UNLV's Boyko grows from passing to pass protection


The definition of an offensive line in progress: UNLV's football team will start at left tackle today a redshirt freshman who missed spring practice following shoulder surgery and who grew up playing 12 to a side on a 110-yard field with possessions of three downs rather than four.

Brett Boyko is 6 feet 7 inches, 305 pounds.

As a high school senior, he weighed 270.

And played quarterback.

"It has definitely been," Boyko said, "a weird journey."

The Rebels visit Washington State, where Boyko will make his second career start on the line not two years after towering under center for St. Joseph High in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Was he the biggest quarterback in Canadian prep football?

"Oh, yeah," he said. "I was bigger than my offensive line."

Boyko is the portrait of what second-year coach Bobby Hauck is searching for when recruiting linemen to Las Vegas, which is to say a kid with a big frame and enough athleticism to not play the part of tackling dummy.

It's often a difficult mix to find, and those from non-Bowl Championship Series leagues tend to project more than not, because BCS teams gobble up sure things along the lines faster than Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly drops sideline F-bombs.

Alabama looks at All-America lists and decides which linemen it wants. Hauck hears through contacts at Eastern Washington about a kid from Canada who plays quarterback in a spread offense but who might just make one devil of a tackle some day.

And you thought the only difference between BCS and non-BCS teams was a gazillion dollars.

Boyko is big and still filling out, a kid who spends summers on his family's grain farm in Canada, where he says the work his father hands out is tougher than a daily weightlifting regimen in Las Vegas.

"You first see the size and how (Boyko) moves around," Hauck said. "You can project ability more than you can project the fierceness and attitude it takes to play up front. But that he's already (starting) is even more astonishing when you consider he missed all of spring. He has come on faster than we probably envisioned. Good for him. Good for us. He has great potential."

He is typical Saskatchewan, meaning hockey will always own a large chunk of his heart, and if you're going to say anything negative about the Roughriders of the Canadian Football League, you'd better remember to duck.

He wasn't recruited by anyone to throw the ball, wasn't thought by colleges to be the next Jared Lorenzen, the former Kentucky quarterback whose girth made as much news as his play.

It's not to say Boyko still doesn't daydream about making plays. He is now charged with protecting the blind side of sophomore Caleb Herring but, every now and then, thinks back to when others blocked for him.

"I liked having the ball in my hands," Boyko said. "I'm a competitive guy. Sure, sometimes I think I can do what (college quarterbacks) can, but then they'll do something where I know I can't. I like to think I could move a little back in high school. I could run about 10 yards, stiff-arm a guy and then it would take three or four others to get me down.

"The arm. I always had the arm, though."

It was strong enough to lead his team's league in passing yards (1,200) and touchdowns (12) as a senior. He remembers the numbers because all quarterbacks do.

But he played in a world of all backfield players except the quarterback being allowed to move before the snap, where unlimited motion is designed to confuse defenses. He played in a world of 20 seconds between plays as opposed to 40, a world where plays can be run with no time remaining on the clock, a world where calls went something like, "Split right, X drag, Y corner, Z streak, rollout on 2 ... eh?"

"Once I realized how different some things were with American football when compared to Canadian, I got worried," he said. "The terminology killed me in the beginning. It was hard to pick up. But I have great teammates and coaches who have helped me whenever I need it, whether it's in practice or during games.

"I'm still learning every day, still seeing something on the field and making an adjustment and understanding why. It's getting better. I knew what I would be playing when I came here.

"Playing quarterback just wasn't my destiny."

He's starting on a Division I team as a redshirt freshman. Destinies can be overrated.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 3 to 5 p.m. Monday and Thursday on "Monsters of the Midday," Fox Sports Radio 920 AM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

 

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