There’s a humbling feeling that flows through your veins at the moment of padding up and preparing to play for the school of your dreams. A feeling that not many of us get to experience. Years of preparation for this moment, suiting up in the garnet and black and stepping out in front of 80,000 fans to play the game you love.
It’s immediately understood that this isn’t high school anymore. The green and gold that was bled for the past four years and the memories that coincide weigh heavy as reality begins to set in.
There’s no place like home.
The culture that you know and love is 100 miles away. Well within reach, but what would you sacrifice to go home?
On October 8th, Derek Boykins put his name in the transfer portal, electing to leave South Carolina and re-open his recruitment. It wasn't an easy decision, but as the luster that his dream school portrayed was wiped away, it was clear that this was not home.
“It felt like a dream come true,” Boykins said on committing to South Carolina out of high school.
“My favorite players and my favorite coach of all time, coach Spurrier. I thought that putting on the garnet and black was going to be the best thing for me. I felt like top priority. Like precious cargo being in the SEC. Everything was kind of catered to us. It was a lot of work, a lot of work,” said Boykins.
Just ten months after enrolling at South Carolina, the Cabarrus County native was back on the market.
Boykins accumulated 18 offers through his time at Central Cabarrus high school, headlined by the likes of Clemson, Michigan, Texas A&M, and North Carolina.
“I felt like me staying in Columbia wasn’t going to make me the man I needed to be. Football wasn’t really what I was thinking about, I just had to make a decision for my heart,” said Boykins. “I had to get up out of there and find something new. I went to NC State, talked to Tennessee, and talked to ECU, but they didn’t give me the same vibe that Charlotte did. I wasn’t really interested in the big school idea because I was already there - I already went Power 5. I toured NC State when they played Clemson and was on the field and everything. I talked to everyone on the staff but it didn’t give me the same vibe that Charlotte did.”
“He’s everything that you want in the weight room,” Boykins’ high school coach, Ken McClamrock said. “He’s everything you want in the locker room. He’s everything you want in your program. He leads. He works his butt off. He leads by example.”
Leading by example has been a point of emphasis for the Charlotte 49ers as Will Healy instills his own version of a winning culture. Going from the SEC to Conference USA and from Will Muschamp to Will Healy has highlighted contrasting coaching styles and even lifestyles for the 6’2” linebacker.
“Coach Champ, man, I love Coach Muschamp. He is real to the point. He’s a real assertive dude. Coach Healy tries to get to know you more as a person. You can feel that. You know he really cares about you by the way he talks to you. Other people have their own styles and all that, but I feel like to be a coach you really have to know your players and I feel like Coach Healy tries to do that for real.”
“It was different. Going to a meeting at South Carolina and going to a meeting at Charlotte is completely different. The energy is different, the culture is different. There’s no hoods inside and no hats in the building. You shake hands and introduce yourself to anyone that you don’t know in the room. It feels like it comes from the heart for real at Charlotte, you don’t really get that anywhere else.”
The focus on keeping local talent in the Queen City is of high importance for Will Healy and his staff. Former head coach Brad Lambert & co. failed to recruit Boykins out of high school, but a familiar face from his recruitment process ultimately brought the former three-star prospect home.
In 2018, Montario Hardesty was an offensive quality control coach at his alma mater, Tennessee. Hardesty recruited Boykins hard out of high school, and while the Vols missed out, a strong connection was established between the two. Hardesty joined the 49ers in 2019 as a wide receivers coach and was the first to reach out to Boykins upon his entrance to the transfer portal.
“When he found out I was transferring he called me and told me to come check out what they had going on at Charlotte. We already had that connection,” Boykins said about Montario. “I believe everything coach Hardesty says. He was a big reason that I came to Charlotte.”
The next step for Boykins lies in the hands of the NCAA as the status of his immediate eligibility is up in the air. The NCAA won’t provide an answer until closer to the season, but if Boykins is eligible for the 2020 he has the potential to fill a crucial void at linebacker with the departure of the program’s tackle leader, Jeff Gemmell.
Derek received high praise from Coach Muschamp following a hard-hitting showing during South Carolina’s spring game, but a concussion just weeks before the start of the 2019 season took him out of the rotation. Boykins played in one game with the Gamecocks and totaled three tackles against Charleston Southern. Following a decorated high school career, Boykins was awarded the Spark Plug Leadership award and was named a team captain for the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas.
The 49ers added a high energy workhorse to a defensive unit that will make or break this upcoming season. Finding and fitting into his new role in the Queen City isn’t a concern of Boykins’, just winning.
“Eventually I want to get to the point where I’m a leader. Where guys are looking at me for answers. Just any way I can help, being on every team, or every facet of the game. Whether it’s leading the defense or whatever my team needs I will do it. We have the pieces, the players, and the coaches. We just gotta put it to the test and strap it up. We have to play for each other. Once we start doing that, we can win C-USA for real.”
“We can get Charlotte jumping, we sure can.”