FAYETTEVILLE, Ga. - Brandon Boykin doesn't want your pity.
So, a broken leg dropped him from the first round to the fourth and cost him $5 million?
"It might be the best thing that ever happened to me," Boykin said.
So, the Eagles won't move him from nickel cornerback after he outplayed big-name outside corners Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams?
"I don't think I've entered my prime," said Boykin, entering his fourth season. "I know my worth. I know what I can do, what I will and won't accept. If they don't want me in Philadelphia, I'll be somewhere else. Getting interceptions and scoring touchdowns."
He'll do hot yoga if it makes him better. He'll do backflips with gymnasts. He'll relearn how to run in the blazing Georgia sun every summer, because, he has learned, the NFL is a privilege, not an entitlement.
"I get to play in the NFL," Boykin said, smiling.
He is in the "Georgia Bulldogs" room, dedicated to his college accomplishments, at his parents' handsome home. A bird feeder sits on the lawn; five tightly trimmed shrubs stand sentinel. Two miniature palm trees frame the lawn's centerpiece topiary. Fayetteville is a city, but it feels like a sleepy Southern village. There are no parking meters on its streets.
It is seven days before Boykin weds his high school sweetheart, in Turks and Caicos. His skin is flawless, his cheekbones high, his teeth perfect and always visible, since he smiles at everything. His face might be cherubic, but he is built like a superhero; every proportion, perfect. He speaks with the diction of a sportscaster, which, not coincidentally, is his plan after football.
This is no story of triumph and salvation; more like investment and return. Boykin, who turns 25 on July 30, grew up in American Dream comfort, a two-parent kid who was sheltered and nurtured and genetically rich.
"Brandon and his brother never had a struggle, because we worked hard to provide all the things that he needed," said his mother, Lisa, a college cheerleader who married a college football and track star. "His father and I said, 'All you have to do is your homework, and you can play sports if you keep your grades up.' "
Lisa, now 52, looks as if she is in her 40s, still cheerleader cute. Albert, 58, played defensive end and ran hurdles for Alabama State after a brief stint at Morehouse College, where he trained alongside Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses.
None of their awards is visible. This home, this life they created, is all about Brandon and Albert Jr., who played college basketball.
Boykin is the product of careful nutrition, unconditional love, planning and perseverance, and of course, boatloads of talent; he might have become a pedigreed prima donna of privilege, but never showed a hint of arrogance.
As if karma just wanted to make sure Boykin never changed, it supplied a freak injury; an ill-timed broken leg and a jarring dose of humility.
"Playing in the NFL is a blessing and a gift every single day," Boykin said. "If I don't want to do this, there's a gazillion people who would do it in my place."
Boykin wasn't a blue-chip recruit when he went to Georgia, but when he left, he took with him the Paul Hornung Award as the country's most versatile.
He has been a bonus item on the last three Eagles teams – a low-cost player but a first-round talent – and he consistently has been the best defensive player over that time period.
Like most hyper-achievers, Boykin faced daily obstacles. His brother Al, six years older, let him play with the big kids, but never gave him a break. Brandon Boykin might have had it all, but he didn't have it easy:
"I was always the best at everything I did in my age group, but that was because I'd played with my brother and that older age group; I had to work hard to stay up with them."
His parents are successes from single-mother families with few extras. "We wanted to give our boys the things we never had," Lisa explained.
They created a home with no back talk, no raunchy rap, no running north to the Atlanta nightclubs, rife with rappers and ballers.
Al chafed at the constraints, to no avail; so, Brandon simply accepted them.
"I mean, I like Christian music. Even the lyrics," Brandon said.
Some of his friends with less restrictive parents found the life that Boykin's parents feared.
"I had friends who got into gang-banging. Drugs. It's not the super-burbs. I have five friends I played sports with from high school who are dead. I have a couple friends who got shot," Boykin said. "I have guys who went to jail: One got locked up the day before graduation. He got out the day before my jersey was retired this winter. He came to the ceremony."
Boykin never felt drawn to the dark side. Discipline is in his DNA.
"It shapes who you are; not having that 'Pity me' attitude," Bokyin said. "I liked staying here. If we partied, we partied in Fayetteville."
It was simple, then, for his talent to trump his trials. He improved every day, it seemed. He shined at Senior Bowl practices, the premier showcase for players like him: undersized, overshadowed but flat-out playmakers.
Then, in the actual game, a teammate fell on the back of his right leg and fractured the fibula.
"He was devastated," Lisa said.
Boykin finally faced the fear and insecurity that lesser mortals know.
"For the first time in my life, I was seriously down," Boykin said. "Preparing to be a first-round pick was all my life consisted of. You start looking at ESPN, and draft profiles, and they're saying you're going to go early. And then, boom; you get to the top of the ladder and you fall. It changed my perspective on everything."
Boykin was going to be a good pro if he'd gone in the first round, among the top 32 picks. Taken 123rd, he might be great.
Boykin has played in every NFL game, unlike any of the 12 cornerbacks drafted ahead of him in 2012.
He has seven interceptions in his three seasons. Only two corners drafted ahead of him have more, but none of the three first-rounders. The last six corners taken before him have six interceptions combined.
Those four veterans who started ahead of him the past three years - Asomugha, DRC, Fletcher and Williams - managed 12 picks combined .
But it wasn't Boykin complaining that his legs were tired, like Williams – a complaint that astonished even Boykin, who grew close to Williams in their two years as teammates.
"He's very passionate, and he's a guy who's going to say what he feels, and I feel rightfully so," Boykin said.
So, was Williams right? Was Chip Kelly riding his defensive backs too hard?
"That's kind of a loaded question," Boykin begins; remember, he was a journalism major. "During the season? Of course, there were times in the season we were tired; we need a break, or we want to do this less or that less. We practice faster than everyone else. I think people don't understand how hard we go. We're constantly moving.
"But I'm sure everybody feels like that in the NFL. The type of guy he is, he felt like what he said would bring changes. But it didn't. The perception of Cary is he had a chip on his shoulder; he got into fights, all that. But everybody has the same thoughts: 'We're tired.' Whether you're on the Eagles or the Patriots."
He can find out this season, because Fletcher actually landed with the Patriots. Fairly or not, Fletcher, whom Dez Bryant burned for three touchdowns in a crushing loss to Dallas (while Williams committed three penalties), will be remembered in Philadelphia as the most overmatched of the four corners who played with Boykin.
Boykin will remember Fletcher as a man of enormous strength.
"Bradley went through a lot of things here, but he didn't let it break him as a person. That's being the ultimate professional," Boykin said. "Playing in Philadelphia, then having a tough game against Dallas . . . people are going to remember that forever. He came in the next day smiling."
Boykin is still smiling, too, even though he lacks the sort of security teams usually offer homegrown talent that has outplayed its paycheck. He clearly has earned a contract extension when his rookie deal runs out after this season. He's the kind of Eagle the city would love for life . . . if only the Eagles' brass could overlook his lack of size.
Boykin is 5-10 and, when he exited college, he weighed 185 pounds; now, he's around 195. Boykin would still be smaller than all 12 corners picked ahead of him, and he looked like a little brother next to the four guys who started ahead of him the past three seasons.
This year Eagles czar Chip Kelly filled the outside spots with free agent Byron Maxwell and backup Nolan Carroll II. Both are 6-1 and 205.
Kelly believes big people beat up little people.
Boykin just beats people.
Even with the broken leg, Boykin walked off the field.
His girlfriend, Tess Echols, heard that he'd been hurt at the Senior Bowl but that he'd walked off, so she thought little of it and went back to her sport, softball. Tess and Brandon were high school sweethearts and superjocks who went to rival schools, but both were cut from the same scarlet cloth. Brandon went to Georgia and Tess followed him and her grandfather, Ted, who played football for the Bulldogs.
The Georgia softball team overrecruited, so Tess was part of an exodus of transfers. She landed at Jacksonville (Ala.) State and had just finished a game when Brandon's mother called with the news.
