Overaged and Undersized, a Green Beret and College Walk-on Takes a Shot at the NFL
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version.
By Jenna Rae Housson
For Reporting Texas
Nate Boyer wants to keep playing football.
The former deep snapper for the Texas Longhorns knows the odds are long. He is, after all, 34 years old and plays a low-profile position. There are also only 32 of those positions in the NFL.
But an invitation to play in the Medal of Honor Bowl in January, after his senior season, convinced him to try to find a place in the league.
“I got out there for the practices a week ahead of time,” Boyer said of the post-season all-star game in Charleston, S.C. “After the pressure of the first day, I had the special teams coaches telling me, ‘You’ve got to go for it, man. You’ve got to. You can snap just as good as any of those guys.’”
Boyer stands 5-foot-11 and weighs 220 pounds — up by 20 pounds since the end of his senior season. He knows the NFL is a league of big men.
But he has something other players don’t.
He’s a former Army Green Beret who also served in the National Guard during his college summers.
In 2004, Boyer spent time doing relief work in the Darfur region of Sudan. That same year, he enlisted in the Army, and qualified for elite Special Forces status.
He once saw a medic pull soldiers from an armored Humvee. It was his first week in Iraq. That’s what he was doing when he was the same age the other players were participating in the NFL Combine and at pro days around the country.
Boyer was still overseas in 2010 when he was accepted by the University of Texas at Austin. His mom received his admission letter back home, in the San Francisco suburbs. When Boyer was released from active duty, he moved to Austin the next day. He lived in a hotel for a month before finding an apartment.
“I don’t think the big [NFL] stage will rattle me,” Boyer said. “Nothing really shocks me. And I’m able to put things in perspective and it kind of relaxes me, so I think those things will give me an edge over other players.”
Boyer played in 39 games during his college career and was awarded the 2012 Disney Spirit Award for being college football’s most inspirational player. In 2013, Boyer finished his undergraduate degree in kinesiology. This past December, he earned a master’s degree in advertising and moved back to California to intern in the film industry.
He trains with Jay Glazer at the Unbreakable Performance Center in Los Angeles for more than four hours a day. He devotes his morning workouts to speed, agility and weightlifting. Boyer spends his evenings boxing or working on his snaps. The training has packed on 20 pounds in the past few months.
He doesn’t look for shortcuts.
“If I told him to go pull a sled for 40 yards and then I turn around and forget about it, he would have gone five miles. He’s a different breed,” said Glazer, who has trained professional athletes for eight years.
Even when Boyer’s not training, Glazer wants him at the gym. He’s the player coaches want in their locker room, he said.
“Good players are good to themselves. Great players make everyone else around them better, and that’s what Nate does. It’s trouble to find those guys, and when you do, you latch onto them,” Glazer said. “Any time you’ve got the number 3 in front of your age, it certainly works against you. But this is the type of guy you want there inspiring everybody else.”
Boyer credits former Texas defensive backs coach Duane Akina for having the biggest influence on his development as a player. He walked on to the Longhorns as a defensive back in 2010, and Akina coached him in that position for a year.
But then Boyer taught himself to snap. Texas’ starting long-snapper was about to graduate, and it was an opportunity to learn a new position.
He spent hours watching long snappers on YouTube, studying the technique. If no one was around to catch his snaps, he practiced by himself — snapping and retrieving, snapping and retrieving.
“His work ethic is second to nobody,” Akina said. “Over 30 years, I’ve coached a lot of great players, and there are so many different stories from Pro Bowlers to Earl Thomas and guys that are considered the top of their trade in the NFL. And Nate Boyer — when you throw his name out there with an Earl Thomas, a Kenny Vaccaro, a Michael Huff or to an Aaron Ross, it resonates the same amount of respect as those other guys do.”
Boyer was in Austin for Pro Day on March 24 to perform Combine drills for NFL scouts.
On April 17, he’ll attend a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers. Then it’s time for the draft, which begins April 30. Boyer said he doubts he’ll hear his name. But he wonders if an invitation might come to audition at an NFL team’s camp. Free agency, he said, might be his only hope.
He’s taking everything one step — one snap — at a time.
“I’m just hoping for something there,” he said.