FORT WORTH – At this point, even opposing coaches are beginning to campaign for TCU’s Trevone Boykin to win the Heisman Trophy. Boykin had just performed a cartwheel, a sidearm sling, and a combination of the Lindy Hop and the cha-cha to carry his team to an 8-0 record, and West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen was still incredulous at how Boykin left his defenders laying about between the yardage markers like empty candy wrappers. “I can’t get No. 2 out of my mind making everybody on the field miss,” Holgorsen said.
Boykin does a lot of things you can’t get out of your mind, but his encounter with Holgorsen on the sideline during TCU’s 40-10 victory over West Virginia on Thursday night will stand alone as his most unlikely moment on the highlight reel. Ever seen a coach high-five the enemy quarterback? That’s what Holgorsen did, so instinctively appreciative was he of TCU’s dual threat, who accounted for four touchdowns and generated 616 yards of offense with a dodging style of play he describes as “Call what you see, attack the grass.” On one play in the third quarter, Boykin tucked the ball behind his hip and delicately slipped five different tacklers before skidding to a stop out of bounds in front of Holgorsen, who smiled and shook his head, and then raised a hand and smacked his palm.
“He’s the best player in college football,” Holgorsen said. “You can’t tackle him.”
Two weeks ago Kansas State coach Bill Snyder wrote Boykin a handwritten note after Boykin accounted for four touchdowns, two on the ground and two by air, including a 69-yard run and a 55-yard bomb, to beat his Wildcats. What’s funny about all this is that the opposing coaches are doing the campaigning that Boykin’s own coach, Gary Patterson refuses to do. “Everybody said you have to have a campaign,” Patterson said. “I have never been a big guy on that. I think a campaign is what happens in 60 minutes, that three and a half hours on the field.” The best way for Boykin to conduct a Heisman campaign, he says, is to keep his head down and play against the remaining schedule, which includes Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor.
But what’s doubly funny is that sometimes Patterson can’t bear to watch what happens on that field, because Boykin’s acrobatics unnerve him so. Take Boykin’s two-yard vault into the end zone in the first quarter against West Virginia, when he decided the best route across the goal line was a half-hurdle over a Mountaineer defender, followed by a flying somersault. “I watch a lot of Jackie Chan movies,” Boykin said.
Patterson turned his head away from the play, cringing. “Every snap, every time he takes off, I mean it’s like your girlfriend going on a blind date with someone else,” Patterson said. “You don’t know what’s gonna happen.”
When Boykin trotted back to his own sideline, Patterson still had his eyes averted. But the team physicians and trainers stared him down. “All the doctors on the sideline were like, you need to chill,” Boykin said.
Until Thursday night the clear frontrunner for the Heisman was LSU’s Leonard Fournette, with his 7.7 average per carry and violent running style that can only be stopped by gang-tackles. But with Boykin’s virtuoso all-over-the-field performance on national television against the Mountaineers, the race has opened up. What became clear is that Boykin not only has numbers but value. Simply no other player is so crucial to his team’s record. TCU is an injury-riddled outfit that starts seven freshmen on defense, and Patterson told Boykin in no uncertain terms he has to “carry” them until they mature. This is how he shoulders the load: Of TCU’s 616 yards of offense against the Mountaineers, Boykin personally accounted for 472, with 388 yards passing and another 88 on the ground.
“I mean, the stats don’t lie,” says TCU receiver John Doctson.
It’s useless to compare Boykin to other players, because he is that rare one who busts out of category time after time, and defies easy definition. He is neither the greatest runner nor pure passer but far and away the biggest winner. He was lightly recruited out of high school in Mesquite, Texas, with only one other offer, from Texas-El Paso. The Frogs tried him at receiver and running back, but he kept winning back the job of quarterback. He’s rewarded them by becoming their most prolific quarterback, surpassing even Andy Dalton, whose total offense record he just eclipsed. Since Boykin became the established full-time starter in TCU’s spread “Air Raid” offense in 2014, the Horned Frogs are 20-1.
Boykin may yet win over NFL scouts, who are split on whether he is the next Russell Wilson, or Seneca Wallace. Many predict he will need to change positions again at the next level, but Boykin says firmly “I’m a quarterback and I always have been.” Nineteen NFL scouts were present on Thursday night, more to watch Doctson, a projected first-round draft pick, rather than Boykin. But what they saw in Boykin was a guy with a right arm as fat and tensile as a boa constrictor, who could either drop the ball in gently or drive it, and who had a palpable sense of chemistry with his receivers. “I can’t really explain it, and that’s the best thing about it,” Doctson says.
For the season, Boykin is completing 66.7 percent of his passes and has 28 touchdowns to just five interceptions. “I’m pretty sure you have to be accurate to do that,” Doctson says wryly. The Horned Frogs seized a 37-10 lead over West Virginia when Boykin took a helmet in the chin yet fired a sidearm strike to a slanting Doctson for a nine-yard TD.
“How many quarterbacks do you see throw sidearm down the middle of the field?” Patterson says. “Down the middle of the field? So. I’m glad he’s on my side.”
Above all observers saw a terrific leader, an elusive shape shifter in the pocket, sometimes upright and keen, sometimes low and crouching, who came bursting out of the pack. “I mean, I hate to get hit,” Boykin says. “I hate to get hit, so I just try to stay up and make plays.” They also saw a player who is still growing, defying all predictions. For the moment it’s enough to say he is a confoundingly great collegiate thrower who can deliver the ball, and the win, in a variety of ways.
“You don’t ever know who people become,” Patterson says of Boykin. “The good ones just keep maturing. The one thing they all have is an unbelievable competitive nature, and an internal nature that takes them past what anybody else wants them to be.”