As camps for the 32 NFL teams are winding down, if there is one player who is quickly using his short-lived time in the league to make the biggest impact it may be former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware.
After not being drafted in the 2017 NFL Draft and being forced to sign as an Undrafted Free Agent with the Carolina Panthers, Boulware began his mission to prove to the other 31 teams in the NFL that they made a mistake in passing on the linebacker.
“I’m in the business of proving people wrong, so I’m looking forward to doing that,” Boulware said. “Being overlooked in every aspect of life—especially football. People saying ‘you’re not good enough, you’re too small, you’re too short, not athletic enough.’”
It is that attitude that, according to his former head coach Dabo Swinney, will drive Boulware to do great things when he finally gets his opportunity to play.
“If he had been taken in the first round, he would have rolled in with a chip on his shoulder. That’s just kind of who Ben is,” Swinney said. “But he’s a football player. He shines between the lines.
“There are always guys bigger, taller, faster and all that stuff, but there’s very few that are going to play better. That has never changed for him. In his entire like playing football from Pee-Wee to middle school to high school to college—it’s not going to be any different at the next level. He’ll be just fine.”
And so far into his professional career, Boulware is doing just fine.
A regular on ESPN and a media darling for his candid interviews, Boulware is making quickly showing that he has the personality to be an NFL superstar.
But the former two-year starter at Clemson and Jack Lambert Award winner, given to the nation’s top linebacker, has caught the eyes of the person that matters more than the media—his head coach.
“I’ve seen a young man who studies the game and takes it very seriously, and does his responsibilities the way he should as a football players,” Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said. “On the field, he’s showing you he reads very quickly, makes good decisions, gets himself downhill, plays with his hands very nicely.”
Catching the eyes of the head coach is a great start for a player trying to join a team that boasts former Pro Bowlers Thomas Davis and Luke Kuechly. However, for Boulware, playing alongside two of the players that he has looked up too during his career is something that he is taking full advantage of.
“I strive to play like them every single day,” Boulware said. “Obviously, I have my variation of how I play the game. I’m my own man, but they set the standard of how to play linebacker at this level—so, you just strive and try to do what they do on a daily basis.”
While Boulware has made the most of his time as a Panther in his young NFL career, he understands that these OTA’s (Organized Team Activities) are only the beginning of a journey that is sure to be one of the most difficult of his life.
But he is ready for whatever the Panthers ask him to do.
“I know Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are better than me. I’m not going to lie and say that I am going to try to take their starting job, because there’s no way in hell I’m going to,” Boulware said. “Obviously, I’m going to try to make the team…I will play special teams, I’ll be the tackling dummy—whatever it is. I’m just trying to make the 53-man (roster).”