Army Special Forces To NFL: What drives Nate Boyer?
Nate Boyer only has twenty minutes. It’s early, 7:30am in Los Angeles, but Boyer has been working since just after five and they’ll need him in front of the camera soon. For a guy whose office was once a fishing boat, then a Special Forces unit, then a football field in the SEC and the NFL, working on a Hollywood television set is just another chapter in the life of Boyer, whose life story has taken some of the most interesting turns imaginable. From working alongside the U.N. in Darfur to partnering in charities with Jay Glazer and Super Bowl champion Chris Long, Boyer’s mission has been one aimed at unifying and lifting up those around him, whether that be through philanthropy, action or making Hollywood films.
You’re making a television show right now?
Yessir. You ever heard of Mayans M.C.? It’s a Sons of Anarchy spinoff. I’m on the set right now.
How did you get hooked up with those guys?
I read for a part and they offered me a recurring role in the show. That’s it.
How long have you been doing the acting thing? Is this something new for you or is it something that goes back to your childhood?
No, definitely not from my childhood. I moved out to San Diego after high school, worked on a fishing boat for a bit, then moved up to L.A. and was interested in the film and television industry but I had no idea how to pursue it. So I left for a while and then when I came back out here, after football was over, I used my GI Bill to take some acting classes and started doing it. I had an opportunity on the Madden video game series. They had a story mode that they cast me in. Then I did a couple of movies last year and some television shows and stuff.
This is after you were done with the Army?
Yeah. And after football, too.
So give me the quick rundown of your life. How you got into the military, your foray into football and now your endeavors in acting and Hollywood.
I was born in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, but was raised in the Bay Area. My dad is a racehorse veterinarian at Golden Gate Fields, which is right in between Berkeley and Richmond. I grew up in El Cerrito. After high school, like I said, I worked on a fishing boat for a bit. Then I moved up to L.A., worked a bunch of odd jobs. Then, in 2004, I went to Darfur to do some relief work. I volunteered in refugee camps for a few months. I kinda snuck my way out there. I wasn’t really with an organization. I just kinda talked my way on to a U.N. flight and got out to the camps, volunteered for a couple months. It was that time that made me realize that I wanted to join the military, to serve my country.
I got malaria the last week I was there and I was listening to the Second Battle of Fallujah on BBC Radio while I was laid up on this cot just sick as a dog. So I came back to the States and found out about the Army’s 18 XRay program, where you could come in off the street and try to be a Green Beret. It’s got a really high attrition rate. You go to Basic Training, Airborne School and then straight to Selection.
How long were you in the Army?
Ten years total. The last four of those were in the Texas National Guard when I was playing football at the University of Texas.
Did you play football in high school?
No. I never played football in my entire life.
So you never played football in your life, you go to Texas -- the most fertile football hotbed in the world -- you decide, ‘Fuck it. I’m walking on to one of the most storied football programs ever.’ Take me through that mindset a bit.
Man, it was always a dream for me to play ball. I had played other sports and football just never stuck for me and I kind of regretted that. It was like the girl that got away. I figured, at that age -- I was twenty-nine -- I wanted to go to a good school and try to play ball. So I applied to UT because they had an historic program, it’s a great school and Austin in a great town. Once I got in there, I didn’t apply anywhere else.
How long were you at UT?
Five years, total. I finished my bachelors and my masters. After my senior year, I played in the Medal of Honor Bowl in Charleston, South Carolina. There were a bunch of scouts there and they told me that I should give it a shot at the NFL as a long snapper.
Was that your position at Texas?
Eventually. I walked on as a safety but I moved to long snapper. So I came back out to Los Angeles, started training at Jay Glazer’s gym, went to a pro day and had a few teams following up with me. The last day of the draft, I signed with the Seattle Seahawks as a free agent.
How long were you with them?
About five months, total. I was out there through training camp, played in one preseason game against the Denver Broncos in Seattle. Of course, it was raining. It was awesome.
I can’t think of any off the top of my head, maybe you know, but I’m sure there haven’t been many guys who never played football before playing major college ball who made it to the NFL.
I definitely never heard of any.
What’d you do after football?
Came back to Los Angeles and started a charity with Jay Glazer called Merging Vets and Players, or MVP for short. We bring together combat vets and former professional athletes and help them find purpose after the uniform comes off. After that, I started an initiative within Waterboys. Chris Long, who just retired from the NFL, is a buddy of mine. He started this initiative called Waterboys which brings clean water wells to East Africa through locker rooms and the fanbases of NFL teams. So he hit me up and was like, “Hey, I loved hearing your story. Would you be interested in helping us out?”
So I started an initiative with them where we bring wounded veterans and current and former NFL players together to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania together to raise money for the water wells.
There was just an NBA player that was in the news for that, correct? Charles Barkley pledged to give him $45 grand on the spot on live television.
Yeah, Malcolm Brogdon. He’s the main Waterboy on the NBA side of things.
So you have MVP, you have Waterboys. Any other philanthropic stuff you’re involved with?
I’m on a board here and there. I have a bunch of little things I’m involved with but those are my main things.
Take my through this new foray into acting. As somebody who didn’t grow up acting -- though, as someone who didn’t grow up playing football but made it to the NFL -- what sparked your interest in this world?
At the end of the day, I want to be a filmmaker. I want to have a production company to tell stories that need to be told. Important stories. Just being a part of that, I think film is a powerful medium. My whole focus is to be a unifier. We live in such a divided country that, if you can help people see the other side of an opinion in a way that’s not throwing it in their face, but more through experience, I think that’s the best way to gain perspective, to understand each other. So I want to be a part of those stories.
As someone who grew up in El Cerrito, which is in the hyper-liberal Bay Area, someone got involved in the military, and someone went to UT, which, despite being in a pretty progressive city, is still in Texas, how did that inform where you want to take this idea to unify people?
It definitely played a big role in it. Growing up in an area like El Cerrito but also in a relatively conservative family, I had that dichotomy. But also, my time spent overseas. In the Special Forces, you live with, train with and fight alongside host nationals. People with completely different religious beliefs and experiences, backgrounds, traditions, cultures, customs and all that stuff. And you have to learn to live with them, to work with them and understand that they believe certain things based on their experience. And just because I don’t agree with, believe certain things or even understand certain things, doesn’t mean that they’re wrong. Most people in the world are just good people who are trying to do the right thing. We all want what’s best for our community.
What’s next for you as a creative, as a businessman, as a philanthropist?
I co-wrote a script about MVP. Sylvester Stallone’s production company picked it up. So we’re trying to get that made. It comes down to finances. But it’s about a Marine veteran who is living in a homeless shelter full of vets in East Hollywood. A lot of the guys in there were infantry, a lot of them lost brothers. And they’re just trying to sort things out. It’s based on real people and a real place. They call it The Barracks because it feels much more like a barracks than a homeless shelter in there. It’s just this family of guys living in L.A. -- talk about dichotomy -- and the main guy meets a former NFL player who lives up in the Hills and they have an unlikely friendship after they come to the realization that they have so much in common; their struggles, the loss of identity after their uniforms came off, the mission and those careers ending in your twenties or early thirties, if you’re lucky. So they help each other through some pretty dark stuff. But it’s also got humor, because a lot of what we do and who we are has a lot of dark humor. Trying to get that made, that’s my passion project right now.