Quarterback Maty Mauk was encircled by a small gathering of media members for Missouri’s first Citrus Bowl practice when junior center Evan Boehm crawled behind him on all fours for a schoolyard prank, the timeless de-pantsing.
Mauk didn’t blink.
“I’m used to that stuff,” he said with a laugh.
Outside of games and practice, Boehm shows a gregarious spirit. He’s a gentle soul with a lot of passion for MU football, so much so he had an old-school Truman the Tiger logo tattooed on his chest.
On the field, Boehm is a much different person and, by the time conference play arrived for Missouri this season, he’d become frustrated.
It came to a head Sept. 20 when Boehm struggled with his shotgun snaps against Indiana in the Tigers’ final non-conference game, a shocking home loss to the perennial Big Ten basement-dwellers.
By no means can the loss be pinned on Boehm, but his difficulty snapping the ball was a clear indication he was pressing, burying himself under the immense weight of his own expectations.
“I had huge goals for myself and I’m the type of kid, if I do something wrong, I’ll be the first one to get on myself about it,” Boehm said.
Normally, Boehm’s perfectionist nature serves him well, but early in the season it became counterproductive, so first-year Missouri offensive line coach A.J. Ricker called him into his office.
“I just said, ‘Man, just relax. You’re a good football player,’” Ricker said.
Boehm talked candidly with Ricker about being too critical of himself. He’d compound one mistake by holding onto it mentally.
“I was my own biggest critic instead of letting it go and just going and playing,” Boehm said.
The hitch in Boehm’s snap was a symptom of a bigger issue.
“That’s a sign of a guy that’s thinking too much and putting too much pressure on himself, because he’s never done that and all the sudden there’s one game where you can’t snap the ball,” Ricker said. “His own expectations definitely weighed on him, so we talked about it.”
Being a perfectionist runs in Boehm’s family.
It helped instill the drive in Boehm that made him one of the nation’s top high school prospects at Lee’s Summit West, a three-year starter for the Tigers and arguably the top underclassman at his position in the SEC.
Being a perfectionist also comes with occasionally unrealistic self-imposed expectations, generally far higher than the demands heaped on by anyone else and often incredibly difficult to attain.
“We want our kids to set big goals, but we also want them to, if they don’t get those goals, to know it’s OK,” Evan’s dad, Royce Boehm, said. “There are hurdles to leap, and sometimes we don’t always get over those hurdles, but it’s still a life-builder for the next year.”
Royce, who was Evan’s high school coach at Lee’s Summit West, admitted that he and his wife, Teresa, also are something of perfectionists. So it’s no surprise that Evan and his younger brother, Tyler, are the same way.
The trick for Evan was learning to master that aspect of his personality.
“The pressure that I put on myself made me not do as good as I wanted to in the beginning of the season, but after the talk with coach Ricker and some of the guys on the offensive line, like captain Mitch Morse, it made me realize what I was doing wrong and correct it,” Boehm said.
He worked through his mechanical issues quickly, but also overcame the mental hurdles quickly, too.
“Towards the end of the season, I’ve been reaching the goals that I’ve wanted to reach,” Boehm said. “… After the Indiana game, it really clicked. I had that rough game, but I feel like after that game I took a step back and really evaluated what I was doing and what I needed to change. I figured it out and, since then, I think I’ve gotten better and I’m continuing to get better.”
Entering the season, Boehm hoped to supplant Auburn’s Reese Dismukes as the best center in the SEC. He eyed All-American status and wanted to be a finalist for the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center.
A slow start didn’t help those aspirations, but Boehm started playing at that level by the season’s end.
“Early in the season, his motor wasn’t where it was in camp,” Ricker said. “I think he was just second-guessing himself and lost a little bit of confidence. Where now, he’s playing through the echo of the whistle. He’s still got room to improve big time, but we all do.”
Boehm was one of the four underclassmen whose name was submitted to the NFL for evaluation, but he’d pretty much already made up his mind that he was returning for his senior season at Missouri.
Next year, the NFL probably awaits, but it won’t be this spring.
“He’s on the right track, but I think it’s going to be the same thing in the spring,” Ricker said. “Evan just needs to go out there and play. He doesn’t need to put all the pressure on himself, and I certainly don’t put a lot of pressure on him. But I also want him to be great, and he wants to be great. He’s got a high ceiling and he’s got the drive and the want to be good.”