Green Beret Nate Boyer Trades Body Armor for Football Pads

By Evan Grossman on July 3, 2015

Nate Boyer can probably do whatever he wants. He’s one of those guys for whom no challenge is too great, no obstacle too difficult, and no goal left unachieved. Boyer is just one of those against-all-odds guys you’d want both next to you in a foxhole and dating your sister. He’s just a solid, good-natured American dude who smells like apple pie and baseball.

He’s also a 34-year old rookie for the Seattle Seahawks, and a career commando with combat experience from multiple deployments to the Middle East. A former Green Beret, Boyer will try to add NFL long snapper to his CV this summer when he reports to Seahawks camp.

“The biggest obstacle that stops us from achieving our dreams is placing additional limits on ourselves,” Boyer wrote this week in a column on “Why would we do that? Why make things harder than they already are? I didn’t always look at things like this. I had to run away from what was familiar and comfortable. I had to take a long, hard look in the mirror and make the decision to change the way I attacked life. For me, it took a journey to a place I knew nothing about. It took a trip to the Darfur.”

In 2004, Boyer enlisted in the Army. Within two years, he earned a Green Beret with the elite special forces unit. He counts Che Guevara and Shia LaBeouf as inspirational touchstones in his journey from the frontlines to the NFL.

“Doubt will creep in, and people will say you can’t do something because they can’t do it, or they’re jealous, unhappy,” Boyer said. “Don’t listen to them. Listen to Shia LaBeouf.”

Make no mistake: Boyer’s path to the NFL was forged long before any epic inspirational videos urging viewers to “Do it!” Following a deployment to Iraq in 2008-09, he returned to the United States, enrolled at the University of Texas, and proceeded to walk-on to the football team as a defensive back before moving to special teams. He was 31 the first time he ever long snapped a ball to a waiting punter. And he did it for the Longhorns for three years.

Still serving in the military, Boyer flew in and out of hot zones during the offseason.

“I deployed to Afghanistan and returned the day before training camp to trade in my Kevlar and body armor for a football helmet and pads,” he said.

Boyer’s story is a great one. You’ll hear more about him during the run-up to the 2015 NFL season — and wouldn’t you rather follow him this summer than the Houston Texans on HBO Hard Knocks? Because his is a unique story. Even if you forget that he is a decorated veteran, a winner of the Bronze Star, he picked up the game of football late and taught himself one of the sport’s overlooked specialties by watching YouTube instructional videos.

“I walked on as a safety, but at a place like Texas, I quickly realized I wasn’t going to get on the field anytime soon,” Boyer told Army Times. “My freshman year, both the starting and the backup long snappers were seniors, and I saw an opening there.”

Pro sports and football in particular have had a close relationship with the military in modern warfare history. Many players have paused careers in the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, and PGA to serve their country. The list is long and includes legends from Joe DiMaggio to Hobey Baker, Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Bill Bradley, and Hank Greenberg. Pat Tillman and Ted Williams left the game to enlist, but others like David Robinson and Boyer pursued pro sports after they served. Robinson spent two years in the Navy before he became the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft. Boyer was signed as an undrafted free agent.

If he wins the job, Seattle will have one of the toughest special teams players in the league, a true folk hero draped in red, white, blue — and neon green. At 5-foot-10, 225 pounds, Boyer is considered a longshot. But are you really going to bet against this guy?