Football’s a snap for UT’s Boyer after stint as Green Beret in Iraq

By Mike Finger on 9/11/2012

AUSTIN – Nate Boyer won’t give them the details, so his teammates just have to guess. They hear he was a Green Beret in the U.S. Army, that he was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq, and that he spent a lot of time in what he calls “similar neighborhoods.”

But beyond that, the oldest member of the Texas football team guards his past like, well, a military secret.

Sometimes Boyer will drop little clues and trick the other Longhorns into thinking they can relate. He’ll compare a rough summer workout to a day of boot camp or talk about how training to become a deep snapper reminds him of dry-firing a pistol to learn how to shoot.

But as for talking about pressure? Or sacrifice? Or true must-win situations? Boyer doesn’t go there, and his teammates know better than to push him.

“I can’t imagine it,” UT defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat said. “Football is so different.”

For the 31-year-old Boyer, however, it’s simply the next piece of what’s already been a fascinating life. Before he joined the Army eight years ago, he’d worked on a fishing boat in San Diego, with autistic children in Los Angeles, and with refugees in Darfur.

No football at his high school

In high school in Tennessee, he’d played baseball and basketball, but there wasn’t a football team. Still, he’d always wanted to give it a shot, and when he ended his five years of active military duty, he took advantage of the G.I. Bill to enroll at Texas.

The chiseled 5-11, 190-pounder tried out as a defensive back in the spring of 2010. To choose which walk-ons would make the team, UT put them through extensive workouts that essentially tested, Boyer said, “what the guys can handle.”

“I knew I was in good shape,” he said.

In a way, Boyer said, he was able to use some of his Army experiences and apply them to making the football team. When he was 23, he decided he wanted to be a Green Beret, so he took the exam and pushed his way through boot camp, a pre-selection course and a selection course in Georgia.

He still declines to elaborate on what came next, except for the biggest lesson it taught him.

“I took away that I could literally do anything,” Boyer said.

Of course, that didn’t mean he’d become a football star overnight. He redshirted in 2010, spent last year on the scout team, and entered this season categorized as a third-year sophomore who’d never seen game action.

But the Longhorns were without an experienced deep snapper, and Boyer saw that as a way onto the field. So he spent months trying to learn the skill and picked it up quickly enough to be named the backup on the preseason depth chart. As a reward for his work, UT awarded him a football scholarship, and last week against New Mexico, he took over the snapping duties on field goals and extra points.

Giving lessons in perspective

Coach Mack Brown said Boyer commands respect from everyone in the locker room and that the Longhorns understand “your worst day here is better than (the Green Berets’) best day there.”

“One thing you can’t question about Nate is his toughness,” defensive coordinator Manny Diaz said.

After his first snap against the Lobos, Boyer told Brown he was nervous. But asked if he handles pressure differently than his teammates, Boyer smiled.

“Yeah, I think so,” he said. “You have to learn to control fear.”