Mark Story: It's now or never for Cats' Boyd

Receiver running out of opportunities

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistApril 15, 2011 

Aaron Boyd should hear the clock ticking.

Randall Cobb is gone. Chris Matthews is, too. A 2011 University of Kentucky football recruiting class heavy on wide receivers is not yet on campus.

Boyd will be a fourth-year junior next fall. Presently, he has one more career reception (five) in college football than he had recruiting stars (four from Rivals) coming out of high school. If the ex-Henry Clay star wideout is ever going to make a mark at UK, the current spring practice would seem to be the time he has to do it.

"It needs to happen now," Kentucky wide receivers coach Tee Martin said Wednesday. "We've got young guys coming in who are going to challenge him."

The hard, cold fact, Martin says, is those veteran receivers who don't end the spring clearly in Kentucky's plans for this fall will not get as many repetitions in pre-season practice as the incoming freshmen.

In talking to the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Boyd, it's hard to tell if the wideout appreciates the urgency of his situation.

Asked if he sees this as a make-or-break spring, a final chance to crack Kentucky's regular receiving rotation, Boyd says, "Nah. I've still got this year and next year after that. Anything could happen between now and that time."

Boyd notes that former Kentucky wide receivers such as Steve Johnson and Aaron Boone didn't hit their strides until their senior seasons. Which is true. But unlike Boyd, Johnson and Boone were junior-college transfers whose late success can be attributed to their tardy arrival in major-college football.

For the entire 2010 season, the younger brother of former Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd played in only four games and did not catch a single pass.

That's light years away from what people were predicting for Aaron Boyd as National Signing Day, 2008, approached. Back then, schools such as Oregon, Arkansas, Missouri, Texas A&M, Virginia and Louisville were all competing with UK to get Boyd's signature on a letter of intent.

After he cast his lot with the Cats in '08, Boyd said, "Kentucky said I could catch 70 or 80 balls next year if I come in and work, and that's what I plan to do."

Obviously, that's not exactly how things have gone so far.

"Really, there's no choice but to be frustrated, especially when you have high expectations of yourself," Boyd said. "It's hard. A lot of people don't realize it's hard for a kid to have high confidence when things don't go as planned. It really gets you down."

The consensus opinion on what has kept Boyd from living up to his recruiting hype is a lack of foot speed. The Rivals recruiting data base lists Boyd as having run a 4.65 40-yard dash coming out of high school.

That would be on the slower side for an SEC receiver. At UK, he has not consistently run even that fast.

"He's not as fast as the other guys in that position," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said. "We all know it takes speed to play at this level."

Before breaking into college coaching, Martin worked as a "speed coach" for Nike. He says he's had clients make "dramatic" improvements in their ability to run fast. "But those kids ran stadium steps, they did box jumps, they did lunges, they put more weight on their backs and they worked at it," Martin said.

In his days aspiring to be a starting quarterback at Tennessee, Martin says he decided he needed to improve his own foot speed. So at nights, he took it upon himself to go into Neyland Stadium and run steps.

"I wanted to improve my speed. And I did," said Martin, who quarterbacked Tennessee to the 1998 national title. "That's about a person willing to commit to do extra. That's what Aaron is going to have to do. And that's something we are preaching to him."

Has Martin seen from Boyd a commitment to do the extra things it takes to get better?

"Not yet, no," Martin said. "I asked him to do some things. At first, he didn't do it. But I think he understands now. He's seeing himself improve in all other areas. ... If he can improve his speed, he can get on the field."

Cobb and his 84 receptions from last year are bound for the NFL. Matthews and his 61 catches are gone, too. The well-regarded incoming freshman receivers aren't yet in Lexington.

If it's going to happen for Boyd at UK, this spring is when he needs to make a move. Yet at this point, "Aaron's a little bit farther behind the rest of the (receivers)," Phillips said.

Aaron Boyd should hear the clock ticking.

Reach Mark Story at (859) 231-3230 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3230, or mstory@herald-leader.com. Your e-mail could appear on the blog Read Mark Story's E-mail at Kentucky.com.

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