After redshirting in 2004, Boykin started all 10 games for Gulf Coast last year, giving him the confidence to take his game to another level. And that's when he talked to Gulf Coast head coach Steve Campbell about his chances at the Division I level.
"Well, I talked to Coach Campbell about going to Mississippi State," said Gunnar Boykin. "I asked him if he thought I could play at that level and he said he had no doubts. I figured that was pretty good coming from him, especially since he's coached at that level before and been at Mississippi State.
"Being under Coach Campbell really helped me. He is a great motivator and gets guys to play at a higher level than you really can. Coach Campbell really pushes you and gets you to use all of your abilities."
Boykin, who started five games at offensive tackle and the last five at tight end due to injuries on the offense, had offers from Southeast Louisiana, McNeese State and Elon among other Division I-AA schools. But he had one dream in mind.
"After last year at Gulf Coast, I just thought I could play at the Division 1A level," said Boykin. "I had some other offers from Division I-AA schools. Plus, I always wanted to play football at Mississippi State. Putting on that maroon and white will be unreal. I grew up a State fan and playing for them was a very lofty goal, more like a dream."
And Campbell agreed that Boykin could help the Bulldogs out along the offensive front, which has taken much heat the last couple of years thanks to youth, injuries and suspensions.
"I coached O-line at State before I came here and I can tell you this," said Campbell. "I would have loved to have had Gunnar on my line when I was there. He has a lot of good football in front of him.
"He has good quickness, technique and long arms you want in an offensive linemen at that level. He's a smart kid and picks up things well and is not afraid of hard work. He has a good frame and raw athletic ability. I don't know what they have had at MSU on the line but I know what they used to have and that's why I thought Gunnar could help. I know Coach Grimes and Coach Croom are wanting to get the line stabilized and get to where they want and Gunnar can definitely help there with depth."
During his lone season of action at Gulf Coast, Boykin was a steady member of the offensive line, which helped produce one of the nation's top JUCO prolific offensive attack.
"Gunnar really didn't get any honors in our league because it was his first year as a redshirt freshman," said Campbell. "But I know this, he helped pave the way for our offense, which was second in the country in junior colleges with 492 yards a game and the top rushing offense in the country with 312 yards a game. Gunnar was a big part of helping our tailback, Dantrell Savage, lead the country with 1,487 yards and Dantrell signed with Oklahoma State."
So Boykin's one-time dream became a reality this spring when he walked on the Bulldog football squad, taking advantage of his first chance to impress Croom and company on the offensive line.
Boykin got snaps with the third team and occasionally the second team when the opportunity was available.
"I thought the spring went well but I wish I could have gotten more snaps," said Boykin. "I thought Coach Grimes is a nice guy but I haven't had much contact with him yet. But he seems to be a good guy and I look forward to being around him more and hopefully show him I can help the team."
Like all newcomers to the SEC, Boykin knew there would be an adjustment period. He knew they guys would be all bigger and faster. But it was also more than that.
"I could tell the difference in the game, especially from a speed standpoint," said Boykin. "But you really don't notice until you see the second string and the depth in Division I. It's not that the guys on the first team are fast, big and strong but there are 22 guys on offense and 22 on defense that can play.
"My first main goal is to make a name for myself and get some playing time. So I have to do what I can to make sure I get some snaps."
While Boykin is looking forward to the 2006 campaign, he also wants to concentrate on improving his stock on the team during his remaining three years of college eligibility.
"I just have to make sure I build on each year," said Boykin. "And I have to get stronger, bigger and faster just like everybody else coming to this level of football. But I like the offense and it's pretty similar to the offense we ran at Gulf Coast. It's not just about overpowering guys on the line of scrimmage but more about being in the right position. And I feel that is my strong suit."
And Boykin will be in awe when late August arrives and the Bulldogs open the year against South Carolina in a Thursday night affair televised nationally by ESPN.
"That first game, man, I can't even imagine what it will be like," said Boykin. "I know it will be pretty awesome and I can't wait."
Paul Jones is a writer for the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website. Paul, also a sports writer for the Columbus Commercial Dispatch, can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.