The 34-year-old from the University of Texas will compete for the Seahawks’ starting long-snapper job.
RENTON — He walked into the defensive-backs room at the University of Texas carrying his dreams and nothing else.
He had never played football. He was slow, undersized and almost 30. His coaches knew little about him, including where to put him. He wound up at safety — all 5 feet 11 and 188 pounds.
His defensive-backs coach, Duane Akina, didn’t know his name. He threw him into a scrimmage at safety, just to see how he’d do.
“He couldn’t cover,” former Texas coach Mack Brown remembers. “He was not a defensive back at Texas.”
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It was only later that Brown and Akina learned just who their old, slow walk-on really was: a member of the Green Beret Special Forces. He served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He earned a Bronze Star for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service.
“Holy cow,” Akina thought to himself. “This guy could kill me a hundred different ways. I didn’t know I was coaching Jason Bourne out here.”
His name is Nate Boyer, and he is, improbably, a Seahawk. He watched the draft with a few buddies in Los Angeles on Saturday, and just moments after the final pick, his phone rang. It was Seahawks coach Pete Carroll.
Boyer signed with Seattle as an undrafted free agent, a fantasy all of a sudden very real. He is a 225-pound long snapper now and will compete for the Seahawks’ starting job.
“And that’s what really makes the story so cool for those of us who saw him in the very beginning,” Akina says. “Here we are a handful of years later watching him field a phone call from the (former) world champions. America is a beautiful place.”
He didn’t go to college right away. He worked on a fishing boat, tried his hand at acting, worked in refugee camps in the Darfur region of Sudan. He returned to the U.S. from Sudan and enlisted in the Special Forces.
By the time his stint with the Army was ending years later, he had an itch to go to college and play football. His high school didn’t offer football, but Boyer wanted to play in college anyway — and he wanted to play at a school with tradition, at a school such as Texas.
“I’m telling you, the movie is going to be unbelievable,” Akina says.
Boyer walked into Brown’s office in the spring of 2012, after his redshirt-freshman season, and asked Brown if he thought he could be a defensive back at Texas.
“No,” Brown told him, “you can’t.”
Boyer was about to leave Texas for the summer for another tour of duty overseas. Shortly before he left, he returned to Brown’s office and told him he was going to be a long snapper when he came back.
He had never long snapped before.
When Boyer returned to Texas, the Longhorns had a younger, more talented long snapper.
His coaches didn’t view Boyer as a possibility.
But as his coaches watched him snap so consistently in practice, they realized the job was his. He held it for the next three seasons.
His teammates jokingly called him Grandpa, but he fit in with everyone, from stars to other walk-ons. He rarely talked about his service or accomplishments.
“Nate is the master of blending in and absolutely mastering his environment,” says Blake Gideon, a former Texas teammate.
After one of Boyer’s coaches, Stacy Searels, got on him about a bad snap at practice, Boyer joked, “Coach, I can kill you in 10 different ways.”
He joined a Special Forces unit in the National Guard while at Texas that allowed him to serve each summer overseas. He still practiced long snapping and became so valuable that Brown eventually awarded him a scholarship.
Before the draft this year, Boyer asked Brown if he thought Boyer would get drafted.
“No,” Brown told him. “I’ll check it out.”
Boyer reminded Brown that he had told him no before, and Brown laughed.
“I might as well not tell you no, ’cause you’re going to make it work,” Brown said.
So here he is today, and the lessons of Nate Boyer run deep.
Akina tells his players at Stanford about Nate.
“He’s a superstar in Earl Thomas’ world, but in another way of just being a great role model,” Akina says.
Brown smiles and laughs whenever he thinks of Boyer. “He’s an American hero,” he says.
Seahawks general manager John Schneider fell in love with his story.
“He represents a lot of really, really cool things that, quite frankly, will be really good for all of us to be around,” Schneider says.
Boyer has yet to reflect.
He was sappy by Saturday night. But when he looks back, he thinks what will hit him most is what this will mean for the veteran community and for other dreamers.
He says, “I’m just proud that if you believe no matter what everybody tells you, no matter what the world tells you, no matter what your head tells you, if you just believe anything is possible and keep pushing, good things happen. I’m proud that other people are going to be able to look at this and pursue those dreams.”
The dream that started so long ago, after so many improbable turns, so many detours and obstacles, is so close to blossoming.
“He gives hope to everybody out there who has a dream that people are laughing at and saying it’s impossible,” Brown says. “Because there’s no way a guy can grow up at a small high school without football and start for the University of Texas. You can’t do that.”
“And here he is now,” Brown says slowly, “and he’ll be in a Seahawks jersey.”