There he was again, out on the courts before the rest of the North Carolina men’s tennis team.
The 6-foot-3 junior swayed from side to side, making sure to stand on the balls of his feet so he wasn’t caught flat footed by his opponent. Blaine Boyden drew his arm back, hitting one of his iconic, powerful serves.
He countered each volley with determination. His feet moved quickly across the court at the Cone-Kenfield Tennis Center, hardly ever missing a step. Everything was in perfect rhythm.
This has become the norm for Boyden, who is 17-0 in singles this season while playing anywhere from Court Four to Six. He has had two straight match-clinching wins in the NCAA Tournament last season that sent UNC to the championship.
“The guy doesn’t miss a ball,” said William Blumberg, Boyden’s teammate and housemate. “He hits the ball hard and heavy through the court … He’s a monster out there, honestly.”
However, he wasn’t always like this. Boyden's story is a complex one, filled with adversity and grit. Despite every battle, he was never alone. He fought alongside his biological and team family. Each decision was made for them.
That’s how the man behind the racket operates — with a full heart.
'Family is huge'
The dynamic duo was back at it, running around outside together.
Whether it was tag or ding-dong ditching with the other neighborhood kids, siblings Susanne and Blaine, who are 19 months apart, were hardly ever separated during their childhood.
Today, though they are about 2,700 miles apart, they still find a way to do similar things. The siblings are both business majors and college tennis players.
“We were both very, very competitive,” said Susanne, a sophomore tennis player at Cal Poly. “Who had the best grades, better at sports? We were super competitive and always active.”
Growing up, Blaine was a multisport kid, playing soccer, tennis, skiing and everything in between. He didn't pick up a racket until his family moved to Raleigh when he was six.
“He was constantly doing something,” his father, Scott, said. “A bad day for him would be when he had nothing to do. Bo will never give up. His body will tap out before him.”
It was his work ethic that led him to a love for tennis. In ninth grade at Wakefield High School, Blaine had to decide between club soccer and varsity tennis. He loved both but couldn’t give his all to both.
“He started losing to people he shouldn’t have lost to, and we started missing games for the other sport,” his mother, Pam, said. “He had to make a decision, and he liked tennis a little more.”
So, he put all his time and energy into the game.
At 16, Blaine competed in his first national tournament. This was somewhat late for a soon-to-be college athlete. But that didn’t prevent the late bloomer from attracting attention from several D1 programs, including Alabama, Duke and UNC. When he received an offer from North Carolina, the decision was easy. Pam called it a dream come true.
As important as tennis is to him, though, family is central to who he is. The Boydens made family time a priority.
At home, there were card games. On the court, their dad, a former college tennis player, helped his kids with their game. Pam, a stay-at-home mom, always drove her kids to practices, tournaments and school. To this day, she still texts Bible verses and inspirational quotes to her two children.
Blaine’s name has family ties, too. His full name is Blaine Scott Boyden III, but everyone knows him as Bo. His father goes by Scott; his grandfather has always gone by Big Bo.
“For me, family is huge,” Blaine said. “They have always been very supportive of me. My mom has had breast cancer twice, which has been super tough, but it helps me a ton just because of how strong she is and the way she’s handled it.
“It’s been super motivating and inspirational. She’s just like a rock, and helps me a ton. Whenever I have issues, I just know she’s over there fighting way bigger things.”
When his mom started to lose her hair from chemotherapy in 2017, Blaine shaved his head to support her.
The team quickly followed suit, finding any way to support the Boyden family. Every other member of the team shaved his head, too. When given the opportunity, Blaine has spoken at several events about breast cancer in honor of his mom, including the Campaign for Carolina in February.
“A lot of these guys are pretty boys,” Blaine said of his teammates' support during his speech. “Some of these guys spend 30 minutes on their hair making sure they look good.”
The support didn’t stop there. His team chanted “Boyden Strong” and wore pink sweatbands in his mom’s honor. Georgia and Ole Miss joined the movement too, writing his mom’s name or #BoydenStrong on their shoes throughout the season.
Blaine said his mom is his inspiration. When she started having treatment appointments again, he didn’t hesitate to be there for her. He sits with her, no matter how long it takes. Supporting his family is a natural instinct.
“It’s very tough on my family and I,” Blaine said. “But the way the Carolina athletic community, and really Carolina in general, came together and offered their support to my mom and our family was just something very special.”
This past October, Blaine participated in Zeta Tau Alpha’s Big Man on Campus event, which raises breast cancer awareness. After a talent competition, each contestant draws a question from a hat. Blaine’s was "How do you pink?"
“I immediately thought about her and everything she has gone through,” Blaine recalled. “She has been dealt a couple tough hands but never complains. She simply put her faith in God and never asked, ‘Why me?’ which was a huge inspiration for me as a person.
“Seeing her hurdle so many obstacles in the fashion that she has, proves to me just how strong someone can be. I look up to her and she’s my inspiration to keep fighting whether it’s staying up late studying, or getting in extra reps in practice or the gym. It helps me keep everything in perspective. She’s fighting life and death, while I’m blessed to have the opportunity to study and play tennis at my dream school.”
‘All heart, Tar Heel!’
Tennis. Classes. Tennis. Homework. Sleep. Repeat.
This is the normal schedule for Blaine except on gameday. Those days are special in the house that Blaine shares with teammates Blumberg, Robert Kelly and Arturo Schmidt. The boys kick back and watch a movie — their pre-game ritual.
However, once the matches begin, Blaine is all business.
“He is the first one in, last guy out,” Kelly said. “Just sets the standard and makes everybody feel so guilty for everything you’re doing, because it’s not as much effort as he is putting in.”
Blaine is a fiery competitor who shows up to every optional morning workout. Last season, he received the Iron Ram award from his team, which is given to the top performer in strength and conditioning. Head coach Sam Paul said Blaine is the most consistent player he’s ever coached.
“It’s a dream come true to work with a student-athlete like this,” Paul said. “If you work hard and prepare, good things happen. He’s a nice reminder to believe in that.”
Once he’s back home from tennis, Blaine will hit the books hard, too. At UNC he has the honors and awards to prove it. He's a two-time ITA Scholar Athlete and ACC Academic Honor Roll selection and has the best grades on the team, according to Blumberg.
From a young age, Blaine’s parents preached a strong work ethic. But they also taught him how to live and lead with his heart. Despite being dealt some tough cards in his life, Blaine lets his heart dictate each decision he makes.
When Blaine arrived at UNC, he discovered more than he expected. He found a second family, one that serves as a refuge for the rough storm he and his family continue to face. With his team and biological family by his side, he was never alone and never will be.
Through every up and down, one thing has stayed true for the junior on UNC's eighth-ranked tennis team. He has always had heart, which is why the team’s motto — ‘All heart, Tar Heel!’ — fits the 21-year-old perfectly.
It’s not always about the talent. What really matters is who’s going to fight more, and who’s going to use more heart.