By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — It looks rather imposing, with its dots and two-inch jagged vertical line that runs like a zipper down Brandon Boykin’s outer right ankle.
Sitting in front of his locker with a playbook in his lap, the Eagles’ fourth-round draft pick out of Georgia reached down and touched the scar a few days prior to the Eagles’ season-opener against the Cleveland Browns. It was a transparent moment where you can almost see his soul exhale.
He wasn’t supposed to be here, in an NFL uniform, in an NFL locker room about to step into a primary role for the Eagles as their nickel back.
Every once in a while, if Boykin needs a reminder of the arduous corridor that took him here, all he has to do is reach down and run his fingers over that mark.
It will always transport him to the time he broke his right fibula in the 2012 Senior Bowl, when for a brief span, everything he worked for, all he achieved, all the time and diligence spent on becoming one of the best collegiate defensive backs in the country seemed gone in an instant.
“Oh, it tries you, I was running down on a punt [in the Senior Bowl] and one of my teammates ran into me and my leg twisted the wrong way and I really heard a snap, but I got up and walked away,” Boykin recalled. “I didn’t know whether I broke it or popped something. I know it hurt. When they took the X-rays, I immediately started crying, and my family was in there. It’s the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. I never broke anything in my life. But it definitely made me more mature just in these last six months since it happened. It taught me a lot about life and I’m here today. I felt like it happened how it was supposed to happen.”
Everything appeared as if was supposed to happen the way Boykin planned. A three-sport athlete out of Fayette County High School (Ga.), Boykin was as much a star in basketball as he was in football. The talented point guard got a handful of Division I looks, but the interest from larger schools came in football, so naturally Boykin went in that direction.
As soon as he touched down at Georgia, Boykin took off. By his senior year, he was a Paul Hornung Award Winner, and finished as Georgia’s leader in career kickoff return yards with 2,663 (110 returns), which ranks second in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history. He was the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard plays of any kind.
He looked like a surefire first-round pick, or at the very least, a high second-round selection. Then the Senior Bowl came. He broke his fibula, had corrective surgery to repair it two weeks prior to the NFL Combine, then sat and waited, and waited, and waited … and waited for his name to be called on draft day.
Challenges come and go in a young athlete’s life. Sometimes they come before they have a chance to realize greater opportunities. Boykin had the misfortune of his adversity looking his future straight in the face: Brandon Boykin, the speedster between the hedges of Georgia who can’t be stopped.
Then this happens. He had to crutch around during the NFL Combine. They were some lonely times. That was toughest part, watching other players, guys he knew he was better than, running and jumping at the combine. He had stored his hopes for the moment when he could show NFL coaches what he could do, and instead, was forced to sit and watch.
More tears. More emotion. More frustration.
Boykin persevered. He got through it sitting by himself at home some days reading scripture, touching the passage.
“It challenged my character and my faith, my faith in God which is very important to me, when this happened; I thought ‘Why was this happening to me?’” Boykin remembered. “I didn’t think my career was over. I knew that I just had to fight and overcome. But I honestly didn’t think I’d drop in the draft. Then draft day came it tested me further.”
He watched the first and second rounds. He had friends and family over his house anxiously lingering, hoping he would get that call. On the second day, midway through the fourth round, when his name was still out there, he decided to burn off some tension taking a walk with his girlfriend.
“I was very emotional, but when I got the call, Coach [Andy] Reid, [Eagles’ secondary coach] Todd [Bowles], [Eagles’ defensive coordinator] Juan [Castillo], [Eagles’ general manager] Howie [Roseman], they all called, I pretty much talked to everybody and I was relieved,” Boykin said. “I was excited.”
But the drop was enough for Boykin to make a list of the cornerbacks taken before him in the draft, with his name at the bottom in bold. His girlfriend made it for him. The list now sits behind a glass frame hung on his wall in his modest South Philadelphia home.
“That’s motivation for me every day,” said Boykin, who’s six credits shy of attaining his journalism degree. “I look at that list every day, and I look down at the scar on my leg. It reminds me of the struggle that I went through and the lessons I had to learn at the most pivotal part of my life, and I how I overcame it already.”
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.