Early Audible: TC West's Christian Boivin knew he was going places; now, he'll play for a national title

Jan. 7—ANN ARBOR — Christian Boivin came home with a bold proclamation to his parents in seventh grade.

"We knew he was going to play Division 1 football his seventh-grade year — because he told us," Christian's mother, Heather Boivin, said. "We told him, 'Bud, you're going to have to work hard and give up a lot of things to do that.'"

Now, Christian is playing in Monday night's College Football Playoff national championship game. The Traverse City West graduate and redshirt sophomore linebacker plays on most of Michigan's special teams units.

"I remember it clear as day," Christian Boivin said of his seventh-grade statement. "My parents always say they'll support whatever I get into — as long as I work at it."

Seven years and a lot of work later, now Michigan faces Washington for the national championship at 7:30 p.m. at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, on college football's biggest stage. The Boivins booked their flight to Houston not long after the Wolverines did with a 27-20 overtime victory over Alabama last Monday.

"To be in that stadium, the atmosphere there — roughly half the stadium Michigan and half Alabama — is tough to duplicate," Christian's father, Yancy Boivin, said of last week's Rose Bowl victory. "As fans, we haven't experienced anything like that last five minutes of the game."

"A lot of praying," Heather said. "The boys handle it a lot better than the parents."


The road to wearing No. 40 in the national championship was a long and winding one.

The COVID-19 pandemic added a roadblock to Boivin's designs of playing Division 1, making a hard path even more difficult.

Boivin was a high school senior in 2020, a season interrupted multiple times by the COVID-19 pandemic. That added another roadblock to his recruitment, despite coming off a junior campaign in which he was the Record-Eagle's Defensive Player of the Year, an All-State selection and tied the state record with seven blocked kicks.

Coaches weren't recruiting in person nearly as much. Everything was online. Current NCAA players received an extra year of eligibility, making fewer roster spots available. Players were forced to market themselves online more than ever.

That meant going to a lot of football camps in the summer, giving up hockey because it interfered with his football playing weight, and putting in long hours of promoting himself to college coaches, despite a resume that spoke for itself.

It didn't help matters that Boivin didn't fit the mold for a Division 1 linebacker at 5-foot-11, 200 pounds.

"I take some pride that I'm an undersized 'backer," Boivin said, "but I'm able to get in there and help the team."

Boivin even moved to Iowa for a while, living with family there in order to play his senior campaign after it appeared Michigan's season was in danger of not getting off the ground. Iowa was a state determined to play the season uninterrupted; but not long after, the throng of players who moved to the state to play were declared ineligible. Michigan's season started back up after a three-week delay, giving Boivin another opportunity to return home to showcase his skills.

Another stellar season generated college interest. Saginaw Valley was the first to offer a scholarship. Then came interest from Northwestern, Columbia, Wake Forest, Notre Dame and Michigan.


Boivin's punt block against Maryland resulted in a safety in the Wolverines' 31-24 victory, one of the team's smaller margins of victory during a 14-0 season.

Blocking kicks was one of many areas where he flourished at West, and that continued at Michigan.

"We knew it was going to work," Boivin said, noting the play was similar to punt-block schemes at West. "We knew we had the numbers. We just didn't know who would come free."

He tied the state record for blocked kicks in a season with seven in 10 games as a junior at West, adding two more as a senior.

At Michigan, he's produced a career-high nine tackles this season, blocking two kicks.

Boivin shared Michigan's Special Teams Player of the Week for his performances in the Nebraska and Maryland games, receiving a game ball from each. Boivin also returned a punt for 14 yards against the Terrapins.

"Those plays are the plays that make the difference in games like this," fifth-year U-M senior Mike Sainristil said of the special teams units after the Maryland game.

Against Nebraska, he laid out of crushing hit on a Cornhuskers returner.

"It's all about speed," Boivin said. "Speed kills returns. You don't give the returner time to think or move."

He had a season-high four tackles in the season opener against East Carolina.

"He's showing on special teams this year that he's the real deal and that he's fully capable of playing at that level," former TC West teammate Caleb Kouchnerkavich said.

Boivin said the coaches at Michigan have no closed doors, and players can walk into their offices at any hour and just talk.

Practice often ends around 7 p.m., and Boivin said it's common for him to be in graduate assistant linebackers coach LaTroy Lewis' office until 10 or 11 p.m.

"That's something not everyone has," said Boivin, a two-year letterman and two-time academic All-Big Ten pick.


