In the middle of a team meeting on Aug. 20, USC coach Lane Kiffin paused to scold junior wide receiver Robbie Boyer and sophomore linebacker Will Andrew for dozing off. Kiffin then instructed them to stand against the auditorium wall until further notice.
Stunned, the two walk-ons feared what would come next.
“For some reason, he thought I was asleep,” Andrew said. “He asked me if I was bored. I was really embarrassed. Anyone who knows me knows I wouldn’t be asleep in a meeting.”
That’s when Kiffin could no longer maintain the farce.
“It was pretty crazy,” Boyer said. “He had some choice words for us. Then, towards the end of the meeting, he said that ‘anyone standing in this room right now is on full-scholarship.’ Everyone started cheering for us.”
Exiting high school, Boyer and Andrew were assigned only two stars between them by most recruiting services — both of which belonged to Boyer. On a roster laden with four- and five-star recruits, Boyer and Andrew combined amounted to essentially half of a prototypical USC recruit. Both were tagged as undersized players whose instincts and fundamentals allowed them to perform past their measurable athletic skills. Consequently, most scouts assumed Boyer and Andrew had plateaued.
Boyer, the cousin of junior quarterback Matt Barkley, starred for the storied USC pipeline Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, Calif., hauling in 57 receptions for 1,033 yards and 14 touchdowns as a senior in 2007. Possessing a sterling GPA, he drew interest from many universities’ football programs, including Harvard, but ultimately decided to enroll as a preferred walk-on at USC because of his comfort with the university. After redshirting in 2008, he has seen limited action in the last two years and has yet to record a reception.
Andrew, a defensive end at Edison High School in Huntington Beach, Calif., recorded 75 tackles, seven sacks and two fumble recoveries as a 2008 All-Sunset League first-team player, while also posting a strong GPA. Considered undersized and a step slower, he was not on many teams’ radars as a zero-star recruit, but did receive an offer to play at the University of San Diego and invitations to walk on at several Pac-10 universities. Last season, Andrew appeared in three games and registered two assisted tackles against California.
“I wasn’t really heavily recruited, but I always wanted to play college football,” Andrew said. “I looked at my options to see which places I could walk on. The University of San Diego wanted me, but I wasn’t all that interested. I always wanted to go to USC, and I didn’t want to have any regrets about not giving it a shot.”
Though these scholarships were long in the offing, as this past spring Kiffin came to rely on Boyer and Andrew to play meaningful snaps during practice often with and against first-stringers, neither player has the inside track to stardom quite yet.
Their roles have diminished a little this fall as expected, with talented true freshmen arriving on campus and other injured players taking advantage of the summer break to recuperate fully. In addition, both of their scholarships, as with all scholarships, are guaranteed only through this school year and will be reevaluated at the end of the season.
Both players, therefore, are realistic in their expectations for this season in terms of playing time, but also realize the importance of continued optimism and diligence.
“I’m comfortable doing whatever the team needs,” Boyer said. “I know my plays, and I know how to run routes. I’m one of the smarter receivers, I think.”
Andrew shares a similar outlook.
“I’m trying to get in on special teams too, but I’m just working hard to see where I can get in and just staying prepared,” Andrew said.
It has been difficult to ignore either during fall camp. Boyer is slippery, able to elude defenders and reel in tough catches over the middle. Similarly, Andrew appears to command the defense well, doling out coverage assignments with ease.