Trevone Boykin's 2014 season has been a storybook written with numbers. Big, fat, gaudy numbers: 3,714 yards passing with 30 touchdowns versus only seven interceptions, and another 642 yards rushing, eight of those carries also ending in touchdowns.
Each chapter has been punctuated by multiple visits to the "SportsCenter" Top 10, from aerial flips into the end zone to a TD celebration that started out like a dance, but ended in a handshake. Through it all, he has helped author one of the greatest seasons in TCU history, an 11-1 record, a share of a Big 12 championship, a College Football Playoff near-miss, and a New Year's Eve date with Ole Miss in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. On Saturday night he penned a fourth-place finish in the Heisman Trophy voting and thusly has already started writing his 2015 story, a season he will begin as the likely Heisman favorite.
The Boykin bestseller would be plenty remarkable enough all on its own. But this tale is a particular page-turner because of where it started. With not merely a blank sheet of paper, but a pile of wood pulp that still had to be pressed into that paper.
"Yeah, spring was ... interesting," the 23-year old junior admits. "I never had any doubt that we could pull it off. But yeah, it was a lot."
When Boykin is asked to define "a lot" he explains it as a total overhaul of TCU's offensive game plan. Then he explains that by "total overhaul" he means TOTAL OVERHAUL. Since moving to the high-powered Big 12 in 2012, Gary Patterson had come to realize that his longtime mindset of ranking defense as the program's first, second, and third priorities was no longer going to cut it. One year ago TCU ranked ninth among the conference's 10 teams in total offense and eighth in points scored. It also finished 4-8, just the second losing season of Patterson's 13 years at the helm. He needed wins and he knew the way to those victories was through yards, points and the recruits that come with all of the above.
So the self-admitted "guy can who can get pretty stuck in his ways" hired not one, but a pair of offensive coordinators, asking one-time recruiting rivals Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie to share play-designing. Coming from hyper-speed programs such as Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, they didn't merely change the oil in the Horned Frogs' offensive bus, but rather changed the entire bus into a race car.
When spring practice started that race car wasn't just up on blocks, it didn't even have a driver. Sure, Boykin had 15 career starts under center, but that was under the old system. Besides, a chunk of those starts had come as a freshman, only because he was pressed into service as starter Casey Pachall battled with substance-abuse issues. He'd also made 15 starts ... at wide receiver. And he was getting reps at running back. And oh yeah, transfer Matt Joeckel would be arriving soon from Texas A&M, a place that was already running the offense that TCU now looked to implement. It was an offense that, in the words of senior cornerback Kevin White "was pretty dang clunky-looking during spring practice" with Boykin taking snaps.
"When you start listing all that stuff, it doesn't sound good does it?" Boykin says, laughing. "But Coach Meachem and Coach Cumbie were real patient with all of us as we worked on it. I think they saw we were excited about the new offense. And I think they knew real quick that we weren't afraid of putting in the work."
For Boykin, that work only increased once spring practice was over. He devoured film. And he stopped devouring hamburgers. When two-a-day practices began in August, he reported a full 20 pounds lighter. "I worked out a lot and I gave up fast foot," he admits. "That wasn't easy."
Meachem and Cumbie saw the change in Boykin's frame as proof that he was fully committed to the new game plan. Patterson never doubted Boykin's abilities, saying that he's always "been one of the toughest quarterbacks for me to defend against." But the memories of that April clunkiness were still fresh in the minds of both coaches and teammates.
By the second scrimmage of fall, they had been erased.
"Usually our defense, we're killing it during two-a-days. We're after them," says White. "That day, they just got after us. They're scoring on one-play drives. We're looking over at Coach P and he's looking at us like, 'OK, we've got a nice little group this year.'"
That offense has been in high gear ever since. Boykin is ranked third in the nation in total offense. TCU is ranked fourth, as well as second in the nation in scoring offense. They've managed all of that despite a couple of admittedly slow showings against Minnesota early in the year and lowly Kansas down the home stretch.
"There's always work to do, but after we spent spring and summer making all the big moves, we're kind of fine-tuning things now," Boykin said. "To me, that's exciting because now we're looking at the small stuff. How to improve on routes. How to improve on throws. It's exciting to think about how much better we could get."
NFL scouts share that excitement. They compare Boykin to Russell Wilson, both on and off the field. But they're already drooling over his clear advantages over the Seattle Seahawks quarterback when it comes to speed -- he has at least one run of 11-plus yards in every game this season -- and height, standing a filled-out 6-foot-2. They like how, when finally given the opportunity, he seized leadership of the team (Says White: "Finally, you know, to see that, someone taking complete control, we don't have to worry about offense. We know he's got them. So now we can go take care of what we need to take care of.") They believe his experience at receiver has made him into a more accurate passer, understanding firsthand the dangers of letting passes trail behind pass-catchers, or forcing them to float through waist-slicing midfield zones.
They are also anxious to see how he handles what has become a December of slights, first being dropped from the College Football Playoff's top four and then not being invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
"We've got to use it as motivation," he said last week, having just lost the Davey O'Brien Award to Oregon's Marcus Mariota. "The guys will just have to pick themselves up and that starts with me, being a leader on the team. It's all fuel for work."
It's said with the tone of an author who is already hard at work on the next chapter, pen in hand.