Yancy and Heather said the Michigan player parents are almost as tight-knit a group as the players.

The positive atmosphere is a big part of that, they say.

"When (U-M head coach Jim) Harbaugh says, 'Faith, family and football,' he means it," Heather said.

"It makes us feel as parents that he's in the right place," Yancy said.

They've traveled to every game he's been on the sidelines for during his Michigan career. They both work as financial advisors for Edward Jones in Traverse City, so they can work from the road, meeting with coworkers and clients virtually from hotels.

On the road trips, they often see folks from work more than Christian. They see him for maybe 10-15 minutes after games, before the players get on the bus to return to Ann Arbor.

Yancy usually sends Christian one text the morning of games, knowing how busy the team gets before playing.

"But he knows we're there," Heather said. "That's what's important. We're there to support and love him and be his biggest fans."

They sat in the fourth row of the end zone where all the overtime against Alabama took place.

"We couldn't ask for a better view of that," Yancy said.

Sitting next to them for the Rose Bowl was Kouchnerkavich, a player a year behind Boivin in the Titans' program.

"It really brings a more surreal feeling to college football, seeing a friend like that succeed," Kouchnerkavich said. "It's been great to watch."

Michigan provides players with 4-6 tickets per road game, depending on the venue. Travel and lodging aren't included.

"I'm worried about winning the game," Christian said. "They're worried about getting to the game."

Kouchnerkavich, a redshirt freshman defensive end at Hillsdale College whom Boivin described as "like a brother," said Boivin's dedication and leadership served as an example for everyone in the West program.

"He was an exemplary leader," Kouchnerkavich said. "He led by example. He reached out to players of all ages and positions."

That included helping teammates with training, diet and technique.

Jason Morrow, the Titans' defensive coordinator when Boivin and Kouchnerkavich played, described the Boivin household as a "safe haven" for anyone on the team.

After committing to Michigan, Boivin sat down with Morrow and drew up a five-year plan. That included making the Wolverines' travel team by the third year. He hit that goal a year earlier than anticipated, even after some position changes saw him work as a scout team running back.

Morrow said Boivin is on a trajectory to possibly be a Wolverines captain as a fifth-year senior in two seasons, similar to the path for former Traverse City St. Francis fullback Joe Kerridge with the Wolverines.

"It took him some time to find his niche and how he would lead," Morrow said. "He was always focused. He's been working at it a long time, so it's great to see it come to fruition."


Boivin went above and beyond in high school.

After all, he had to. At 5-11, he's on the short end for a Division 1 linebacker. That he couldn't control. The rest he could.

"It's a testament to him to not have the frame and do what he's done," said Andy Soma, one of Boivin's teammates at TC West and a redshirt junior guard on the Lake Super State basketball team. "He's an animal in the weight room."

As a freshman, Boivin was only 160 pounds but was already one of West's top linebackers. Coaches and teammates both said he was smart and ahead of his years.

Kouchnerkavich recalls how big Boivin was in maintaining a good diet and watching film to both study opponents and critique his own play. Soma said while other kids would be out having fun on Saturdays, Boivin would be re-watching the previous night's game tape. As such, he commanded attention and respect much earlier than most players.

"He definitely gave us a good look on offense," joked Soma, who played quarterback at West. "Going against him, he was a tough son of a gun and could hit with the best of them."

Boivin came in early on Sundays to go over game plans with the coaches, even attending some coaching meetings. He was a sponge for the intricacies of the game. Morrow said a Michigan strength coach told him Boivin was one of the most college-ready players he'd seen when he arrived on campus and started working out.

"Christian was a kid you always knew was going to be a coach," Morrow said. "He'd stand back with me and Kelly Smith and he'd coach himself. The most important thing is he's a really good person."

Boivin moved up to varsity full-time as a sophomore after playing running back as a freshman during the postseason. The Titans moved First-Team All-Big-North-Conference linebacker Tom Morgenstern to the defensive line so they could get their best 11 players on the field.

By the time he finished high school, he was a two-time Record-Eagle Defensive Player of the Year, a two-time First-Team All-State honoree, and he earned a spot on the Michigan High School Football Coaches Association's Dream Team as a senior.

"I've played with him since he was in fourth grade," Soma said. "You always saw how he was going to be a special player. Christian and I have been good friends for a long time. To see him on the (TV) screen, that's been so cool."

Follow @Jamescook14 on Twitter.