After helping lead Clemson to a national championship last season and winning the Jack Lambert Award as college football’s best linebacker, Ben Boulware figured at least one team would select him in last weekend’s NFL Draft.
Instead, the 6-foot, 238-pound linebacker went undrafted, but quickly signed with the Carolina Panthers when the draft concluded last Saturday.
Boulware said Friday, as the Panthers opened their rookie minicamp, not getting drafted was a humbling experience.
“I obviously wanted to get drafted, but I didn’t,” the Anderson, S.C., native said. “I can’t really fret or whine or complain. It happened. There is nothing I can do about it. It’s in the past. 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.”
Boulware had led Clemson with 116 tackles last season and had 11 1/2 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Thursday Boulware will probably always play with a chip on his shoulder.
“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 told reporters at the annual annual Prowl and Growl Tour in Greenville, S.C., via the Post and Courier. “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 life 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.”
Boulware was a two-year starter at Clemson and a defensive captain. The knock on him coming out of Clemson is that he isn’t athletic enough to succeed at the next level. But it’s his intangibles that make him a coach’s dream. He was actually so excited to get to work, he showed up at Bank of America Stadium an hour and a half early to beat Charlotte traffic, then took a nap in his car until it was time to go.
Because he grew up about two hours from Charlotte, Boulware is actually a lifelong Panthers fan and is looking forward to learning from starting linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis.
“I know Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are better than me,” Boulware conceded. “It is what it is. 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 make the (53-man roster).”
And the chip on his shoulder won’t weigh him down; it will just fuel his competitive drive.
“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’m just wanting to prove myself right and everyone else wrong that I can play at this level,” Boulware 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.”