Tyler Boyd and James Conner were both big names in their time with the Pittsburgh Panthers. Boyd, coming out of school for the 2016 NFL Draft, ended up going ‘out of state’ when the Pittsburgh Steelers’ divisional rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals, scooped him up with a second-round pick that year. Conner, the Erie native, got the opportunity to stay local when the Steelers drafted him in the third round a year later.
Flash forward into 2018, and both wide receiver—Boyd—and running back—Conner—are in starting, and starring, roles for their respective teams, ready to face off for the first time in a game in which they both figure to have a significant role.
Boyd had a down sophomore year in large part due to injuries, but he has been essential to the Bengals’ 4-1 start this season. He’s got 30 receptions on the season for 393 yards and two touchdowns. But most importantly, he’s got a whole bunch of conversions on third and fourth down.
As for Conner, he is second only to the Los Angeles Rams’ Todd Gurley in rushing touchdowns, and is in the top 10 in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage, averaging over 100 yards per game. His three explosive runs are tied for fifth-most.
And soon, they get to test each other out, and to live out hypotheticals that they discussed once upon a time during their days in school.
“When we were freshman we always talked about how hard we worked and how good each other was”, Boyd told the team’s website. “We watched each other’s film and saw we had the potential to go to the next level. We had talked, what if we were on the same team? What if we’re playing against each other? We talked about little scenarios”.
That was well before the draft. That was before cancer. Before a lot of life had been lived. Both still young, they now have a lot of experience under their belts, both on and off the field, leading up to this reunion.
“Now that we’re huge factors in our offenses, it makes it even more fun and then to compete against each other and see who does better is even more fun”, Boyd said. He also noted that they regularly talk, and in fact had just gotten done talking to him the day before. What did that conversation consist of?
“Just chopping it up at first and then we started talking about what we’re going to do to the other team”, he said. “I told him, ‘we’ve got to beat y’all this game. I’m not losing any more to y’all’. When the game comes and we line up, ain’t no friends until after the game. Can’t be out there trying to play soft. If that’s your best friend, you’ve got to hit him”.