an offensive touchdown against Boise State, a tailback, a wide receiver and quarterback in Georgia's "wild-dog" offensive set -- all that while earning his keep as one of the SEC's most accomplished defensive backs.
A team player, you could see the bittersweet emotion following Georgia's loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. He was named most valuable player -- 92-yard punt return for a TD, 13-yard TD pass out of the backfield, forced safety, seven tackles (two for losses) -- but quickly noted he would relinquish that honor up for a victory in his last collegiate game.
The consummate well-rounded college man, Brandon enjoys art, likes all musical instruments and plays the keyboard.
"He was never a discipline problem," says his mother. "He stayed out of trouble and wanted to make us happy. At every holiday season, he made me a special card, and I still have some of those Mother's Day cards. Brandon is a very creative person. He likes to draw and is very good at that."
With an intellectual curiosity, Brandon, when he was told about the Hornung award, sponsored by the Louisville Sports Commission, immediately went to the Internet to learn more about the award and Paul Hornung. Brandon's father, Al, was in short pants when Hornung was playing for the Green Bay Packers, but that didn't matter to Brandon. He wanted to know about the man for whom the award is named.
"When I found out what kind of player Mr. Hornung was, I was overwhelmed," Brandon says.
As he moves on to his next station in life, Brandon takes pause to look back.
"I am already missing the campus," he says. "I miss the relationships with my friends, but am happy I had such a good experience at the University of Georgia. I have no regrets, and I am thankful to the Louisville Sports Commission and Paul Hornung for this award. I appreciate the award for what it means. This honor can only be good for my future."
Loran Smith is co-host of "The Tailgate Show" and sideline announcer for Georgia football. He is also a freelance writer and columnist.