Derek Boykins was still sweating in the cold.
The Central Cabarrus linebacker had just watched his high school football career end, coming in a loss that wasn’t all that close. His time as a Viking was finished, he’d never again play with the kids he grew up with, but it was a moment where attention turned forward toward becoming a South Carolina Gamecock.
And he had something he looked forward to.
“The competition,” Boykins said. “Hard-nosed, everything the next level brings.”
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The 6-foot-1, 224-pound linebacker has the ability to be a flexible option for the Gamecocks in the near future at a position that has had its share of struggles. But he might give USC something more, something beyond the production on the field.
“He’s the heart of our program,” Central Cabarrus coach Ken McClamrock said. “He’s everything that you want in the weight room. He’s everything you want in the fieldhouse. He’s everything you want in your program. He leads. He works his butt off. He leads by example. He’s our hardest worker.
“We’re going to miss him a lot.”
The multi-year starter made 79 tackles, including eight for loss with two forced fumbles and a pair of fumble recoveries as a junior, and his recruiting stock took off soon after that season. He is currently the No. 27 outside linebacker in the country in the 247Sports composite rankings.
As a senior, he led the Vikings to their best record since 2013, posting 117 tackles, six for loss, four sacks, three interceptions, three forced fumbles, five QB hurries, one receiving touchdown and one blocked punt he returned for a score.
The range of stats, between the interceptions, the sacks and the hurries show a player who can work in coverage or get after the passer a bit.
All the while, South Carolina has had questions at the linebacker spots. T.J. Brunson and Sherrod Greene will be returning starters next year, but had their share of issues. The depth behind them was hurt this year when Eldridge Thompson’s season was ended by a shoulder, and by the end of the regular season, freshmen Rosendo Louis and Ernest Jones were seeing a lot of time.
But Boykins didn’t pay much attention to all that. Asked about looking at the position he’ll soon play, he said he just trusts Will Muschamp and Coleman Hutzler to put him in the right spots.
That wasn’t his focus.
“He never lost sight of his teammates and his brothers here,” McClamrock said. “He never was looking ahead down the road. His feet were planted firmly with us. That’s the kind of kid that South Carolina is getting.”
McClamrock said he had paid a little more attention to the situation his now-former charge is going to step into.
Boykins said his focus before signing early and enrolling in January will be running and staying in shape. He expects to bring an array of talents to USC’s linebacker spot.
“I’m real versatile on defense,” Boykins said. “Wherever you put me at, I can learn fast, real coachable.”
But it goes even a little beyond that, according to his coach.
“He’s explosive,” McClamrock said. “He’s a great leader, and what I’ve told coach (Bobby) Bentley and I’ve told coach Hutzler and coach Muschamp is from Day 1, I can’t guarantee the first week of January he’s going to be the fastest or the strongest or the best player. But I can guarantee he’s going to find who is and he’s going to be right there beside him.”