Just eight games into his freshman season at Pitt, Tyler Boyd is being compared to Larry Fitzgerald, the greatest Pitt receiver of all. His is a wonderful success story about a local kid from Clairton who is so talented and such a hard worker that he quickly has established himself as one of the best receivers in America. He is being counted on to lead Pitt back to national prominence for the first time in more than three decades.
Just as fascinating is the man behind much of Boyd’s success.
A Penn State man.
Think about that for a moment.
Bobby Engram had a fabulous career as a receiver at Penn State and played 14 seasons in the NFL. But his most amazing accomplishment might be getting in the door to Pitt’s South Side headquarters as the team’s receivers coach.
A Penn State man!
“Yeah, I hear it from both sides,” Engram said, grinning.
Let your imagination run wild.
“Life has a way of taking you on some interesting twists and turns,” Engram said.
Talk to Boyd for even a few minutes and you soon will learn he wouldn’t care if Engram were from Jupiter. He said Engram is one of the main reasons he picked Pitt over bigger, better, more powerful football schools, including Notre Dame, Pitt’s opponent Saturday night at Heinz Field. He said he is thankful to have Engram as his position coach.
“He’s a family member to me,” Boyd said after practice Tuesday before running off to his 6 p.m. Civil Rights class. “Whatever I need, he’s there for me. He wants me to be great. He keeps me on the right path. He keeps me level.”
Talk to Engram for a few minutes and you’ll understand why Boyd feels that way. He’s still new in the coaching business but has a real knack for it. Pitt coach Paul Chryst made a wise decision by not holding Engram’s choice of colleges against him when he hired him before the 2012 season.
“Kenny Jackson was my position coach at Penn State,” Engram said. “I lost my dad when I was there and had two tumultuous years there. I’m not sure I’d have made it in football if he hadn’t been there for me.
“I’ve never forgotten what he meant to me. That’s the kind of coach I want to be. These kids know they can call me at any time of the day or night. It’s not always football. It’s about life, too.”
Boyd has made it easy for Engram since arriving at Pitt as the most prized player of his recruiting class. “Never once around the guys did I hear him say or act like, ‘Hey, I’m Tyler Boyd,’ ” Engram said. Neither Chryst nor Engram promised Boyd early playing time, but he was in the starting lineup in the opening game against Florida State. He made a nice first impression in an otherwise forgettable 41-13 loss with two catches for 26 yards and three runs for 54 yards.
“He came in and worked and he hasn’t stopped working,” Engram said. “The thing I’m most pleased about is the way he’s been able to sustain it. The first couple of games, no one knew him. Run a couple of jet sweeps with him and throw him a couple of passes. But everyone knows him now. He’s really kept at it. He gets better and better every week.”
Boyd had six catches for 134 yards and a touchdown the next week against New Mexico. He had three touchdown catches against Duke. He had 11 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown Saturday against Georgia Tech. It was his fourth 100-yard receiving game, matching Fitzgerald’s Pitt season record for a freshman.
It seems hard to believe now that Boyd said he was “real nervous and kind of scared a little bit” when he first arrived at Pitt.
“I didn’t know what to expect. But I was lucky to have coach Engram and [senior wide receiver] Devin Street there for me. They taught me what the college game is all about.”
Boyd’s skill took over.
“His hand-eye coordination is unbelievable and he’s ultra-competitive,” Engram said. “But the thing that amazes me is his composure. I played as a true freshman. I know how difficult that is. We’ve asked a lot of him, and he keeps responding.”
If Engram is right, Boyd’s work ethic will carry him a lot further. He won’t put Boyd in Fitzgerald’s class yet but frequently brings up Fitzgerald’s name to him. He constantly reminds Boyd that Fitzgerald didn’t become so great by accident. He called Fitzgerald the hardest worker he has ever been around.
“Tyler’s got so much room for improvement, but the good thing is he’s willing to work for it,” Engram said. “He did a couple of little things wrong Saturday or he could have had 15 or 16 catches. He knows it. When he makes a mistake, it bothers him. I can see it in the film room. It physically bothers him. For a coach, that’s so cool. He sees something and he processes it. You correct his mistakes, and he gets it. You don’t have to do it over and over again with him …
“He wants to do something special here. He wants to re-establish the winning tradition at Pitt.”
Boyd can go a long way toward doing that with a big game against Notre Dame. It’s a game that Pitt needs to win in front of a rare sellout crowd. Too often since the Dan Marino days of the early 1980s, Pitt has lost that kind of game.
“I like to think I can have a huge impact here and do the same things I did in high school,” Boyd said.
Notre Dame recruited Boyd early, but he wasn’t ready to make a commitment. “Then I checked back with them to see where I stood and they told me they already had their wide receivers and that they didn’t need me.”
Boyd didn’t say anything more, but his smile at that moment said plenty.
See you Saturday night!
Ron Cook: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ron Cook can be heard on the “Vinnie and Cook” show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.