Texas Long Snapper Carries Memory of Fallen Military Friend

By Rachel George on 1/7/2013

FORT LAUDERDALE – Nate Boyer’s answer to the question was unique among his peers being honored for winning one of college football’s major awards, but providing perspective has become common for the Texas long snapper and Bronze Star recipient.

Asked Sunday to describe their experiences since winning their awards, many in the group of six players gathered to be recognized by the Orange Bowl Committee said they were a blessing even if traveling during bowl season made their lives more chaotic.

Boyer thought of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bradley Keys. The two served in the 10th Special Forces Group in Iraq, and Boyer described them as “battle buddies.” It was Keys who encouraged Boyer to try out for the team at Texas when he enrolled there on the G.I. Bill.

Keys died in a training exercise on Dec. 13, a week after Boyer received the Disney Spirit Award, given to the most inspirational figure in college football.

“Just thinking about him, I know how proud he is of me,” Boyer said.

Boyer’s story has been always unique in college football. Driven by the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Boyer joined the Green Berets Special Forces unit. Six years of active duty included several deployments, and it was in Iraq that Boyer and Keys became close friends.

“I talked to him the day before it happened. I always talk to him and he’s just a good friend of mine,” Boyer said. “We were just, we always were the two guys, we were battle buddies in Iraq. We’d always go out on missions and we’d be the two guys to watch each other’s back, so we were just real close like that.”

Keys died as a result of injuries sustained from a free fall training exercise in Arizona. Boyer described it as a “total malfunction of his reserve parachute.”

“Just didn’t open,” he said.

Boyer, 32, learned the news the day after the accident from another friend in the military.

“I thought it was a terrible joke at first, but it wasn’t,” he said. “He just told me what happened, it was a big bummer.

“He was just the greatest guy,” Boyer said. “Most amazing guy I’ve ever met.”

Football has become an escape for Boyer, the consequences of failure insignificant compared to those of war. As he grieved, Boyer focused his attention on preparing for the Longhorns’ trip to the Alamo Bowl. Texas took a 31-27 comeback win in the game, something Boyer noted was important to send the Longhorns into the offseason on a good note.

“There’s a lot of emotions that go into this sport. People take it seriously, and there’s nothing wrong with that if it’s something that you’re passionate about and you love,” he said. “But in the end, the result is not really what’s important. And once it happens, it’s over and you can’t help it. Nobody dies as a result of a win or a loss, typically.”