Mark Story: Kentucky football's Aaron Boyd has breakthrough performance

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 9, 2012 

  • Tennessee at Kentucky

    When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 30

    TV: ESPNU

    Records: Kentucky 2-9 (0-7 SEC); Tennessee 4-7 (1-6)

After Aaron Boyd and his four recruiting stars left Henry Clay for the University of Kentucky in 2008, people assumed there would be many a Saturday when he was the best player in Commonwealth Stadium.

When you say no to the scholarship offers from the likes of Oregon, Arkansas, Missouri and Texas A&M to play at Hometown U., it builds a certain expectation.

The younger brother of ex-UK quarterback Shane Boyd entered college expected to take the receiving baton from Keenan Burton and Steve Johnson, the star wide-outs on the 2007 Wildcats team that upset No. 1 LSU.

Then, Boyd essentially went missing.

Amid questions about his foot speed, his attitude and his dedication to his sport, Boyd spent four seasons at UK (including a redshirt year) and produced all of six catches and 51 total receiving yards. By the time practice began this summer for Boyd's fifth-year senior season, he was all but Kentucky's forgotten man.

Which is why what happened Saturday night in Commonwealth before a smallish crowd of 48,346 was at once surprising, inspiring and, yes, even wonderful.

Aaron Boyd was the best player in Commonwealth Stadium.

Boyd caught 11 passes for 100 yards and his first career touchdown to lead Kentucky (1-1) to a 47-14 victory over Kent State.

"I'm getting a chance to play now," Boyd said afterward, "and I'm trying to show what I can do."

Sure, it was against a team from the Mid-American Conference, a league far below the Southeastern Conference in the college football food chain, but so what? For at least one night, Boyd lived a football version of Josh Harrellson's senior basketball campaign — the little-used senior given an unexpected chance who makes good in a big way.

"I'm really proud of Aaron Boyd," Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips said. "Everybody we had out there tonight was proud of and rooting for Aaron Boyd."

From the get-go Saturday, Boyd was producing plays worthy of cheers. A guy with nine career catches coming into the game, he had five in the first period alone. He added three more in period two, including his first college touchdown off a 14-yard strike from the rapidly emerging Maxwell Smith.

By the time the third period was over, Boyd had more catches against Kent State (10) than he previously had as a college football player.

Why, the 6-foot-4, 214-pound senior even delivered one of the night's most punishing blocks to free teammate La'Rod King for what became an 11-yard gain.

"I was happier about that block than anything," Phillips said. "If you are a big receiver but not one who runs the 4.4, the 4.5 (40-yard dash), you've got to be physical. Aaron is now trying to be physical, doing everything we've asked."

The big question is what has changed for Boyd.

"I think he just decided, 'This is my last go, I'm going to get it together and do what I need to do,'" Phillips said.

The UK coach also said he believes new wide receivers coach Pat Washington — who signed on with the Cats after Tee Martin exited for Southern California — has had a big impact on Boyd.

Washington, formerly a longtime Tennessee aide, said he came into his first Kentucky spring practice with no preconceptions about the players he was inheriting.

That had to be good for Boyd.

"I didn't see that much at the start," Washington said of Boyd. "But the longer we went, he was consistent and stayed the course. That's eventually what I saw, was a guy who came every day and tried to do what we asked."

Washington said Kentucky's implementation of a no-huddle offense relying heavily on short passing has aided Boyd.

"He's a smart guy," Washington said. "He knows this offense, knows where the openings are, where you have to be to be open. And he's learned how to use his body, how to use leverage to get open. You don't have to be the fastest guy to play wide receiver if you know what you are doing. And Aaron does."

It will be interesting to see how Boyd fares as Kentucky faces defenses with Southeastern Conference athleticism.

Yet however that goes, he will always have the Kent State game and the Saturday night when, after sticking it out for five long years, Aaron Boyd lived up to his recruiting hype and was the best football player in Commonwealth Stadium.

Said Boyd: "This felt good, really good. And I'm not done yet. I want more."

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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