One year ago the Gustavus Adolphus Gusties were sitting in an identical position. They were 6-1 coming off a loss to St. John’s and were about to square off against the Bethel Royals. Sadly, the team dropped their last three games and the season of great promise proved to be a bit of a disappointment.
At 6-4, many would be quite satisfied, especially considering that it gave them a 12-8 record over the two seasons; the best two-year mark the school has had since 2001-2002. It was a remarkable stretch that many would find great contentment with.
That may be true for many, but to know Gabe and Matt Boyce is to know that this level of success is simply not acceptable. While they are pleased with the results of the team, which includes an 18-9 record since 2013, these two men expect greatness out of themselves and their school, and anything short of that is not a viable option to them.
The greatness of the two has been proven since Gabe left Concordia to join twin brother Matt at Gustavus Adolphus. Matt had an outstanding season in 2013, catching 58 passes from quarterback and best friend Mitch Hendricks, gaining 703-yards receiving and 2 TDs. It was a solid season that most college players in America would envy, but it would pale in comparison to what was going to occur with Gabe at his side.
The two brothers were nothing short of awesome last season. The two found ways to get open for their quarterback and combined to have one of the greatest seasons in school history offensively. Gabe caught 89-passes for 1057-yards and 10-touchdowns. His number of catches and yards had him in the conversation as one of the best receivers in Division-III football. Amazingly, Matt was also in the conversation, as he made 78-catches for 1196-yards and a school record 17 touchdowns. The two were absolutely awesome, but who knew that those numbers were just Act I?
This season the two continue to dominant as part of the Gusties aerial posse. Gabe, again, leads the team in receptions with 55. He has 487-yards receiving this season and 6 TDs as his role on the team has changed from the previous year.
“It is a little bit different this season. Last season I helped out more as a deep threat in the second or third level, but this year they have called my number on a lot more slants and different sorts of underneath routes.”
The change in role has meant that he is not putting up the same kind of gaudy numbers he was used to, plus he is taking a lot more hits. A lot of young men would complain about a diminishing role like this, but that is one of the very special things about Gabe Boyce. His team comes first and he is willing to do what it takes to put those words into action.
“I have been taking a lot more smacks, but I am used to it by now. I just try to make the catch now and help my team. Whatever they need me to do I am going to do to help this team.”
That additional pounding has meant that Gabe has had to battle through some injuries this season, but he has remained on the field to battle them out. There is no quit in Gabe Boyce and his coaches know it.
“I’m not the kind of guy that wants to take days off or take plays off. I just want to help my team, so they are going to have to drag me off the field,” he explains with a laugh.
While Gabe has been the guy catching those quick, underneath passes, Matt continues to be the deep threat on the Gusties. As impressive as his numbers were last season, this year’s accomplishments seem to be dwarfing them already. In seven games he has 54-catches, making it unlikely that he will reach last year’s number, but his 941-yards receiving and 12 touchdown receptions make it likely that he will break the school record in both categories.
While not his primary focus, Matt admits that the records are on his mind. “It’s kind of hard to say that you don’t want to break every single record and you don’t want to have your name up on the wall or to be an All-American. Who wouldn’t want all those things, but personally I am trying not to look at those things.”
The success has once again ranked them nationally among the elite of Division-III receivers. Both are tied for 11th nationally in receptions per game with 7.7, and Matt is tied for third in touchdowns and is second in yards receiving.
A year ago these two young men seemed a bit in awe of all that was going on. At 6-1 they had a chance at the Gusties best record in 15-years. The two were receiving a lot of national attention for their play on the field and were the toast of the school and the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). That was then.
Now the Boyce Brothers have much more important goals in mind. A year has given them an entirely new focus, and it has shown in the manner in which they are carrying themselves.
Explains Matt, “I could care less if I score another touchdown this season as long as we keep winning. It doesn’t matter about individual stats because if you do your job at the end of the season you’ll get recognized for that. Right now it’s all about the team and it’s all about winning.”
Gabe agrees. “Last season was great, but this year we expect more. We are taking this one game at a time, making sure all our focus is on that next game. We have won games we were expected to win, and so we are not satisfied with that anymore. We want to do more as a team.”
As seniors, the Boyce brothers know that they have a greater responsibility to this team. They are not just leaders because of numbers and skill, but have an important role in setting the standard.
Explains Gabe Boyce: “The last three years I haven’t been a senior obviously, so there have been other leaders of the offense, but now that I am coming back as an all-region, all-conference performer, playing with Matt and Mitch and knowing that the expectations are high for the three of us because of what we have done, it is important to make sure that we are doing the right things in how we practice and prepare for games. I think taking that leadership position and just embracing it and wanting to teach everyone underneath you is something that is expected here at Gustavus of seniors, and so I think that is a major change.”
Matt focuses his role as a leader on something his father told him before the season began. It has molded what he truly wants to accomplish this year.
“It was something my dad said before Week 1. He said ‘You’re a senior now, and wins and losses will come, but it’s how you’ll be remembered.’ I want to be known as a great player and as someone who really cared about his teammates, because at the end of the day if we go 10-0 this season but they go 0-10 next then that doesn’t really do any good. It’s about developing the younger players as well. Coach Haugen has developed a great program to develop and mentor the freshman. A lasting legacy to me is being a great teammate that was always willing to help guys out and was there for them.”
A year ago this was a brash team with a group of men who thought they could accomplish anything. That confidence may have led to a bit of pride that doomed them down the stretch. This season the two star receivers acknowledge that they made some mistakes last season, but that this team is not falling into the same trap this year.
“As a team we are more down to earth. At least we are more humble than last year. We are a lot more mature,” explains Gabe Boyce. “I think 6-0 got us a little too excited. I think this year we approach games as just another game. Last year we thought maybe we could beat these teams, while this season we are a lot more confident that we can. We have a better offense.”
“I think the biggest difference is that we are all a lot smarter. We are a lot more humble this season being 6-0 for the second year in a row,” Matt begins, “This year we knew we needed to prepare like every game is just like every other week. I think Mitch is really making great moves, really great plays. We are making plays to get open. The offensive line is doing a great job. Our intelligence has really stepped up this year.”
(Note: the Gusties were 6-0 at the time of this interview)
Adds Gabe about the difference between this year and last. “Going through last season at 6-0 we felt like we deserved a lot more respect, but we hadn’t really beaten anyone we shouldn’t have beaten. Then we lost our last four games, so the lack of respect was kind of earned. But this season the thought that is in the top of our head is to just go about winning.”
It is like déjà vu all over again at Gustavus Adolphus this season. The Gusties are 6-1 and the Boyce Brothers are putting up video game numbers the second season in a row. The offense is incredible and there is confidence that they can win any game. However, that confidence is tempered by the fact that no one is taking any game for granted. If they are going to win it is going to come because they worked hard, played smart, and laid it all out on the field.
This is an attitude that is best exemplified by Gabe and Matt Boyce. These two men are having phenomenal seasons once again, but it is their approach to the game that is making them bigger stars than ever before. Combined they will probably set or break every receiving record in Gusties history, but there is clearly only one record they are worried about. With their focus and skill, no one should be surprised if that record is 9-1.
By Robert Pannier