FOXBOROUGH — Had he not decided to forgo his final year of eligibility at TCU to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL, Josh Boyce would probably be in Fort Worth preparing for Saturday night’s season opener against LSU.
“Yes, I would [be],’’ said Boyce, a 5-foot-11-inch, 205-pound rookie receiver selected by the Patriots in the fourth round. “It does cross my mind, but that’s in the past.’’
Had he stayed in school, Boyce would probably have a lot more hair, too, after he lost a wide swath of it during the Patriots’ rookie rituals at the end of training camp. It left Boyce looking like a Franciscan monk.
Well-hidden beneath his ball cap, Boyce’s haircut was but a small price to pay to make the 53-man roster. If that’s what it takes to make the team, so be it.
Shear away. The hair will grow back.
But Boyce knows when an opportunity to stand in the same huddle as Tom Brady presents itself, you must make the most of it.
“I always worked hard,’’ said Boyce, whose 2,535 receiving yards are second-most in TCU history and his 161 career catches rank third all time at the school. “I always had the dream and finally it came to reality.’’
Boyce’s dream, however, won’t be finalized until the team sets its roster Saturday. But it’s expected Boyce will make the squad and finally move into his own locker after doubling up with fellow rookie Aaron Dobson during training camp.
Still, what was the biggest challenge he faced in camp?
“I think it was probably getting back used to playing football again,’’ said Boyce, alluding to “a Jones fracture’’ of the fifth metatarsal of his right foot, or his pinkie toe. X-rays revealed the injury shortly after he participated at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, where he ran a 4.38-second 40-yard dash. The injury forced Boyce to miss minicamp and organized team activities.
“I was out for a little bit, a little setback,’’ Boyce said. “But I’m getting used to everything, getting the playbook down and getting down how the quarterbacks want certain things done.’’
When Boyce stood in the huddle with Brady for the first time in training camp, it was a head-spinning experience. After all, Boyce went from having Andy Dalton, then Casey Pachall, then Trevone Boykin as his quarterback in his three seasons with the Horned Frogs. Now he is catching passes from one of the NFL’s elite quarterbacks.
It was hard not to be star-struck.
But, then again, Brady gets that all the time.
“Of course, I expect that, they’ve probably watched me play for a long time,’’ Brady said. “But I need them to count on me and trust me and vice versa. Part of me is saying, ‘Look, I know you probably watched me as a kid, but I need you this year, so I’m treating you as a player.’ We need to be on the same page.
“I’m not a coach, but I’m going to be in the huddle helping you as much as I can, but we’re only going to be as good as each other.’’
At the start of camp, Brady described his acclimation to his new receivers as “a work in progress.’’ So how much progress has there been with the Giants coming in for the final exhibition game Thursday night at Gillette Stadium?
“There’s been improvement and people are finding different roles for themselves,’’ Brady said. “Nothing’s settled at this point. We’ve been moving guys around to different spots. Guys have played in the slot, guys have played outside, and we’ve had multiple-personnel packages.
“So the more flexible we can be, the better we’re going to be. We’ve been working hard at it.’’
Asked what he’s learned about Brady, Boyce replied, “He’s a perfectionist and he demands a lot out of us. And that’s great, because you want to be great as a receiver, as an offense as a whole, and as a team, so that’s great.’’
While Boyce’s former TCU teammates are gearing up for LSU, he knows they would do anything to trade places with him. He knows they would sacrifice every last hair on their head to be able to rub shoulders with Brady.
“I just thank God for the opportunity,’’ said Boyce. “Now I’m just trying to make the most of it.’’