The measure of a man is not just found in the power of his arm or the strength in his legs, but in the size of his heart and determination.
Today — Memorial Day, May 25 — I was watching NFL Network, and there was Nate Boyer in Washington, D.C., making an appearance for YellowRibbonsUnited, a charity that brings together pro sports stars, companies and individuals to benefit military members and families.
The Seattle Seahawks rookie wore his team T-shirt to meet with children who’ve lost a parent in military service. He tweeted out the video I saw.
I held back a lot more than that. It’s incredible to spend time with survivors who have lost loved ones defending US https://t.co/q1SuciekPw
— Nate Boyer (@NateBoyer37) May 26, 2015
Boyer was also inspiring the youngsters, telling them that, despite their loss, they should pursue their dreams — and he has a profound reason for pursuing his.
This is why I HAVE to succeed. Visiting my brothers this weekend only fans the flame. EVERYDAY is memorial day. For U pic.twitter.com/OboLuhWabk
— Nate Boyer (@NateBoyer37) May 25, 2015
There were a lot of NFL players in D.C. donating their time, but it’s likely that Boyer was the only one who has had combat experience.
By any objective measure, Boyer shouldn’t be in the NFL. He’s 34 years old, a former Green Beret who served in Iraq and Afghanistan (and before that, he volunteered to work with refugees in Sudan).
He didn’t even begin his football career until 29 — when many NFL players are entering the twilight of theirs — when the graduate of Valley Christian High in Cerritos, California, joined the Longhorns of the University of Texas.
Boyer became a longsnapper — a center who shoots the ball back between his legs over a long distance, for punts, field goals and extra-point attempts. It requires strength and accuracy.
From a story at Seahawks.com:
Boyer spent long, solitary hours on football fields and empty fields honing his craft. He crammed as many reps into his day as he could during tours in Afghanistan with the Army Reserves.
“I was snapping to walls,” he said. “I would go out on the field and snap into the goal posts and use that as a target. When I was in Afghanistan I built a target out of plywood with a couple holes in it as my bulls-eyes; one higher up for punts and one lower for field goals.”
Right after the NFL draft ended in early May, Seahawks coach Pete Carroll put in a call to Boyer and extended him the invitation to come to rookie camp and compete for a place on the team roster. The story caught the imagination of the sports press, which was enchanted with the notion of this self-effacing soldier getting the chance of a lifetime.
At only 5′ 10″ and 216 pounds, Boyer is not big by NFL standards — and centers are also expected to block other players — so it’s going to be an uphill battle.
Said Carroll in the Seahawks.com story:
“We need to see if he can hold up blocking-wise,” Seattle head coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s not a big man. We know that he’s going to give you everything he’s got, which is all we’ve ever asked of our guys. Now we’ve got to see how that translates.”
Christians are fond of saying that all things are possible with God. That’s true, but God can open doors all day long to no avail, if we aren’t willing to put in the time and effort to walk through them.
On his first day at rookie minicamp in Renton, Washington, Boyer knew he had earned his shot, but he didn’t forget the lessons he learned along the way.
In a story at Seattlepi.com, Boyer said:
“Those brotherhoods you build in the locker room or on the battlefield are the same type of things,” Boyer said. “The concept I love about football is that you’re fighting for the man on your left and right, and that is exactly what it’s all about in combat. When you get in a firefight, you’re no longer worried about yourself, but you’re taking care of your brother, and a successful football team has the same mindset — you don’t want to let the team down, you’re selfless and you’re playing for each other, not for yourselves.”
Boyer also hasn’t forgotten why he pursued his NFL dream in spite of daunting odds:
“There are a lot of guys who won’t have this opportunity, not just in football, but in a lot of things,” Boyer said. “That’s why I am here — that’s one of the main reasons why I am here — is to do it in honor of those guys who paid the ultimate sacrifice, the guys who aren’t here and the guys who gave everything so we can play football.”
Boyer may or may not make the team in the end, but in all the ways that matter, this veteran is already victorious.
Image: Courtesy @NateBoyer37 (BTW, on the Seahawks, he’ll now be number 48)
If you like this, head over to my Pax Culturati blog at Patheos.com’s Catholic Channel, for more regular entertainment coverage.