RENTON, Wash. — Nate Boyer won’t likely forget walking in the Seattle Seahawks’ locker room on Friday and seeing the blue No. 48 jersey with his name on it.
“To go in there and I see [the jersey], it’s awesome,” he said. “To be able to officially say I’m an NFL player, as long as it lasts, it’s amazing. It’s hard to describe.”
At age 34, Boyer is the inspirational story of rookie camp, a Green Beret war hero who became a talented long-snapper for the Texas Longhorns in his 30s. Now the Seahawks are giving him a shot in the NFL as a rookie free agent.
“I’m so fortunate to be here,” Boyer said after his first NFL practice. “I’m soaking up every minute of it. You can’t ask for more. This is the best team in football.”
Boyer was the first player on the field Friday. He realizes he is a long shot to make the team. The Seahawks have one of the best long-snappers in football in Clint Gresham, who recently signed a new three-year deal worth $2.7 million.
“Clint was one of the first people to congratulate me,” Boyer said. “It’s two guys competing and both having fun and getting after it. I’m going to give it everything I have.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said he is impressed with what Boyer has accomplished in his life and what he has given to his country.
“It’s hard to grasp, for some of us, what he’s gone through and what he’s endured,” Carroll said of Boyer. “The mentality that it’s taken for him to accomplish the things he’s accomplished. He’s an amazing man. We’re thrilled to have him. And he snaps the ball pretty sweet too, so he had a good first day for us.”
Boyer earned a Bronze Star while serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. He said his experiences in combat have helped him on the football field.
“Football is not like war in any way,” Boyer said. “But it does have a lot of similarities to the military with those brotherhoods you build in the locker room or on the battlefield.
“The concept I love about football is you are literally fighting for the man on your left and right. That’s exactly what it’s all about in combat. You’re selfless and playing for each other. That’s something I’ve already heard here in the last 24 hours.”
He also has heard a lot of encouraging messages from his former buddies in the service.
“But the best things, the ones that inspire the most, are notes and letters from people I’ve never met,” Boyer said. “I got one [Friday] in my locker that said, ‘Hey, you’re inspiring me to go after something. I don’t care that people are telling me I can’t and I won’t.’
“I love that. Those are the words that drive me. I turn it into fuel and it fires me up.”
Boyer didn’t start playing football until he was 29, so did he ever imagine he would get an opportunity in the NFL?
“Of course,” he said. “I’m a dreamer. I’m just like that. I believe that I can do it. What I learned in the military is how to work toward that. It takes a huge amount of sacrifice.
“It’s what you have to be willing to give up and to accept the fact that you might fail. But when you get to this level, that’s not failing. It may not work out the way you hope, but it’s not failing.”
Boyer doesn’t consider himself a hero, but he wants to do something special for people he sees as heroes.
“There are so many guys out there that have done way more heroic things than I can imagine,” Boyer said. “There are guys that have lost a lot more than me and sacrificed a lot more than I have. I’m fortunate to be able to do this.
“There are a lot of guys that will never get that opportunity, not just in football, but a lot of things. That’s one of the main reasons I’m here, to honor those guys, the guys who paid the ultimate sacrifice. They gave everything so guys like me can play football.”