If he wasn’t on a gridiron or a wrestling mat, Jacob Boyd would spend his evenings at the kitchen table.
His mother, Ronda, a counselor at Smithville Upper Elementary, would sit him down and go over passages in his literature books, teaching him how to read.
Boyd had a knack for math and science, but reading at his grade level was challenging. He’d battle pronunciations, stumbling over words he should have known by the age of 9.
Then in fifth grade, as he began to excel at wrestling, things began to click academically. All Boyd had left to do was tick off another bullet on his checklist: win a state wrestling title.
Boyd has done more than that. The Star’s Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year has a trophy case full of all-district and all-state honors, gold medals and All-American awards. He holds Smithville records for tackles in football (379) and wins in a wrestling career (183). He’s a two-time Missouri champion at 195 pounds in Class 2 and Class 3. And he’s a proud Chemathon finalist who tied for second in the competition held at Missouri Western State when he was a junior.
Boyd wasted no time leaving his mark at Smithville, and he’ll strive to do the same when he begins his career at Oklahoma next month. He’ll have his hands full wrestling for the Sooners and working on an engineering degree — but he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I just do as much as I can. I’m always busy,” Boyd said. “I knew what I wanted to do in college once I decided to wrestle. I just know what I wanted to do, I guess.”
There are stereotypes that follow kids like Boyd around. He’s large, 195 pounds of solid muscle, but not quite big enough to make a career as a linebacker. He’s compassionate, a mentor to elementary students and a National Honor Society member who accrued more than 120 hours of community service in high school.
Boyd graduates Sunday ranked in the top 10 percent of his class with an unweighted 3.87 grade-point average that suffered from a single B as a freshman.
But most don’t seem to expect him to be intelligent.
The day Boyd came home from Chemathon, he laughed as he described to his mother the looks on the faces of the 300 or so kids who were at the university to test their general knowledge of chemistry.
“ ‘Jeez, mom, you should have seen the look on the kids’ faces when they announced my name. I don’t think they thought I was smart,’ ” Ronda Boyd recalled.
Jacob Boyd was. It didn’t come easy, but neither did wrestling. As hard as he worked on the mats, training with and coaching friends throughout the metro area during the spring and summer, he slaved over schoolwork.
It wasn’t uncommon for his wrestling coach, Taylor Middleton, to see Boyd working on advanced chemistry problems in his classroom during lunch.
“I’d see him work at it,” Middleton said. “It wasn’t like, ‘School’s easy and I’ll do whatever I want.’ ”
The Star caught up with Boyd on his last day of classes, just 30 minutes before he took his last final. He talked about the list of goals his mom had asked him and his brother, Brian, a sophomore football player and wrestler at Smithville, to write when he was in fifth grade. How he’d jotted down that he wanted to earn a college scholarship and win a state wrestling title. He went over his wrestling resume, his best memories playing football, and never once sounded like a student on the verge of taking a college chemistry exam.
Anyone his age would have spent that hour cramming, filling his brain with last-minute facts. But Boyd only needed to make a C on the final to make an A in the class.
“I’m really good at chemistry,” Boyd said. “I struggled in English and reading but besides that, I’ve been good at everything else.”
Boyd is the subject of an urban legend still making the rounds at Smithville High.
As a freshman, he found himself chatting with Daniel Lewis, the Blue Springs wrestler who won four state titles before moving on to wrestle at Missouri, ahead of a match at the Bobcat Classic at Basehor-Linwood in Kansas. Lewis, a senior at 160 pounds, was undefeated that season.
But Boyd wasn’t intimidated by Lewis, who’d become an All-American the previous summer when he placed third at the U.S. Junior Nationals in Fargo, N.D. Boyd asked who he was, chatted casually and bragged humbly.
Before they took the mat, Lewis shook his hand and said, “I’m pretty good too. I’m sorry about what’s getting ready to happen.”
Lewis beat Boyd, a technical fall in 1:40. He went 45-0 that season.
Boyd was left with a 23-7 record and finished his freshman campaign (27-13) just shy of medaling at state after losing his bubble match to a wrestler from Kirksville who placed sixth.
“However good you think you are when you’re young, there’s definitely someone who’s better,” said Middleton of Boyd, who had won state titles as a seventh and eighth grader. “It turned things around for Jake.”
Determined to be successful as a sophomore, Boyd became serious about wrestling. Until that point, the sport had occupied the dead time between one football season and the next.
The next season, he wrestled at 195 pounds and placed third at state. He then won his division at the Missouri USA Wrestling Freestyle and Greco State Tournaments, which qualified him to compete at the Cadet Nationals in Fargo. He became an All-American, a freestyle champion and a Greco runner-up.
Those victories the summer before his junior year catapulted Boyd into the national spotlight. His phone rang so constantly after that, his parents lost track of which coaches he talked to.
“When all the coaches were calling, football coaches, wrestling coaches from big schools, I had to explain to him — he thought that was normal,” said Matthew Boyd, his father. “I said, ‘This is not normal, son. This is different.’ ”
It would have been a dream for Boyd to play college football. He picked up the Xs and Os easily, and excelled from a young age on the defensive line. In freshman football, coaches asked him to draw up plays. He was a natural leader on the varsity squad the next year.
He didn’t have to give up the sport. Boyd had some opportunities to pursue football in college, especially once he showed he could play on both sides of the ball, earning district and conference honors as a running back.
Wrestling, however, had opened up so many avenues, given him so many chances to not only study engineering but also work his way toward international competition. It would have been a shame to let those opportunities go.
“I know he’s going to miss football becuase he has a passion for football,” Matthew Boyd said. “But I think with wrestling he wants to see how far he can take it. He wants to see where he can compete with all these people.”
At Smithville Upper Elementary, where Boyd spent a lot of time as a cadet teacher and a mentor for the Drug and Alcohol Free program, kids don T-shirts with the words “Jake Boyd’s Biggest Fan.”
Boyd doesn’t take that attention for granted. He’s generous with his time, passing on the lessons he’s learned from a lifetime in competitive sports to elementary students and his own brothers.
This winter, when Smithville traveled to the Texas Outlaw Tournament, Boyd lost to Cale Davidson of Goddard, Kan., in the championship. He could have clammed up after a tough 3-1 loss.
But on the sidelines, Middleton’s 9-year-old son Haze was in tears. Haze had been around Smithville’s program for years, often standing in the corner writing about the wrestlers he saw in a notebook. He hadn’t seen Boyd, who was 21-0 at the time, lose since the 2015 Kansas City Stampede.
Like he’d done countless times before, Boyd shook off the loss and set an example for his teammates and everyone around him.
“(Haze) didn’t know what to do. Jake went to him, put his arm around him and they talked,” Middleton said. “I don’t know what he said. But he helped my son understand that losing is OK. …We talk about teens being resilient all the time. I know it was tough for Jake. But I think having opportunities like that is what helps him to overcome it.
“Jake gets it. He understands that it’s important to give back, to interact with these other kids. What a model he is to them of what we want our kids to be like. Is he perfect? By no means. But he’s a kid that we can use as parents of what we want our kids to do.”