There were 57 seconds left in the fourth quarter on September 19, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa, and the whole stadium knew where the ball was going.
Pitt had the ball on second-and-goal from the eight-yard line, trailing the Iowa Hawkeyes by seven points. Quarterback Nathan Peterman was looking for an open receiver in the back right corner of the end zone to tie the game.
He was looking for Tyler Boyd.
Peterman saw the junior wide receiver with a defender on his tail, but heaved a pass toward him anyway. Boyd curled back toward the ball, pulled it in and secured it to his chest before the Hawkeye had a chance to make a play.
According to NCAA statistics, fewer than one in 50 college football players gets a chance to play for the pros. A Pitt standout from the beginning, Boyd is now one of those select few.
Or, in line with his personal motto, he’s all “‘bout dat.”
On April 29, the Cincinnati Bengals selected the 6-foot-1 wide receiver in the second round of the 2016 NFL draft. Fans, teammates and coaches watched with excitement over Twitter and in person as Boyd got the call at the Omni William Penn Hotel.
Although playing for Cincinnati means exchanging his Pitt uniform for a Bengals jersey this fall, it won’t be Boyd’s first time donning orange and black.
The Clairton, Pennsylvania, native’s natural athleticism didn’t go unnoticed at Clairton High School, where Boyd wore the same colors as a letterman in baseball, basketball and football. Of all those sports, his legendary track-record under the Friday night lights garnered the most recognition.
By the time the do-it-all playmaker graduated from Clairton, he’d rushed for 5,755 yards and scored 117 touchdowns. More importantly, he helped the Bears capture the PIAA Class A championship all four years with the team, playing a lead role in the team’s state record 66-game winning streak.
“I could tell from the first time I met him as an eighth grader that he had something really special,” former Clairton head football coach Tom Nola said. “He had really good vision of the field. He had that football instinct and never-lose attitude.”
After his final season wearing a number 23 Clairton jersey — with a fitting pair of Bengals gloves on his hands — Boyd was selected for the 2013 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, where he announced his decision to play football for Pitt during NBC’s live telecast.
“I’m just trying to help build my town — bring more inspiration to it,” Boyd said on the telecast about his hometown.
Clairton, which calls itself the “City of Prayer,” is an old steel-mill town located along the Monongahela River. The city of less than 10,000 residents was hit especially hard when the steel industry went bust. But like many old steel towns in the Rust Belt, Clairton’s love of sports — professional and minor — never diminished.
Playing for Pitt not only meant continuing his career close to home in the city that fostered his athletic passion, it also meant continuing to play with Clairton teammates Titus Howard and Terrish Webb.
The three were in the same class, from the same school and all three would continue playing together in a Division I program.
A Class of his Own
As a freshman, Boyd’s popularity flourished. Fast.
During the second game of the season against the New Mexico Lobos, Boyd made a 34-yard snatch in the end zone for a touchdown followed by a 33-yard score. His performance not only won over Pitt fans, but also made him ACC Receiver of the Week.
In the team’s next game against Duke, Boyd dazzled with a career-high three touchdowns, helping Pitt secure the 58-55 victory, in addition to being named ACC Rookie of the Week.
Former Pitt head coach Paul Chryst told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Boyd wanted to contribute to the team’s success as soon as he arrived on campus.
“He thinks he should impact the game,” Chryst told the Post-Gazette. “He should be the reason why we’re winning.”
In the 2013 Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl against the Bowling Green Falcons, Boyd made eight catches for 173 yards and added this astounding 54-yard punt return in a 30-27 Panthers win.
In total, in Boyd’s freshman year, he made 85 catches for 1,174 yards and eight touchdowns, beating Pitt’s freshman records for receptions and yards set by Larry Fitzgerald in 2002 — 69 catches for 1,005 yards. Boyd also set the ACC record for receptions as a freshman and was named second-team All-ACC.
During his sophomore year, Boyd became the first player in ACC history to collect over 1,000 receiving yards as both a freshman and a sophomore, ending the season with a total of 1,261 yards receiving.
On September 20, 2014, Boyd amassed 10 catches for 153 yards against the Iowa Hawkeyes, one of six 100-yard receiving games during his sophomore season. That gave him over 100 receptions for his Pitt career, tying Fitzgerald for the fewest games needed to reach the century mark at Pitt — 17 games.
Boyd earned first-team All-ACC honors for his sophomore campaign and repeated the feat last year as a junior. He spent his final season becoming Pitt’s all-time leader in both receptions with 254 and receiving yards with 3,361.
After a remarkable three-year college career, Boyd decided to forgo his senior season at Pitt and declared for the NFL draft.
The Next Level
From the beginning of January to mid-March, Boyd spent time training in Los Angeles with Sports Training and Rehabilitation Services to get in shape for the NFL scouting combine and Pitt’s Pro Day.
Boyd’s agent, Charles Wells, said that many teams reached out to talk to Boyd to see how well he would fit with their program.
“Tyler pretty much talked to every team at some point,” Wells said. “The teams that showed a lot of interest and seemed to click included Carolina, New England and New Orleans.”
In a press conference held in Cincinnati the day after joining the Bengals, Boyd mentioned that he was always an avid Steelers fan.
“I definitely rooted for the Steelers. That’s my hometown team,” Boyd said at the press conference. “But at the end of the day, I’m going to sacrifice myself for the team who picked me and who would rather have me. So I’m going to have to completely go at the Steelers and cause them all hell,” he added with a laugh.
The Steelers met with Boyd during the pre-draft process, but considering their loaded receiving corps, he didn’t get his hopes up of continuing his career in Pittsburgh.
After the 2016 NFL combine, Boyd received a grade of 5.9 out 10 from NFL.com. According to the website’s classification system, this placed him in the 5.70-5.99 grade scale titled, “Could become early NFL starter.”
The grade comes from a series of mental and physical tests, and one of Boyd’s weaknesses is his lack of breakaway speed. Boyd ran the 40-yard dash in 4.58 seconds, which is considered middle-of-the-pack for a wide receiver. However, his overall performance inferred he’d likely be drafted in the second round.
While he’s been a beacon of praise at Pitt, he’s stepping into murky territory in the NFL — which has the potential to push out college’s best players if they don’t live up to expectations.
Although the 2016 NFL draft was held in Chicago, Boyd decided that when the events unfolded, he wanted to be back home in Clairton, the same place he said he wanted to help build and inspire in 2013. So on the first night of the draft, he watched from home with friends and family.
“Tyler wasn’t disappointed [about not getting picked in the first round],” Wells said. “He trained and went about the next day normally, but he was pretty anxious.”
On Friday, April 29, the second day of the draft, Boyd and his crew gathered again — this time at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Downtown Pittsburgh. There, at about 9:30 p.m., he received a phone call from Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis, who told him the Bengals wanted him to join the team.
“I was waiting around, just waiting for that call. It didn’t matter what team picked me,” Boyd said during a press conference the next day with the Bengals. “I was going to be really happy and grateful … We’ve got about 30 people at a hotel where I am, just celebrating.”
Boyd immediately flew out to Cincinnati to tour the facility and meet the coaches. He is still there training with the team and getting ready for the start of the 2016-2017 season.
Standing with his new coach in a packed room of people right after his draft pick, Boyd said, “This is one of the happiest times in my life.”