POQUOSON — Grayson Boyce says his dad, J.T. Boyce refers to him as a "tough mudder" because he plays so well on sloppy grass fields.
It's not that Boyce, a Poquoson High senior, minds the field turf his city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Islanders' home field. But at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds and with a bench press max of 425 pounds, Boyce loves the advantage his strength gives him playing on grass the way puncher George Foreman loved a small boxing ring.
"Playing on grass is the way I think the game should be played," said Boyce, who will be back on field turf Friday when the Islanders host Grafton. "Some kids like to juke and make cuts, but it's a lot easier to hit a hole and run over you on a grass field."
In the Bay Rivers District, fields have rarely come muddier than Smithfield's, even before seven of the 10 schools switched to the increasingly popular field turf. So when Boyce stepped onto Smithfield's moist grass and dirt last Friday, he was as excited as a vampire at a blood bank.
Boyce ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns, often dragging multiple Packers for an extra 6 or 7 yards. A starting defensive lineman, Boyce made one of the biggest stops of his career when he tackled Packers quarterback Devin Williams inches short of the goal line on a two-point conversion late in the game to preserve the Islanders' 35-33 victory.
Boyce usually splits carries more evenly with the Islanders' deep corps of running backs. He had a career-high 29 for the Islanders (5-3, 4-3 district) against Smithfield because veteran coach Elliott Duty felt Boyce was increasingly effective as the game progressed.
"There's only so many times you can hit a 250-pound back without it wearing on you," Duty said after Boyce carried the load in running out the clock with three first downs after his defensive gem. "He's the strongest player I've ever had who isn't an offensive linemen."
And only a few of the offensive linemen — current collegians Dustin Edwards and Nate Rhea among them — have been stronger. Boyce says he acquired his love of the game from J.T., who played football at Hampden-Sydney College in the early 1980s.
That love grew when he came to Poquoson, where he was called up to the varsity early in the 2010 season. He played mostly tight end then, getting into the state semifinal win over Handley before watching in uniform from the sidelines as the Islanders beat Richlands for the program's only state championship.
"That was an unbelievable thing to be a part of," Boyce said. "The leadership and love of the game those players had has definitely carried over."
In the three seasons since, Boyce has transformed himself into a Division I prospect by living in the weight room, while increasing his athleticism playing other sports. As unlikely looking a soccer player this side of Lafayette assistant football and head soccer coach Brian Sorrell, Boyce improved his footwork while scoring a goal for the Islanders varsity soccer team in the spring.
"It felt great, but it's not as good as running for a touchdown," Boyce said of the goal.
When he's not lifting weights and playing football or soccer, Boyce, whose head of blond hair would make at home on any beach in Southern California, is surfing. He says he rode an 18-foot wave on the western side of Puerto Rico last year.
"The adrenaline rush was unbelievable, but it's not as much as running for a touchdown," Boyce said.
Boyce's next big ride will likely be a freebie, in the form of a Division I scholarship. His 10 offers include six from D-I schools, but all are running a distant second to the Hampton University Pirates.
Boyce likes head coach Don Rose and he loves the read option offense installed by new offensive coordinator Mike Villagrana. He also loves the campus and, of course, the Pirates grass field is a natural draw for him.
"I'm definitely leaning there," Boyce said of Hampton. "I can't think of anything I don't like about the school."
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun