In football, there are positions, like quarterback, that get you a lot of attention. They get the glory, the endorsements, and the scrutiny when things go wrong. Take, for example, the heap of blame Russell Wilson took for that last-minute interception in the Super Bowl.
However, one of the most anonymous positions in football, if not in all of sport, is the long snapper. And one appears ready for his closeup and could become a big deal indeed — as KUT Austin’s Jimmy Maas explains.
The long snapper is a player solely responsible for putting the ball into play on field goals, extra points and punts; a specialist whose identity is obscured by a helmet and the giants that surround him.
Defenders can’t even line up on the guy to get a good look at him. Even the most devoted fans of teams rarely know who the long snapper is.
It’s position that could use some star power, a face – maybe even a hero.
Enter former University of Texas Longhorn Nate Boyer. He’s 34 years old, 5 feet 10 inches tall and 195 pounds.
Also, he’s a green beret.
But to get where Nate Boyer is now, you have to go back to how it started – not on a high school football field, but as an aid worker in Sudan.
Eleven years ago, after choosing not to go to college, working fishing boats in California and then a brief stint making a run at a film career, he saw an article that gave him direction.
“One day a Time magazine article fell into my lap, talking about the tragedies in Sudan, in the Darfur region. And the images just spoke to me. The images… a lot of them were so horrific… it really tugged at me. Something told me I had to go there and help out any way I could,” Boyer says.
He says he reached out to every non-governmental organization (NGO) he could to try and get over there, but he didn’t have the experience or any degree to qualify for any programs. So one day, he decided he’d just buy a plane ticket and sort it out when he hit the ground.
“If I just show up, there’s got to be someone there that’s going to appreciate that and help me out. I’m glad I did it that way, because it kind of paved the way for my future endeavors, you know…not taking ‘No’ for an answer and just making things happen no matter what,’ he says. “Just trust in in myself and just having the faith in humanity that there’s going to be someone along the line that’s going to help you out.”
While in Sudan, Boyer felt the call to join the Army, with the goal of making it into Special Forces. He says he’d listen to the BBC’s play-by-plays of Fallujah, which inspired him to serve in the military.
“I kind of gained my patriotism over there. So I came back and signed up and wanted to be in the Special Forces because they work for the indigenous people,” Boyer says. “I knew that was a big challenge, but I felt I could make it happen again. If I just worked hard and put my head down and focused on the goal, that I could make it happen. Fortunately, it worked out.”
Getting ready for the next phase of his life, Boyer decided it was time to get his degree, but he also wanted to do something he’d never done before: play football. He says he applied and was admitted in 2010, after the school’s loss to Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide at the BCS National Championship. Boyer made it onto the team as a walk-on.
“I had no idea what I was doing most of the time. I just ran as hard as I could on every drill. I wasn’t afraid to get knocked on my butt,” he says. “I was fortunate enough to make the team, and Coach Brown gave me a chance to eventually long snap was huge. It changed my life in another way.”
He’s spent the last few weeks in Renton, Washington, trying to make it on an NFL team – and not with just any NFL team – the Seattle Seahawks. The same Seahawks that have gone to the last two Super Bowls and came within a nifty defensive play by the New England Patriots of winning two in a row.
Most of the stories surrounding Boyer center around the odds. What are the odds that a guy could learn long snapping via YouTube, hone his skills during summers with the National Guard in Afghanistan, sharpen them playing for the University of Texas, and try to earn a slot on the Seattle Seahawks roster in one lifetime?
One in a billion? One in ten billion? Statistician James Scott with the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas says, apparently, they’re incalculable.
“To be honest, reasoning retrospectively using probabilistic reasoning about these kind of things is almost impossible,” he says. “It’s the most natural thing in the world to find this combination of achievements very surprising. I think the reason that it’s natural is because here’s a 34-year-old trying out for the Seattle Seahawks, and he’s also been a green beret.”
But Boyer isn’t your typical 34-year-old, mostly because of his choices. He chose Sudan over Southern California. He chose the Special Forces over an easier assignment. He chose to long snap.
If he makes the team, he’d be the oldest rookie ever in the history of the NFL. If things go the way they’ve gone for the record-setting long snapper before, which you don’t see too often, he could be just the hero that the niche position has been begging for.