Wednesday, April 2, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Devonte Boyd was looking forward to seeing a familiar face.
Boyd, then about to start his senior season at Basic High, had already lived away from his family in the New Orleans area for a few years. He and his uncle were doing well, with Boyd’s performance at receiver getting him noticed and his grades in the classroom sufficient to let him keep chasing his dream.
Still, it was going to be nice to see a friend from back home. Boyd’s birthday is Oct. 5, and on that day in the 2012 season, Basic opened conference play at home against Eldorado. The plan was for Boyd’s childhood friend, Martin Harry, to come out for the game, watch the Wolves cruise to victory and then celebrate Boyd’s birthday.
“He never made it,” said Boyd, now a freshman at UNLV.
On Aug. 12, 2012, Harry and his older brother, Delanta McCall, were gunned down in Marrero, La. The shooters were in the car next to them, and this wasn’t a case of mistaken identity.
A story about the indictment for the two shooters stated that Harry and McCall had automatic weapons on them when they were killed. They were in trouble, and they knew it.
Those details didn’t soften the blow for Boyd, who felt like he got shot halfway across the country. It’s a pain he can still feel, and it put Boyd’s own troubles into perspective as he attempted to get into UNLV.
“Anything can happen at any possible time. If you love someone, tell them you love them every day,” Boyd said. “You never know when they might leave.”
Boyd is a talented receiver with room for his 175-pound weight to catch up to his 6-foot-2 frame. If his grades and test scores were a higher, he probably would be too good for UNLV. But when it became clear Boyd wasn’t going to qualify academically in time to join a program for spring practice or maybe even the regular season, he had few options.
“UNLV always stuck by his side,” Basic coach Jeff Cahill said.
Boyd wanted to reward the Rebels for believing in him. While most of UNLV’s 2013 recruiting class enrolled and started getting on the practice field, Boyd spent his time studying to get the necessary test score to get on the field this season.
It’s a lonely and grueling process, one many players don’t survive. Stripped of their ability to get on the field, many kids lose focus and start to drift.
Boyd never saw that as an option. He had already been away from home too long and suffered too much personal loss to come up short on this. He thought about Harry, and the news that came in August 2012, and suddenly studying didn’t seem like a chore. Real life already felt so hard. What was some homework?
The NCAA officially qualified Boyd in mid-January, less than a week before spring classes resumed. He took the SAT and ACT at least half a dozen times combined to get his score high enough to qualify for Division I. The NCAA’s standard works on a sliding scale with GPA — the higher the GPA, the lower the required score, and vice versa — so he also took a couple of post-grad courses at Basic to improve grades in previous classes.
The biggest help was a tutor who met with Boyd a couple of days a week for a few hours each visit. Instead of going into the tests blind, Boyd started understanding what would be expected of him and his score improved dramatically. Cahill helped set up the tutoring once Boyd showed the initiative on his own to work through the summer and fall to become eligible.
“It was right there for him, and he wanted it,” Cahill said. “That’s why we helped him get there.”
During most days over the past year, Boyd would work out in the morning and evening. In between, he would study.
It was important to balance both because he had to fight against losing a step of his speed or an inch of his vertical while away from the game. So far on UNLV’s practice field, Rebels coach Bobby Hauck has been impressed.
“He’s been through a lot of different things to get to this point. … It’s fun to see him out here just in general,” Hauck said. “It’s also pretty fun to watch him making all those plays.”
UNLV has to take risks on players, including guys who have trouble academically. It’s part of the reason the program is expected to get bad news in June when the NCAA releases its Academic Progress Rate. The Rebels might be banned from postseason play this year.
However, it’s not like the probable penalty would dissuade UNLV from ever taking a chance on a player. The Rebels don’t have that luxury.
Instead, their future path must be better helping those players, and Boyd is a perfect place to start. They already know he has the talent.
“He’s got the ability to go up and get the ball,” Hauck said. “He has not been intimidated by the speed or physicalness of it.”
His challenge is to keep progressing as a player — Boyd spends a lot of time picking the brain of senior receiver Devante Davis, which is a good place to start — and develop as a student. Boyd has already worked harder than most to get to this point.
It won’t be easy from here, but whenever doubt creeps in, Boyd thinks of Harry, the friend he can’t get back. It doesn’t make his day-to-day life any easier, but it does make success that much more important.
“That’s going to motivate me until the day I die,” Boyd said.