In a turbulent 2020 college football season that will forever be remembered for COVID-19, Kansas State cornerback Ekow Boye-Doe has remained calm in the eye of the storm.
As a third-year sophomore buried on the depth chart with seemingly limited prospects, he continued to keep his eye on the prize, undaunted by the lack of playing time in what started out as a deep and talented Wildcat secondary.
Then the virus hit, and things changed rapidly. The same Boye-Doe, who did not see the field at all in a disappointing season-opening loss to Arkansas State, was thrust into the starting lineup two weeks later at No. 3-ranked Oklahoma.
And not only did he hold his own in a 38-35 upset of the Sooners, but he left his coaches no choice but to keep him in the lineup. He will make his seventh straight start Saturday when the Wildcats (4-3, 4-2 Big 12), travel to Ames for a 3 p.m. game against No. 17-ranked Iowa State (5-2, 5-1).
"I feel like I prepared for that moment right there out on the practice field every day, whether I know I’m going to play or not," Boye-Doe said of his debut as a starter, which included a career-high five tackles and one pass defended. "I think the biggest thing was for sure giving it my all on the practice field and being able to execute on the field when it comes to big plays."
Now, with just three games remaining — the Wildcats travel to Baylor next week and close out at home on Dec. 5 — Boye-Doe has held up against offenses determined to test the newcomer. He ranks seventh in the Big 12 with six pass breakups and is tied for seventh on the team with 20 tackles, including one for loss.
"I think none of us are surprised because he’s probably the fastest guy on the football team," said K-State coach Chris Klieman, himself a former defensive back and secondary coach. "It’s one of those things when we talk about and use Ekow as an example a lot as far as, boy, some of the freshmen or redshirt freshmen that are not playing as much that get frustrated, look at Ekow.
"Look at somebody that has been here for his third year and hadn’t played a snap, and through the first game hadn’t really played at all, and all of the sudden he’s thrust into it. The biggest thing I would say is when your opportunity does come, make the most of it."
Boye-Doe, a 6-foot, 165-pound former all-state player at Lawrence High School, could have grown frustrated and explored other options. Instead he credits support from coaches and teammates, along with his family, for helping him stick it out.
"The coaches encouraging me, and the older guys letting me know that my time will come and that I just need to trust the process," Boye-Doe said. "And I have a great support system with my family.
"Living in Kansas and just being an hour away is not too bad if I’m not playing. I know my time will come."
That time came at Oklahoma, where both he and Hutchinson Community College transfer Justin Gardner started in place of AJ Parker and Lance Robinson. Parker, a senior, has since found a new home at nickel back.
It didn't take Boye-Doe long to get acclimated.
"The Oklahoma game, first drive, just feeling that contact," he said. "Just making tackles right away.
"It builds confidence real quick."
Klieman has seen it up close.
"He has really good length. He can run extremely fast. He’s aggressive to the ball," Klieman said. "And he’s just gaining more experience about seeing the field better.
"A lot of it is seeing pictures, and when you get an opportunity to play as much as he has, the game starts to slow down because you see those pictures better and more frequent. He’s done that and played at a really high level for us."
Boye-Doe's development hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates, either.
"Ekow has been very impressive," said junior defensive tackle Eli Huggins, who also has had a breakout season as a first-year starter. "He did a great job of just fighting and staying in there and kept working hard, even when he wasn't getting the reps.
"Then, when his opportunity came, he showed he can play. He’s done a great job so far this season for us."
Boye-Doe, who rates man-to-man coverage to be his greatest strength, takes no issue with the label of fastest man on the team, either.
"I definitely agree with that," he said with a laugh.
Still, that's not the whole story, Huggins insisted.
"Ekow is fast. He’s very fast and that definitely helps," Huggins said. "But he’s shown he's got some great technique, and I’m sure our coaches have gotten him ready for every game. He’s done a great job."
More than anything, Boye-Doe was ready when his name was called.
"Something that Ekow has really done is made the most of his opportunity," Klieman said. "For us, we’re really excited because he’s still a young player, and I know his best football is in front of him.
"It’s all about confidence, and he’s playing with a lot of confidence right now."