FAYETTEVILLE – New Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman’s best recruit for 2020 played for predecessor Chad Morris’ Razorbacks in 2018 and 2019. Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas’ leading rusher in 2018 and 2019 as a sophomore and a junior including surpassing 1,000 yards rushing last season despite the Hogs’ 2-10 record, easily could have put his name in for the 2020 NFL draft. Instead, he’s back preparing for a Razorbacks senior year even as the coronavirus pandemic clouds if the football season will be played this fall.
The change in staffs with Pittman, and new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and new running backs coach Jimmy Smith now in charge convinced Boyd to give his college odyssey beginning with redshirting at Texas A&M in 2016, spending his football eligibility freshman year at Independence (Kan.) Community College one last go-round with the Hogs. He had a bent to return anyway just to see if he could be part of a better Arkansas team than the Hogs wallowing 2-10, 2-10 overall and 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC these past two seasons. “I just feel like it’s my time,” Boyd said. “That I still have more to showcase on the football field. Not everything is about money. I have things I want to do here, including just trying to graduate in December.” Boyd majors in criminology.
Does he fret an injury jeopardizing his pro career? “Every football player is going to get hurt sometime,” Boyd said. After netting 734 yards rushing as a 2018 sophomore completing junior college graduation barely into the August preseason, Boyd underwent shoulder surgery. He obviously returned intact. In 2019 the 6-foot, 215 pounder netted 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns on 184 carries and caught 23 passes for 165 yards. Even with all he’s done for Arkansas under such team adversity, Boyd is convinced he can do more with what he foresees will be a better team.
Pittman, Briles and Smith certainly encouraged Boyd including that the money deferred by not turning pro in 2020 would be enhanced for the 2021 draft if he and the Hogs improve accordingly. “We felt it would be best for him to come back first and foremost,” Pittman said. “Certainly it’s going to help our football team. I’m not belittling that fact. But, I believe that with another year he can certainly raise his value in the NFL and in the end I believe he believes that as well. It was a decision that I think that was made along with him and his family and the entire staff.”
The last decision that Morris and his staff made about Boyd contributed to the head coach’s ousting. In the last Nov. 9 45-19 home loss to Western Kentucky the final nail in Morris’ Arkansas’ coffin sealed Nov. 10, Boyd only was handed the ball eight times. All he did those eight times was net 185 rushing yards including 76 and 86 yards touchdowns. Arkansas’ defensive inability to get Western Kentucky off the field contributed to Boyd’s diminished carries.
Nevertheless, unless injury intercedes, don’t expect any Boyd just carries games with Pittman head coaching and Briles calling plays. “Yeah, he’s going to get used a lot,” Pittman said back in January. “ Eight for 180… what is that give him 24 and he’d get 540? That would be all right.”
Sure sounds good to Boyd.“We have a great relationship,” Boyd said. Pittman said back, “I told him. ‘Get ready. You’d better be in shape.”
Although the pandemic restrictions kept the Hogs from working out together at the UA facilities from mid March through May 31, Boyd asserts he has stayed in shape. Pittman expected he would. So did Briles, the former Baylor, University of Houston, Florida Atlantic and Florida State offensive coordinator who has history with Houston native Boyd. “I’ve known Rakeem for quite awhile,” Briles said. “I recruited Houston when I was at another institution and I recruited Rakeem from high school. A very talented back.”
How so? “The thing about him he’s a really powerful runner but he’s got elusiveness as well,” Briles said. “He’s got good ball skills. He’s got the drive. He’s got the want-to. He’s a big kid, broad shoulders. And he’s got long speed. He can run. I think he’s an all-round back.”
Pittman also cited Boyd’s brawn and speed and added his mind and eyes have it, too.” He’s got really good vision and he’s got a high confidence level,” Pittman said. “A lot of backs pretend to have that, but I think he’s a very confident runner and you have to have that. He can run over you, he can run around you and he can run by you.”