"She was hysterical," Brandon said.
Brandon was a little despondent.
It happened only three weeks before the NFL draft combine and five weeks before Georgia's pro day. Boykin, a dynamic kick returner, expected to run a 4.3-second 40; "maybe 4.2" he said. He hoped to pop a 45-inch vertical jump. "I was looking for the record," he said.
He had proved he could cover big receivers during Senior Bowl drills. An eye-popping performance at the combine or his pro day would cement him among the best athletes in a deep pool of defensive backs.
The injury dropped him to the bottom of the pool. He needed surgery to insert screws, surgery performed at the Andrews Institute at the EXOS sports facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla., where Boykin had trained for the combine.
He needed therapy; and he got it at EXOS, under the supervision of Dr. James Andrews.
He needed support. It flooded in.
Lisa, Albert Sr. and Al were there overnight. His parents stayed for 10 days . . . then went back every weekend, sometimes with Tess.
These are busy people. Lisa is a nurse manager. Her husband runs a small trucking firm.
Sound a little obsessive? Well, five hours to Gulf Breeze, near Pensacola, for a few weeks was nothing compared with the miles they already had logged.
Routinely, Lisa drove the 45 minutes from her job in Atlanta to catch a youth basketball game, or a Pop Warner game, or a Little League game . . . or, sometimes, just to ferry the boys to and from practice. Then, she would drive back to finish paperwork.
Routinely, Albert left the company in the middle of the day to make a parent/teacher conference or sit through a track meet.
How routinely? One of them made it to every single game, varsity or AAU, home or away; every single function.
Every. Single. One.
"My parents were there 100 percent. It got to be embarrassing," Brandon said with a laugh. "My dad is extremely loud. And I was, like, 'Why they have to come all the time!' "
When he reached high school, Brandon noticed that some of his friends' parents never came.
"That's when I started to appreciate it," Brandon said.
They bolstered Brandon's spirit as he healed through February and March before the draft. They told him he might still go in the second or third round; truthfully, he was lucky to go in the fourth.
People around Fayetteville congratulated him - he was the greatest athlete in his school's history, a record-breaking, big-play machine at Georgia and now was the first player drafted into the NFL - but he felt like a failure.
"I was embarrassed," Boykin acknowledged. "I was, like, 'I'm Brandon! I'm an SEC recordholder! I should be a first-rounder!' "
He arrived at rookie camp that spring humiliated. Then, he spoke with some of the other rookies, guys he had played with and against the past few years; guys who had been hotter recruits and bigger deals in college. They asked when he had been drafted; he muttered, "Fourth round."
They replied, "Dude, at least you got drafted."
He found that his draft slot meant less than his play. So, he played. Very quickly, he found himself playing as much as first-rounder Fletcher Cox and second-rounders Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry; and more than five of the six picks the Eagles made in the top three rounds the two previous years.
"I realized that, once you're here, nobody cares when you're drafted. It's about how hard you work," he said.
Boykin relishes work.
He won the nickel corner job in camp, and, after the 4-12 debacle that ended Andy Reid's tenure, Boykin had to impress Kelly's new, high-tech coaching staff.
Then he remembered something the Fayette County High track coach, John Strickland, told him when he recruited him in 11th grade:
"You're a good athlete. Your legs are what's going to make you money. You can grow to be an elite athlete."
Boykin wasn't going to grow anymore; he hadn't grown a stitch since sixth grade, the main reason why, after starring on the state championship team, he turned down the college basketball scholarships. But he might become a faster, stronger, more efficient player. Strickland was perfectly suited to help.
Strickland attended the football games, where Boykin played receiver, running back, defensive back and, occasionally, quarterback. Strickland saw potential. Boykin balked. He was fast already, right?
"Yes," Strickland explained, "but I can make you run smart."
Within months Boykin was a threat in the 100 meters, the 4 x 100 relay and, especially, the long jump. That year, he finished second in the state to Eric Berry, whom the Chiefs eventually took with the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft, out of Tennessee.
