Gophers football coach Jerry Kill and the rest of his staff had a definite feeling about junior cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun this spring, even though he wasn’t playing with the first-team defense.
Kill would praise Boddy-Calhoun’s athletic ability, noting that he was a high school quarterback and point guard, not to mention an all-state high jumper from Wilmington, Del. From what the coach could gather, Boddy-Calhoun was the best basketball player on his squad.
“We were over in the gym the other day, and he stuck one [in the hoop] from 25 feet,” the head coach said one day in April.
So when starting cornerback Derrick Wells injured a shoulder and hamstring during training camp, the Gophers didn’t blink, quickly seeing it as an opportunity for Boddy-Calhoun.
Sure enough, in Thursday’s season opener against UNLV, the Rebels were driving early in the fourth quarter, hoping to trim a 30-16 Gophers lead. Quarterback Nick Sherry tried hitting Jack Killian in the left flat, but Boddy-Calhoun darted in front for an interception, racing 89 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
Asked if that moment felt like validation for all his work, Boddy-Calhoun said, “Definitely, but I felt like that was a team thing. [Injured linebacker] Peter Westerhaus came up and said, ‘You’re going to make a pick today,’ so that meant a lot. And I just felt like I had to make a pick for him.
“Yes, I think it’s me working hard, but I wouldn’t have worked that hard if I didn’t have the great team leaders and the great teammates to push me.”
Boddy-Calhoun is one of three junior-college cornerbacks the Gophers brought to campus last year. The other two — Martez Shabazz and Jeremy Baltazar — are now seniors, but Boddy-Calhoun still has another year of eligibility after this one.
He transferred after one season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, where he earned second-team All-Jayhawk Conference honors as a true freshman. An elementary education major, Boddy-Calhoun had the grades and test scores to play Division I out of high school, but he went the junior college route to gain more exposure.
At Wilmington Delcastle Tech High School, Boddy-Calhoun was a standout quarterback and defensive back, and a two-time all-conference point guard. But he had to fend off doubts about his size; he is still listed at 5-11 and 186 pounds.
He liked basketball as much as football, but choosing his college sport was easy. One day, a coach asked him how many recruiting letters he’d received for basketball. The answer was one. And how many letters for football? Too many to count.
“Reality hit me right there that I’m going to be a football player,” he said.
After transferring to Minnesota, Boddy-Calhoun spent last season coming off the bench. He played in all 13 games and made nine tackles. The Gophers had two senior starters at cornerback in Michael Carter and Troy Stoudermire. This spring, the Gophers moved Wells from safety to cornerback, and inserted sophomore Eric Murray as the other first-team corner.
But Boddy-Calhoun kept waiting for his chance. Beyond the interception Thursday, Boddy-Calhoun made three tackles, including a big hit on UNLV receiver Maika Mataele.
Gophers defensive backs coach Jay Sawvel said he thought Boddy-Calhoun and Murray were too tentative early, when Sherry kept hitting his receivers on quick slant routes. Both cornerbacks made the right adjustments, and Murray finished with five tackles and a team-high four pass breakups.
Wells is expected back for Saturday’s game at New Mexico State, but Boddy-Calhoun will get plenty of playing time, especially in the nickel package.
“He’s a kid who never complains,” Kill said. “He never comes in and gripes about his role. He doesn’t say anything. He just goes out and plays and works hard, does what he needs to do.
“He comes from a great family. Those are the type of kids you’ve got to have to be successful and win.”