SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Be it on the field or in the classroom, Notre Dame teammates Miles Boykin and Julian Love can’t seem to put aside their competition.
Boykin, a senior wide receiver and the game MVP last January in Notre Dame’s 21-17 win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl, can’t wait to catch touchdown passes over Love in practice or out-design his rival in ceramics class each Friday.
Love, a junior cornerback and a preseason all-American on many lists, reaps his revenge by breaking up practice passes targeted for Boykin or having classmates favor his pottery pieces over his teammate’s.
Together, they’re making each other better in both play and clay.
“When an offensive player and defensive player are both competing at that level, and both are going to get some wins out of it,” coach Brian Kelly said of the fierce practice rivalry, “I sleep pretty good with that.”
Boykin was a relatively untapped commodity at wide receiver most of last season and throughout his Irish career until his breakout in the bowl game. Now, he’s become the voice of the receiving corps, a talented bunch based on recruiting rankings and coaching assessments but an unproven group nonetheless.
With the early departure of Equanimeous St. Brown to the NFL and the dismissal of Kevin Stepherson for legal problems after last season, Notre Dame prematurely lost two of its top three receivers, thrusting Boykin and junior teammate Chase Claypool into starting roles. Both say they are up to the challenge.
“It is going to be really nice to have a versatility on the outside,” Claypool said. “Something that maybe Notre Dame has never had before, with two receivers.”
And as an added luxury for Brandon Wimbush, the senior quarterback won’t have any problems finding his two primary targets. Listed at 6-4 and about 230 pounds apiece, Boykin and Claypool make up one of the biggest receiving tandems in college football.
In fact, according to depth charts posted on the 12 Irish opponent websites, the pair will hold at least a 3-inch height advantage over all but four starting cornerbacks they will face this season.
“Us big receivers can do it all,” said Claypool, taking some umbrage to having his size often talked about more than his skill. “We’re not limited to just a couple things on the field and I want to show that. It’ll be scary for DBs (defensive backs). I think it’s going to be a problem for defenses.”
Claypool was second in receptions last season on a run-reliant offense with 29 catches, which went for 402 yards and two touchdowns. Boykin was seventh on the team with 12 catches for 253 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by his New Year’s Day performance when he hit LSU for 103 yards on three catches, including a nifty, one-handed 55-yard circus grab for the game-winning touchdown.
The Irish coaching staff says Boykin hasn’t stopped trending upward since that catch.
“Miles is obviously what we hoped he’d become, and that is a big-play receiver,” Kelly said, “a guy that has great radius, is physical, and a guy that we can count on and have trust in.”
Which is good news because beyond Boykin and Claypool, the other returning wide receivers combined for just 10 catches last season.
Senior Chris Finke, a former walk-on (16 career catches), is expected to start in the slot, with sophomore Michael Young (four career catches) and a group of highly touted freshmen, including 6-2 Kevin Austin and 5-11 Lawrence Keys, expected to provide depth and insurance.
In the meantime, for the duration of training camp, expect Boykin and Love to continue their competition in all things sports and ceramics.
“I knew what he had and I want him to show it, except I don’t want him to show it against me,” Love said of Boykin’s ascent. “He’s making these great plays and I get so frustrated. But we’re making each other better.”