Against long odds, Nate Boyer had multiple NFL offers and chose the Seahawks, where he will be competing with veteran Clint Gresham for a roster spot. He has faced slim odds before. When he went to SF selection, 150 soldiers started; he and 10 others earned the coveted Green Beret. Green Berets think big and plan for success. After combining combat deployments in 19th Group with a Texas Longhorn football career, the NFL season will seem like a nice break.
Boyer grew up in San Francisco, the son of a veterinarian father and an environmental-engineer mother. He was smart, but never applied himself in school. He drifted to San Diego working as a deck hand on a sport-fishing boat, trained to be a firefighter, and got acting work in a commercial before he found a mission.
In 2004, he saw the images of suffering from Darfur and decided to be an aid worker. Obstacle: No relief organization would take him. Solution: Fly to N’Djamena, Chad, then pretend to be an aid worker to get on a United Nation’s flight to a refuge camp and join Christian Children’s Fund anyway.
He was profoundly changed by what he saw. He could have stayed on with Christian Children’s Fund or become an activist, but he wanted to help at a deeper level. It was war that caused the killing, refugees, and misery. If he joined the Army, he could help end the war. He studied the system.
He decided he wanted to be a Green Beret and do unconventional warfare with indigenous people and help them. Sporting a mullet and tinted glasses, Nate enlisted in the Army’s 18X program, which guarantees enlistees entry in the Special Forces Selection and Assesment course if they can graduate from Infantry and Airborne School.
Nate made it through basic training and then selection and the SF pipeline. The SERE school and the Q course took a smart, talented guy and turned him into an unstoppable Green Beret.
Nate has said, “Big-picture-wise, politically, I don’t know anything about that; I am not a political person. I can’t stand politicians for the most part. But I know what we do when we are there as far as the Special Forces go. There is nothing like that, fighting for each other. It’s as human as it gets.”
In 2008, during his first week with the 10th Special Forces Group in Najaf, Iraq, an IED destroyed the vehicle directly in front of Nate. The sights and sounds of the medics recovering charred remains stayed with him and served as a glaring reminder of the realities of war. He earned the Bronze Star in Iraq.
At 27 years old, his enlistment was running out. Nate decided it was time for college. In high school he played basketball and baseball. He decided to walk on to a college football team. At five-foot-eleven, 200 pounds, he does not describe himself as a great athlete. He was great as a Green Beret, and that would be enough. While still in Iraq, he watched football drills on YouTube and taught himself how to play the game.
As a big thinker, he didn’t want just any football program. The Texas Longhorns had won a national title in the 2005 season and they played in the middle of a state where football is a civic duty. Nate didn’t even consider the odds. He was 27 years old with no football experience, no idea what position he should play, and he’d just come back from Iraq. Well, Texas turned out to be a great choice.
The coaches loved him because his attitude was inspirational. He was the fastest at every drill, he cheerfully did whatever was asked of him, and everybody loves a Green Beret. He didn’t even play the first year; he just practiced. During the second year, he got in once on kick coverage.
Nate loved the team, but he wanted to be an athlete, not an athletic supporter. The Longhorns were losing their starting long-snapper. This is a precise and challenging job with no glory. Nate told his coach he was going to become the long snapper as his way to help the team. The fact that he weighed 80 pounds less than a typical center and had never played the position was not a problem. Nate took his exams early and went to Greece with 19th Group for three months working with the Greek Navy SEALs and taught himself long-snapping in his free time. I guess it worked out.
When he got back to Texas, he made the starting team and was awarded one of the program’s 85 full scholarships. Coach Brown said, “In three years, he never had a bad snap.” His success was attributed to his steely calm—a product of Green Beret training and combat service.
In a chance locker room meeting, Nate talked with UT alumni Admiral William H. McRaven. They spoke about Nate’s National Guard Service, and McRaven asked if there was anything he could do to help. Nate asked to go to Afghanistan. In the spring of 2013, Boyer was assigned to work with 3rd Group in Logar Province for 14 weeks. In his free time, he practiced his long-snapping in a dirt field to the endless amusement of the locals.
In July 2014, a dozen Green Berets and 100 Afghan soldiers they’d trained were headed to the village of Tagab near the Pakistani border. The convoy was ambushed as they approached the town. It must have been the right town to look for Taliban.
In the midst of gunfire and the screams of wounded, the radio went down in Nate’s MRAP. He got out and fixed the antenna. As he returned, a bullet slammed into the the armored hull near his head. Guess hadji missed the class on leading moving targets. Nate spent the rest of the day returning fire and helping the Afghans.
In August, he flew back to the States and reported for his senior season with the Longhorns. He didn’t share the sniper story with his coaches. At the end of a final, exceptional season, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and a master’s degree in advertising. His enlistment in the National Guard ended in February, and he now has a film-industry internship with producer Peter Berg.
A happy ending to a great story? Not so fast. Older and smaller than his counterparts, Nate wants to try the NFL, even if it is just a camp invite. He is a Green Beret and he thinks big. If he can get a foot in the door, he will find a way. Boyer just signed with the Seahawks, but it is not a done deal. He will have to compete for a roster spot. I hope, for his sake, that Clint Gresham has some other options.
Even though the movie industry could use a good Green Beret, I hope we get to see Nate play more football.
My advice to the NFL? Think big.
(Featured image courtesy of the dallasnews.com)