Ben Boulware delivers emotional speech at Clemson's title celebration
Ben Boulware never has and never will check all the boxes when it comes to being an elite athlete.
He’s far from the fastest, he’s an inch or two shy of what is considered “ideal” linebacker-height, and he’s not going to shatter any records in the broad or vertical jumps.
Perhaps because of those perceived shortcomings, the former Clemson standout watched and waited patiently last week as 253 players were tapped over the course of the three-day NFL Draft.
Boulware’s phone call never came, but the Carolina Panthers undoubtedly hit speed-dial when the final pick was in the books, primarily because Boulware possesses attributes and an attitude that can’t be quantified with a stopwatch or measuring tape.
Plays with “hair on fire?”
Will “tag your fanny?”
Chip on shoulder?
Check and double check.
“Ben was born with a chip on his shoulder,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
And a few other attributes.
“He’s instinctive,” Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman said. “He’s tough. He will tag your fanny. He’s smart. He’s all the stuff we’re looking for.”
Judging by his comments, Panthers coach Ron Rivera can’t wait to learn more about the player who has been the heart of the Clemson defense for the past two years. Much like his former teammate, quarterback Deshaun Watson, Boulware came up big on the biggest stages, as evidenced by his Defensive MVP awards in three different postseason games, including the national title game in January.
“We’re very excited about him,” Rivera said. “One of the hard things for us is to find linebackers who want to come here and compete because you look at our roster and it’s a solid group of linebackers.
“But here’s a young man in our backyard who went undrafted – I’m not quite sure why – but this is a young man that has been very successful in his career and has played on a very successful team and helped lead them to a national championship. He’s a winner.”
Boulware is, unequivocally, what coaches like to refer to as “a football player,” and that’s something the Panthers’ brass hopes to see when Boulware shows up for Carolina’s two-day rookie minicamp today in Charlotte.
One gets the sense that Boulware will make an impressive first impression in Charlotte.
For all of the measurables that Boulware may lack, he more than compensates with grit, guile and spirit. As Swinney likes to say, “put him on the field and he shines between the lines.”
“I know there are always guys bigger, taller, faster and all that stuff, but there are very few who are going to play better,” Swinney said. “That has never changed for him in his entire life, from 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.”
After going undrafted, it didn’t take long for Boulware to agree to an undrafted free agent deal with the Panthers – his favored boyhood team – nor to declare his intent.
“I’m in the business of proving people wrong,” Boulware said on a Twitter post. “All I need is an opportunity. Now just sit back and watch.”
You can bet that both Clemson and Panthers fans will be doing just that.
Making the team won’t be easy because the Panthers are linebacker-rich, but if there’s anyone who won’t back down from a challenge, it’s Boulware.
Besides, the opportunity to line up with and learn from Luke Kuechly, the best linebacker in the NFL, should prove invaluable.
And when you’re an undrafted free agent with a dream, being “a football player” with a chip on the shoulder might be the best possible thing to be.