Today is a day when we take time to remember heroes.
Without any football experience, Nate Boyer decided he wanted to try out for the Texas football team after enrolling at UT following the end of his run as a Green Beret.
Not the kind of heroes we as sports fans typically think about. The heroes we think about today never scored a last-second touchdown in a national championship game or made a long field goal to sew up a conference title.
Today we honor the brave men and women who, on this day 11 years ago, answered the ultimate call. The call to put their lives on the line when duty called. To, in some cases, make the ultimate sacrifice.
It's that sacrifice that make the men and women who were at Ground Zero on that dark day truly heroic. The same goes for the men and women of our armed forces, many of whom responded to the events of that day by joining various branches of the military and heading overseas.
The latter is exactly what happened to Nate Boyer. Sept. 11, 2001 is a huge reason why the Texas Longhorns' walk-on short snapper is a living example of toughness, perseverance and bravery for his Texas teammates every day.
You see, Nate Boyer isn't your ordinary walk-on short snapper. Boyer served five years as an active duty member of the Green Berets prior to coming to Texas. While many of the current Longhorns were in elementary school 11 years ago, the 31-year-old Boyer remembers how that day changed his life.
“It's the reason I joined,” Boyer said of that fateful day. “And the reason I'm here right now.”
Before Boyer walked on to the football team on the 40 Acres, he answered a calling much greater than football.
He remembers getting a call from his mother at his Southern California home that morning. Boyer immediately turned on his television to see the unforgettable images that are now burned into the minds of many Americans.
“It's always hard coming around this time of year to remember all of that stuff,” Boyer said. “It's inspiring at the same time.”
He always respected the military, but didn't join out of high school. He had done relief work in the Darfur region of Africa and was spending part his time in California working with autistic children.
That right there would have been enough to crown Boyer as one of the top humanitarians ever to play college football. That's only where his story really starts to unfold.
Serving His Country
Boyer was 21 when he joined the Army, and when he enlisted there was a contract available for a possible shot to be a Special Forces member. All he had to do was score high enough on his exams, go through through basic training and airborne school, then go through a pre-selection and a selection course.
Then, if he was lucky enough, he'd get a chance to be a Green Beret. Boyer eventually cleared all of the obstacles that were in his way and eventually made his way overseas.
That's about the extent of what Boyer reveals publicly about his time in the military.
He won't say what he did to earn a Bronze Star during his service. He doesn't talk about where he's been, only saying he's been to Iraq and “similar areas”.
His teammates don't blame him for not wanting to talk about what he experienced. That even goes for Mason Walters, who was one of Boyer's roommates last season.
“I know he lost friends over there,” Walters said. “He doesn't talk about it much.”
What Boyer does talk about with his teammates are the lessons he learned during his time as a Green Beret. Boyer has plenty of experiences to share about mental toughness, but the one thing he preaches is teamwork.
“Everything you do in the military is about the guy next to you,” Boyer said. “It's not about you anymore. That's a constant struggle with everybody every day to get away from worrying about yourself and to control the things you can control.”
In football, the job you do can can dictate whether the person next to makes a bad play. In the Army, the job you do can dictate whether the person next to you survives that day.
Needless to say, when Boyer speaks his teammates listen.
“He learned those lessons through what he was doing and where he was at,” Walters said. “He's able to teach those lessons talk to you in ways others can't.”
Becoming a Longhorn
So how does a Green Beret, who didn't play high school football because his school had no program, wind up on the football team at the University of Texas?
As Mack Brown best recalls, Boyer saw the Longhorns in the 2005 national championship game beating USC and decided he'd like to be a part of what he saw on television. All Boyer wanted was a chance to be a part of a great program and a great university like Texas.
“I wanted to do that with the best guys around me and the best possible situation,” Boyer said. “I'm going to learn more from the guys who are the best at what they do. If I put myself around them then I'll be the best I can possibly be.”
So there was Boyer, with no previous experience in the game of football trying out for a team that was coming of an appearance in the BCS title game in the middle of 2010.
He figured endurance wouldn't be a problem during the Longhorns' walk-on tryout. While he didn't know much football, going through drills where the objective is to be the last man standing was right up his alley.
“Everyone was just trying to push you and see how far you can go,” Boyer said. “It sucks. It's not fun.”
Boyer made the team and after being a scout team player for his first two years on campus, he eventually took to snapping as a way he could help the team. The Longhorns were in need of snappers this fall, and Boyer figured that would be the quickest way to get on the field.
So Boyer, who had no snapping experience whatsoever, began to hone his craft as each day passed beginning in the spring.
“When I joined the military I never really shot a gun, and that's something I figured out,” Boyer said. “I know it's possible you can do anything in this life if you believe in yourself and work harder than anyone else around you.
“I knew I could figure it out.”
Teaching While He Learns
Boyer's thankful he learned things like repetition and practicing to be perfect in the Army. He said it's what helped him learn how to snap.
“I'm still not that good,” Boyer said. “But I'm getting there.”
Boyer is now the team's starting short snapper – he snaps on field goals and extra points. Even though he's been in situations many people can't fathom – ultimate pressure situations if there ever were any – Boyer told Mack he was nervous on his first career in-game snap against New Mexico.
“I told him, 'Of all people who have ever snapped, you should be fine,'” Mack said.
Even though Boyer is still learning about football, he's still able to pass lessons onto his teammates from his time as a Green Beret. Mack said he likes having Boyer around because when players complain about what they might be eating that day, he'll let them know about being on a three-day mission with your food on you, likely getting no sleep in the sand, in triple-digit heat with 45 pounds of gear on your body.
“Your worst day here is better than their best day, is what he tells them,” Mack said of how Boyer addresses the team. “He says, 'You have no clue, and I don't want to hear you griping.'”
Boyer has given a lot to his country and to Texas, and so Mack decided to give back to him. Boyer was awarded a scholarship prior to the start of the season. He'll now be able to take the money we was receiving from his G.I. Bill and put it towards his graduate school education.
Boyer has been though more life and death situations than any one person could possibly imagine. After fighting for the freedom of Americans everywhere, it's time for Boyer to enjoy the freedoms he helped preserve and live out one of the most unique stories Mack said he's ever been involved with.
“I'm amazed,” Mack said.
Nate Boyer answered the call 11 years ago that only the truly brave among us are willing to answer. What Boyer experienced in the deserts of the Middle East makes learning how to snap a football after walking on at one of the premiere programs in America seem like small potatoes.
“It becomes surreal in our society that sports and military are alike – they're not,” Walters said. “It's light years away. I've never feared for my life once playing football.”
Even though he'll likely never hoist a Heisman Trophy or play in the NFL, Boyer is exactly the type of hero we can remember today.
A day when the real heroes of this great nation, like Nate Boyer, should be shown gratitude for making the ultimate sacrifice.