On Friday, former Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware got to do something he only had imagined before, participate in his first practice as an NFL player.
Boulware and the rest of the Carolina Panthers rookies went through rookie minicamp behind Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Boulware was signed as a free agent by the Panthers after the former Clemson All-American went undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft last week.
“I’ve been dreaming about this moment for a long time,” Boulware said to the media on Panthers.com. “It’s definitely not done yet. I still have a whole lot of work to do. I still have to make the team, but to get to this point is really cool.”
Boulware says he is not going to whine or complain about not being drafted because there is nothing he can do it about it now. His only focus is to do everything he can to make the Panthers’ 53-man roster.
“It’s in the past,” he said. “All I really can do is make the most of the situation I’m in now. Try to maximize the opportunity I have now, regardless if I was a first-round pick or an eighth-round pick. I guess I was the Panthers’ eighth-round pick this year.”
Some were puzzled to see Boulware sign with a franchise that is so deep at linebacker and has two All-Pro players in the middle with Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
“Learn behind two of the best linebackers in the game right now,” Boulware said. “I feel like it’s the perfect opportunity for me to learn and grow as a player. It’s a good market for me, staying two hours away from home.
“I feel like I can make the team. I’ll have to pay my dues and act like a freshman in college again and work my way up. I’m willing to compete and do anything to make the team.”
Boulware says he isn’t foolish to think he is a better player than Kuechly and Davis, but he knows he can learn a lot from them and in turn that will make him a better linebacker and a football player.
“I know Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are better than me. It is what it is,” he said. “I’m not going to lie and say that I’m going to take their starting job because there is no way in hell I’m going to. But I’m going to be ready for any opportunity that comes up and try and contribute with whatever role that may be – special teams, being the tackling dummy – whatever it is, I’m just trying to make the 53.”
Kuechly actually sent Boulware a text message welcoming him to the team.
“I was like, ‘this is so cool.’ I was totally a fan,” the former Tiger said. “I screenshot it and showed it to all my friends. He’s Luke Kuechly. He’s one of the best players in the game so it was a pretty cool feeling to get a text from him.”
Boulware also met Davis, who came to their meeting on Thursday. He has not meet Kuechly in person.
Though he thought it was great to meet Davis and to get a text message from Kuechly, the fun and games are over for Boulware. It is now time to turn his attention to football and doing everything he can to make the team.
“There is not really any security in being an undrafted free agent,” he said. “I have to work my butt off, and there are only 53 spots. There are a lot of guys here, so I haven’t made it yet. Hopefully in the next couple of months I can finally say I made it. But the work is not done yet.”
For those who doubt Boulware’s chances of making the Panthers, just remember, he thrives on being the underdog.
“Just being kind of overlooked in every aspect of life, especially football … hearing, ‘You’re not good enough, you’re too small, you’re too short. Not athletic enough.’ I just want to prove myself right and everyone else wrong that I can play at this level,” he said. “I feel like I proved that at college when everyone said I couldn’t play at Clemson and I wouldn’t contribute, and you all obviously know what I did at Clemson. I know the NFL is a whole new level. But I’m up for the challenge. I’m in the business of proving people wrong, so I’m looking forward to doing that.”
–Photo Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports