Most major individual awards for college football have taken the next step, announcing small groups of finalists. Most winners won’t be identified until after the conference championship weekend.One winner was announced earlier this week. There was no Heisman hype, no voting to identify a weekly leader.It’s a new award, and its recipient wasn’t honored for being best at his position, although Texas’ Nate Boyer continues to work diligently on long snapping for the Longhorns’ field goals and extra points.Boyer is the first to win the Armed Forces Merit Award, established to honor an individual or group who has brought distinction to military service and football. The announcement was made on the Veterans Day holiday.Individuals and groups were eligible for the honor, and this truly was an impossible task. How to distinguish among players, coaches and organizations that have put country first?But in a week in which the military has been in the news for the wrong reasons, Boyer’s story best reflects the award’s values.Boyer, 31, a Green Beret staff sergeant and Bronze Star recipient, served several tours of duty in the Middle East as a member of a special forces unit.“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Boyer said. “I don’t deserve it more than any soldier that’s serving, but it just happens that I’m playing football, too.”Which is kind of a remarkable story. Boyer never played a down of competitive football before enrolling at Texas.He played baseball and basketball in high school in California, but his small school didn’t field a football team. Still, Boyer loved the sport, and having it available for viewing in Iraq provided comfort.“College football is really important in this country, and it’s important to a lot of us in the military,” Boyer said. “It was a big kind of release, even if it’s 5 o’clock in the morning. It’s something that takes your mind away from the daily battle going on.”Boyer wound up at Texas with help from the GI Bill, and he contacted the coaches about joining the roster as a walk-on. Boyer talked to Longhorns strength coach Jeff Madden, who suggested he arrive in good shape.That wasn’t going to be a problem. After his duty, Boyer had spent time in Colorado Spring, Colo., working out at the performance center of the National Strength and Conditioning Association, concentrating on football strength and agility. When he arrived in Austin, Boyer was in shape.But he also was 29 years old, and a novice. Still, there was plenty to admire about this walk-on candidate, said Longhorns coach Mack Brown.“He saw that his only chance to play possibly would be as a deep snapper, and we only had a freshman coming in,” Brown said. “Even though he never snapped a day in his life, he decided he was going to get that job. He’s a guy who decides what he wants to do, goes for it and defies the odds.”Boyer improved his odds with his determination.“Even before the military, I was a believer in living without regret,” Boyer said. “If there’s something you want to do; go do it now, don’t wait. I don’t think you’re ever too old to do anything. You’ve just got to be willing to work harder than anyone else around you.”This is Boyer’s second year in the program after playing on the scout team last season. He spent the entire offseason perfecting the long snap, and in August was rewarded with a scholarship. When Boyer took the field for the first time this season, butterflies were fluttering.“But I think if you’re not nervous, you’re not a little bit scared … you probably shouldn’t be doing it,” Boyer said. “You should do something a little tougher and challenge yourself a little.”Boyer has done that twice, in Iraq and in Austin, and because he did, he’s the recipient of the first award handed out for the college football season.
Posted on Thu, Nov. 15, 2012 07:57 PMShare Email Print Order Reprints
A salute to the first college football award winner of the year
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