Carlton: How UT long snapper, ex-Green Beret Nate Boyer went from a Bronze Star to burnt orange

By Chuck Carlton on September 10, 2012

AUSTIN — Nate Boyer’s improbable football story has turned into something far, far more inspiring for his coaches and teammates at Texas.

At 31, the redshirt sophomore won the snapping duties for field goals and extra points — despite never having played high school football.

It’s merely another stage in the journey for the former Green Beret who earned a Bronze Star in Iraq.

“It’s the most unique story I’ve ever seen,” Texas coach Mack Brown said.

Boyer’s life irrevocably changed 11 years ago, like so many others’. He remembers the call from his mom before 6 a.m. in Los Angeles. The shock and horror of that day remains. So do other images.

“I remember hordes of people marching down the streets wearing red, white and blue, and everybody coming together,” Boyer said.

Boyer had weighed the idea of joining the military after graduating from Valley Christian High School in Dublin, Calif., and 9/11 ignited the spark. He mulled it while working with autistic children and volunteering at an orphanage in the troubled African region of Darfur.

Boyer’s test scores allowed him to join the elite Green Berets, serving multiple tours in five years. He won’t say what he did to earn the Bronze Star, the military’s fourth-highest combat award. Boyer is unfailingly polite — he punctuates responses with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” — but tight-lipped about his service.

Texas officials invited two former Green Berets to address the team last month. While chatting, they were surprised when told that Boyer was the youngest person ever invited to join Delta Force, the elite counterterrorism unit.

Yeah, Delta Force.

He still serves in the Texas National Guard special forces division.

Boyer said he learned far more than how to shoot and be a soldier, including how to live without regret. He worked with indigenous forces and immersed himself in their culture.

“Contrary to popular belief, they don’t all hate us,” Boyer said. “They inspire you in a different way because it’s a totally different culture. And they live a different way, and a lot of them are very proud of where they come from and what they’re all about.”

Brown remembers Boyer comparing football and the military to teammates. The difference: A mistake means someone dies.

“There is a lot of tragedy … just really hard stuff to take in and deal with,” Boyer said. “The mind-set we have when we go over there is you’re fighting for the guy next to you.”

In the Army, he watched Texas games on TV, liked the idea of joining an elite program and set a goal to try out someday. He had played only baseball and basketball because his high school didn’t field a football team.

After being accepted at Texas, he asked strength and conditioning coach Jeff Madden about walking on in 2010. His conditioning earned him a spot as a 5-11, 190-pound defensive back on the scout team. His age led to four nicknames: Old Man, Grandpa, Army and America.

“He’s like a big brother to us,” defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said, “and we’re just lucky to have him.”

Boyer wanted to contribute more. When he realized Texas’ deep snappers last season were seniors, he worked on the skill, never having done it before.

“I just watched the other deep snappers, picked up a ball and tried to copy them, and just figured it out,” Boyer said.

Last month, he became one of two walk-ons to earn a scholarship.

Against New Mexico, he snapped for field goals and extra points, just the second time he had played. The first time came last season on kickoff coverage.

One early snap was low, the result of jitters.

“Of all people,” Brown told him, “you shouldn’t be nervous.”