LSU’s Luke Boyd no ordinary walk-on

Luke Boyd isn’t like everyone else on the LSU football team.

He’s 27 years old.

He’s a walk-on.

And he’s an active Marine who has spent time in Afghanistan.

“I was apprehensive at first,” Boyd said. “How was I going to fit in?”

He’s become the team dad. Younger players — he’s nearly a decade older than the incoming freshmen — ask for grown-up advice. Things like insurance and mortgage.

Three days before the Fourth of July, Boyd was promoted within the military in a ceremony held in one of Tiger Stadium’s suites. The promotion is more than just a new patch on his uniform or title before his name — from sergeant to staff sergeant.

It’s the next step to realizing his goal: becoming an officer in the U.S. military, the outfit American civilians salute on this midsummer holiday.

With Tiger Stadium as the backdrop, Boyd’s wife, Tina, pinned her husband in a move that cemented his new standing in the military — another milestone for a guy who took the most unconventional path to playing football at a Division I program.

“It’s been an incredibly amazing journey so far,” said Boyd, originally from Virginia.

Amazing in that Boyd couldn’t afford school at LSU — one of the reasons he enlisted in the military in 2008.

Amazing in that a five-year military stint didn’t end his dream of playing for LSU, the team he always used as a teenager in college football video games.

Amazing in that LSU coaches, despite Boyd’s age, plucked the receiver as one of the few who deserved a walk-on spot on the football team.

“One hundred percent all of the time,” LSU coach Les Miles said of Boyd. “Great person. Great attitude. We’re glad that he makes up a part of our team.”

He’s one of few who get the chance.

In a given year, LSU has about 35 walk-ons on the roster, said Sam Nader, assistant athletic director for football operations.

The team receives about 50 to 60 walk-on applications from high school seniors and transfers each year. Based on video footage, coaches choose just eight to 10.

The NCAA roster limit is 120, 85 of whom can be on scholarship.

“It’s a process of selection more than it used to be,” said Nader, who remembers the days when there were no roster limits. “You’ve got to be a pretty good football player.”

Boyd is — and he might be, he said, the only active Marine in Division I football.

The speedy 5-foot-10, 175-pounder did enough in the Marine corps football league in 2011 to gain MVP honors, an award that came with a substantial prize: He got to announce a selection at the 2012 NFL draft.

Boyd, in full Marine uniform, announced the 12th pick of the third round: Russell Wilson, the former Wisconsin quarterback and now star for the Seattle Seahawks.

It was a step in that amazing journey he speaks of.

Boyd is a father of 18-month-old Natalie. He married his high school sweetheart. Boyd followed Tina to Baton Rouge in 2006 after a one-year stint as a receiver at Fairleigh Dickinson, a Division III school in New Jersey.

Tina ran track and cross country for the Tigers. Unable to afford tuition at LSU, Boyd began work with a moving company, then took a job in construction and, lastly, sold real estate. He lost that job when the housing market crashed in 2008.

“I got a lawn care job for a couple of weeks while waiting for boot camp,” he said.

His military journey began. Boot camp came first — he calls it, “the best 13 weeks you never want to do again.”

Marine combat training followed in South Carolina, and then he was sent to California to learn about his job as a tactical data systems technician.

His deployment to Afghanistan came in 2010. He spent six months in the war-torn middle eastern country building operating bases.

He talks of giving candy to begging children, possibly the only food they might eat that day or, even, that week.

“It’s amazing to see how they find ways to live — just live — over there,” Boyd said.

He might return one day overseas. If so, it will likely be as an officer.

The military covers the cost of Boyd’s schooling. While he’s an active Marine, Boyd cannot be pulled out of school for duty since he’s on the path to becoming an officer.

Boyd plans to graduate from LSU in 2016, the same year he’s expected to become an officer and earn the title of second lieutenant, said Captain Andrew Kettner, who conducted Boyd’s ceremony Tuesday.

For now, Boyd’s focus is school and football.

He’ll make his year anniversary as a walk-on in August. He’s somewhat buried on the depth chart at receiver, a unit that includes a host of speedy scholarship players.

Boyd shares his jersey number (15) with one of them: Malachi Dupre, the five-star freshman rated in the top three among receivers nationally.

“This kid is a freak,” Boyd said of Dupre. “He can jump. He’s got a lot of skill.”

Boyd hopes to land on the playing field on special teams. He practiced in the spring with the second group on the kickoff and punt teams.

“Everyone wants a chance to get on the field, knock some heads,” he said Tuesday, gesturing to the expansive Tiger Stadium.

One of Boyd’s main goals this season: travel to away games. Because of NCAA travel roster limits, normally just three to five walk-ons make trips to road games.

“You have to earn the opportunity to get on that bus,” he said.

All of the walk-ons, though, dress out for home games and are allowed to travel to bowl sites.

Boyd on Tuesday donned an Outback Bowl ring on his right hand — a reminder that despite that receding hairline, his military garb and walk-on status, he’s an LSU football player.

“Walk-ons, you have to have them,” Miles said. “The guys that have (scholarship) aid or don’t have aid, play as a team.”

Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter @DellengerAdv. For more coverage of LSU football, follow our Tiger Tracks blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/tigertracks/.