ATHENS, Ga. — For a superstar wide receiver, A.J. Green is about as affable as they come. Any inquiry as to the ability of a teammate is invariably returned with a confident appraisal of that player’s immense skill or, at the very least, significant potential.
On the basketball court, however, Green doesn’t just hand out the compliments to anyone who shows up in a pair of sneakers. He takes his regular pick-up games at Georgia’s Ramsey Center seriously, and it takes a lot to impress him.
So it should probably be regarded as a true badge of honor for Brandon Boykin that Green offers immense praise for his work in both sports.
“You ought to see him on the basketball court just going up and dunking on people,” Green said. “It’s amazing how someone his size can get up so high.”
Boykin’s exploits aren’t limited to the hardwood.
This spring, the rising sophomore turned plenty of heads in his quest to land the starting job at short corner. From his quick feet to his natural instincts to that unmistakable leaping ability, Boykin has made a habit of making plays.
At 5-foot-10, Boykin isn’t drastically overwhelmed by many wide receivers, but his height hardly tells the whole story.
Toward the end of spring practice, each player tested his vertical leap. Boykin jumped 42 inches — easily the top mark on the team. Days later, Green recited the statistic from memory. It was hard to forget.
“He’s just got the athletic ability to go up and deflect the ball,” Green said. “He high points the ball very well.”
Quarterback Joe Cox got a firsthand taste of Boykin’s abnormal leaping ability during a spring scrimmage.
On one play, Cox had plenty of time in the pocket and found Tavarres King — a 6-foot-1 receiver — streaking down the sideline with Boykin in tow.
Cox lofted a deep fade to his receiver, secure in the knowledge that he’d placed the football where only King could grab it.
He was wrong.
“It looked like Boykin was seven feet off the ground,” Cox said.
Boykin hasn’t limited his tormenting of passers to Cox, but as the veteran leader among a group of inexperienced quarterbacks, he knew enough to realize this wasn’t a typical offseason phenomenon. Boykin was the real thing.
“He’s definitely one of those freak athletes who is super strong, fast, can jump, everything,” Cox said. “He’s going to be a big-time playmaker in the secondary.”
Boykin earned plenty of raves for his practice performances last season, but he didn’t have many chances to show his skills on Saturdays.
Boykin appeared in all 13 games in 2008 as a true freshman, but he played sparingly, mostly in nickel packages or as the occasional substitute for two-year starter Asher Allen.
Allen was widely recognized as one of the best. His physical style and willingness to hit made him an ideal short corner — and an ideal mentor for Boykin, who modeled his game after the man ahead of him on the depth chart.
When Allen announced he was leaving Georgia in January to enter the NFL draft a year early, an opportunity presented itself. Boykin was the obvious candidate to step in, and his goal was to ensure the secondary wouldn’t miss a beat during the transition.
“The short corner is a person that has to be real physical, be in on the plays, and Asher played it how it was supposed to be played,” Boykin said. “So I’m trying to come in and make plays like Asher did, get in on all the tackles like he did, and I feel like I’m stepping into the position. But I’ve still got a lot to learn.”
For all his skills, Boykin is still raw. His reps at nickelback helped him learn the defense and grow more accustomed to the speed of the game in the SEC, but Boykin admits he’s a work in progress.
While many players with his athletic ability may be inclined to rest on their natural skills, defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said Boykin has worked as hard as anyone in camp to improve this spring.
“He makes mistakes, and that’s understandable because he’s a young player,” Martinez said. “But he cares about it, he wants to correct it quickly, and he’s going to work at it.”
Boykin said he doesn’t always know exactly where he’s supposed to be or what he’s supposed to do on every play, but he knows where the football is, and he arrives at that destination quickly.
At this point, he’s less a true cornerback and more a natural playmaker.
“It’s just being hungry for the ball, trying to run every play,” Boykin said.
“The coaches always say good things happen to you if you run to the ball and I feel like I’m making good things happen to me.”