St. Paul's Iron man shows his mettle

After sitting out his sophomore season with a back injury, midfielder Austin Boykin is making up for lost time with his intensity and all-around play in his senior year.


St. Paul's midfielder Austin Boykin elicits praise from rival coaches as easily as from his own.

"I like the way Austin plays. He was aggressive and in the flow of the game in terms of dodging and playing defense," said Gilman coach Brooks Matthews, after watching the 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior blow past several of his players to win 65 percent of his faceoffs and score a personal-best five goals. "He's tough on ground balls, a good shooter, just a tough kid and a compete, all-around middie."

"He's a blue-collar kid who is going to have a great career at [Cornell University,]" said John Shooshan, an assistant to Rob Bordley at Washington-area power Landon, after watching Boykin win seven of 11 faceoffs, dig for nine ground balls and score twice in St. Paul's 6-5 overtime win. "Whether it's on defense, faceoffs or in the midfield, he simply does it all for them."

Boykin plays anywhere from 32 to 40 minutes per game, according to his coach, Rick Brocato, who calls Boykin "Iron Man" for his overall efforts.

"And he does it with a very high athletic IQ," Brocato said. "Austin's always asking a ton of questions during practice to try to improve his game."

In 13 games this season, Boykin has scored 23 goals and assisted on seven others. More importantly, he averages a team-high 13 ground balls while winning more than 70 percent of his faceoffs. He led St. Paul's (12-1) to an 11-0 start, a span during which the Crusaders won three one-goal contests - two of them in overtime.

"Austin approaches every practice, every play, every shift with a great deal of intensity," Brocato said of Boykin, who had a season-high 17 ground balls in a 21-7 rout of Virginia's Oakton High. "It's as if everything he does is his last time doing it - most likely due to his having to sit out as a sophomore with a back injury."

A self-professed "workout fiend" and a former three-sport star who also played ice hockey and soccer, Boykin has gone from having back problems that nearly ended his career to carrying the Crusaders on his back.

"I first noticed I was having pain in my back during a mid-summer run before my sophomore year. I'm constantly running and working out, so the problem was from an accumulation of things and the constant pounding," said Boykin, 18, who was later discovered to have stress fractures in his lower back.

Boykin made his recovery from the injuries the subject of a speech he delivered in class.

"An intense pain shot throughout my lower back. I had never been seriously injured before," the speech began. "Over the next few weeks, the pain worsened. I began to notice my mobility becoming more limited. I'm only 15. Is my body failing me?"

Boykin was forced to the sidelines for his 10th-grade soccer and ice hockey seasons while being diagnosed by one physician after another. It was not until Christmas that Boykin learned the facts about his injury from Dr. Justin Tortolani of St. Joseph Medical Center, a former All-America lacrosse player at Princeton. A CT scan revealed fractures in Boykin's fourth and fifth vertebrae.

Boykin's upper body was fitted with a hard back brace that he said "came up to my sternum, covered most of my back and went completely around my body. I wore it for 12 weeks straight, still hoping to salvage my sophomore season of spring lacrosse."

Come spring, Tortolani told Boykin, "I'm sorry, Austin, but I think you're going to have to sit this [lacrosse season] out," Boykin wrote in his speech. "When these words came out of his mouth, my eyes filled with tears. I began to worry for the first time in my life that the dream of playing Division I lacrosse might not happen."

Boykin shifted his focus to a summer of rehabilitating his back for his junior year, gradually working himself back into shape through the help of his back therapist and Jay Dyer, a strength and conditioning coach for the Johns Hopkins lacrosse team.

"I got to the point where I could do a light jog on the treadmill without any pain," Boykin said. "I avoided most of the sideways movements until I could do some light cutting moves."

Boykin's back kept improving and he was given the OK to play last spring. However, he won just two of three faceoffs, scored 12 goals and assisted on five others on the Crusaders' second midfield.

The turning point came during a loss to Boys' Latin at M&T Bank Stadium.

"After I scored my goal to give us a 2-0 lead, I looked up at the big screen and the camera zoomed in on me running off the field," Boykin said. "It showed me that all of my hard work was paying off. From that point on, I've been driven."

He came back this year stronger and more confident and was named a tri-captain by Brocato.

In a 10-7 victory over Haverford of suburban Philadelphia, Boykin won nine of 14 draws, scooped 12 ground balls and scored twice against a team that later defeated No. 2 Gilman. There was an 8-7 win in overtime over LaSalle during which Boykin totaled 15 ground balls, won 11 of 13 faceoffs, scored three goals and assisted on another.

In a subsequent contest against Western Reserve, St. Paul's was down by two goals with 1:10 remaining when Boykin won two consecutive faceoffs and scored his game-winning second goal for a 9-8 victory.

And in the Crusaders' 13-9 decision over Mount St. Joseph in the league opener, Boykin won 11 of 16 faceoffs - including five in the fourth quarter - and finished with two goals and two assists to go with 15 ground balls.

Although the Crusaders lost last week's game at league rival Gilman, 11-9, Boykin played well against All-Metro returnee Brian Carroll, and impressed his coach..

"Talk about a warrior, I mean, he almost single-handedly kept us in the game," Brocato said. "I thought Austin was the best player on the field."

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