Strickland and Boykin grew closer. They worked in the offseason, running 400-meter sprints to build Boykin's quickness into sustainable speed. Strickland was at the Senior Bowl in Mobile when Boykin broke his leg; went to the training room and consoled him. He was at the draft party when Boykin's stock fell through the floor. After Boykin was drafted, Strickland asked him only one favor:
"Once a year, in the offseason, come back and let me see you run. Just one workout."
When Kelly took over, Boykin called Strickland. They immediately got back to work.
Strickland set up a circuit training regimen that incorporated agility, stretching, jumping rope, flipping tractor tires. Boykin ran the concrete steps back at Tiger Stadium; he ran sprints wearing a weighted vest; he ran hurdles to strengthen his hip flexors. He honed his technique, keeping his elbows and head and knees driving in one straight line, from Point A to Point B.
Boykin finished 2013, his first season under Kelly, with six interceptions, tied for second in the league.
"He has become an elite athlete," said Strickland, who is so familiar with Boykin's gait that he will watch Eagles games and text Boykin that his left elbow is flying out. "When he comes back now, it's just for tuneups."
Boykin has improved his diet and has resumed off-course running, especially through the streets of Philadelphia; but, most intriguingly, he has taken to heart Strickland's suggestion to focus on flexibility.
This summer, Boykin began taking yoga; hard-core, Bikram yoga, in a room heated to 105 degrees.
"Hardest thing I've ever done," Boykin said.
It was, anyway, until he visited former Dallas running back Tashard Choice, who graduated from Lovejoy High in nearby Hampton, Ga., then played for Georgia Tech. Choice invited Boykin to Texas to experience some truly exquisite pain at United Elite Gymnastics.
"I'm this big, bulky guy, and I walk in and there's all these little teenage girls doing backflips and stuff, staring at me," Boykin said.
Really, they had seen this before. For years, Choice and other Cowboys had learned advanced stretching techniques from club co-owner Igor Carvalho, who quickly had Boykin writhing on the mat.
"It hurt sooo bad," Boykin said. "I was, like, 'Man, you're about to tear my hamstring up.' But he taught me all these different stretches. I'd never experienced that before. I still do them."
For the first time in his life, Boykin can bend over and put his palms flat on the floor. His hips swing freer, and he wakes up with fewer aches and pains.
This is the sort of extracurricular training that the best players often seek. It's the sort of bonus work that busts never do.
It might hearten Eagles fans, then, to learn that first-round disappointment Marcus Smith visited Boykin in Georgia this summer. They trained together, ate together and, afterward, Boykin encouraged Smith, who, despite several chances, never earned regular playing time at linebacker last season.
"He didn't have the best first year, but that doesn't dictate his entire career. I told him this is a huge year. That we all have setbacks," Boykin said. "I told him about my experience, getting hurt."
He discovered that Smith was easily upset when critics questioned his abilities, regardless of the critics' lack of expertise.
"The minute he sees, 'Marcus Smith is a bust,' that can get in your head. You have to have more confidence than you probably should, just to be sane. Especially in Philadelphia.
"I was surprised, but I told him he can't focus on the outside noise; what people are saying on Twitter or Instagram," Boykin said. "For me? I now honestly don't care. It's funny to me, when people say, 'He's too small,' or 'He's not good in press coverage.' I know what I can and can't do."
He can express himself with remarkable clarity for anyone his age. Boykin would be an extremely well-spoken legal aide; which, of course, makes him a virtual rhetorician among NFL types.
"No rap, no cussing - it shapes the way you speak," Boykin said. "In order to be successful, to be influential, you have to have certain tools. Being able to communicate so people can understand you is a big tool."
In a few minutes, he has a video conference with his wedding planner on the island to nail down the last-minute changes typical of any destination wedding. Before he goes, more than anything else, Boykin wants people to understand this:
He does not want their sympathy.
"Whatever happens, I know I've been blessed," Boykin said as he rose.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch