IRVING, Texas – Wide receiver Chris Boyd thinks he would have gone in the first half of the NFL Draft had his transgressions at Vanderbilt never happened.
But what he went through was a reality he still pays for, and Boyd went unselected in the 2014 NFL Draft following his dismissal from the Vanderbilt squad in 2013 due to his involvement after the fact in a rape case involving four other members of his team.
"It was very tough, but I learned a lot from it," Boyd said. "The toughest part probably was the fact that I don't know if the truth ever really all the way came out about my involvement."
The 6-foot-4 receiver, who was on the 2013 Biletnikoff Award Watch List after catching 50 passes for 774 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, reached a plea deal and avoided a felony charge for allegedly helping his teammates cover up the incident as an accessory after the fact. After missing his final college football season and going undrafted, Boyd caught on with the Cowboys and focused more at rookie minicamp on looking forward than going into detail with what happened in the past.
Putting that whole experience entirely in the rear view is nearly impossible. But Boyd believed that wasn't the end of his life and it wasn't the end of his professional dream, even if his college football experience abruptly came to a close.
"People would believe the things they read," Boyd said. "That's one thing that I learned that I can't worry about, because you can't focus on what other people think because it's their opinion, and everybody has one."
As part of the deal, Boyd also agreed to testify against his teammates who were directly accused. After doing extensive research on Boyd's situation, the Cowboys and head coach Jason Garrett felt comfortable enough to take a chance on the receiver immediately after the draft.
"We got our arms around what his role is and how he perceived what his role is and how he feels about it now," Garrett said. "We felt comfortable that he was OK to bring in here and be a part of his football team. He seems like a good person that got caught up in a bad situation. He probably wasn't perfect in handling it, but I think he learned a lot from it and we feel comfortable with what kind of guy he is."
Boyd didn't transfer to another school as he dealt with the punishment. Instead, he finished all his Vanderbilt coursework and began preparing for the NFL Draft.
He wasn't selected, but the Cowboys quickly scooped up one of the bigger, more intriguing prospects in free agency.
"I was looking forward to playing this past season with my teammates, and it got taken away from me," Boyd said. "Now that I have this opportunity to play here again, it's a blessing, and I'm excited to make the most of it, really excel in this opportunity and show the coaches I've got it and I've still been working hard. This is a dream of mine."
It's a dream and a chance that he believes he might appreciate more than others, given all that's gone on the last couple years. He prepared for the opportunity by working with two trainers – one for football, one for weight training – and would work out Monday through Friday with them.
On weekends, he'd sit and watch his former team.
"I focused on school," Boyd said. "That was one of the things I made sure I'd complete after talking with my family. It's really important that you finish your education and get that degree, because that's something no one can ever take from you."
All Boyd has left is a 14-hour internship he plans to finish sometime in the next year. He doesn't have to complete it on campus, either. [embedded_ad]
"My major was human organizational development with a focus on leadership and organizational effectiveness," Boyd said. "I'm not really quite sure what I'm going to do it in, what area, but probably something in sports, media or marketing, those are things that I enjoy."
He may not have time to do much with it if football ends up becoming his job.
Boyd believes he may be more prepared than most in the transition to the NFL, given that he comes from a pro-style offense that utilized a variety of formations and personnel combinations. But that preparation can be negated by the fact that he hasn't been on the field in a year.
He got to feel what it was like to play on a team again during rookie minicamp with the Cowboys, and it's an experience he doesn't want to let slip away.
"It's amazing being out here, getting the opportunity to play again with such a great group of guys for a great coaching staff and I'd say one of the best sports franchises in America," Boyd said. "So, it's a blessing, and I'm excited to make the most of this opportunity. I'm going to show the coaches that I'm ready for this, I'm excited for it and I haven't just been sitting on my butt this whole time."