Vanderbilt football coach James Franklin has spent just one season with Chris Boyd. New position coach Josh Gattis met his receiver in January.
In each case, that’s plenty of time for some tough love.
“Both of them have been on me all year,” Boyd said after practice Tuesday night. “They’ve definitely gotten me mentally tougher. It is just them staying on me. ... Last year, they were always telling me to stay off the ground [after a catch], finish a little bit better. I’m doing much better now. I’m growing. I’m maturing in the game and becoming smarter. I think it is all starting to fall into place.”
The Commodores certainly hope so.
As a redshirt-freshman last year, Boyd got off to one of the better starts for a Commodores receiver since Earl Bennett in 2005. The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Boyd caught eight touchdown passes – second among returning Southeastern Conference receivers to only Tennessee’s Da’Rick Rogers (nine) – and was second on the team in receptions (31) and receiving yards (473).
But Boyd struggled to perform on a consistent basis. He disappeared in three consecutive games against the tough defenses of South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia. He made just one catch total in that stretch. He then scored five touchdowns in his last seven games.
“It’s all these young guys. It’s teaching them how to be mentally tough and fighting through adversity,” Franklin said. “They’re all tired and everybody’s cramping and everybody’s legs are sore. You just got to fight through it. You’ve got to find a way to make plays.”
Matching the production of fellow wide receiver Jordan Matthews would be a good start.
Only once did the duo catch at least five passes on the same day. Matthews, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound threat, got off to a slow start before reeling off three straight 100-yard games and finishing with five touchdowns. The top target of quarterback Jordan Rodgers last year – he caught 41 passes – the junior has once again impressed coaches in preseason camp with his athleticism, especially after the catch.
“If we both make plays, it is going to be hard to stop,” Boyd said.
Having two reliable wide receiver threats not only benefits Rodgers but also takes some attention away from a strong running game led by returning 1,000-yard receiver Zac Stacy.
The last time Vanderbilt had multiple 100-yard receivers in the same game was Bennett (157) and Marlon White (121) against Florida in 2006.
“The greatest thing for one great receiver is another one to kind of help him out,” Gattis, who coached the wide receivers at Western Michigan in 2011, said. “It’s a big emphasis on getting those guys to show up and produce at a high level.”
Boyd believes he has done the necessary prep work to be physically ready.
He spent the summer working with strength and conditioning coach Dwight Galt, adding muscle and focusing on strengthening his leg muscles with squats.
Until the hard work translates over to the field, Boyd expects to keep hearing the same familiar tune from his coaches.
“I know they are wanting the best out of me,” Boyd said. “It’s not that they are trying to hurt me or anything, they’re just trying to make me the best I can be. ... I have great coaching and I feel, personally, I’m going to be better this year.”