Editor’s Note: We’ve asked a few select athletes who we’ve featured on Purpose2Play to write about who inspires them. Up next is Nate Boyer, a former active-duty Green Beret and former member of the Seattle Seahawks. Boyer never played a down of football in his life until he walked-on at the University of Texas as a longsnapper. Our feature story on him was published in November of 2015. Without further ado, here’s Nate Boyer.
Where I come from, heroes don’t walk the earth. They are no longer standing among us, and if they were still here, they would never let someone call them ‘hero’ without immediately deflecting.
Those are the people who inspire me. They’re not necessarily the ones I get to see everyday, but they’re the ones I’ll never see again. Living for them is inspiring.
Brad Keys is one of those men. I’ll tell you right now, without any hesitation, that much like myself, Brad is not a “War Hero.”
Yes, he went to war. Yes, he fought for his country. Yes, he saw combat. He was in firefights, and got shot at. But, Brad is so much more than that. He’s a “Human Hero.”
Brad was the first friend I made when I was sent to my new team of Green Berets in 10th Special Forces Group out of Fort Carson, Colorado. That wasn’t before he put on his drill sergeant façade and grilled the crap out of me on day one. Brad wanted to see if I could handle it.
I did everything in my power not to laugh because whether he was putting on an act or not, it was damn funny. It took a few weeks of me keeping my mouth shut, but Brad and the rest of the team came around and welcomed me to the Brotherhood, and the United States Army Special Forces Brotherhood is like none other on earth.
Just a month later, we were gearing up to head to Iraq, which would be my first combat deployment. Seeing as I had been training with some of the most elite war fighters in the world, I was less nervous than I thought I would be. Part of it was because this particular team had a love for one another, a desire to fight for the man to his right and left, and to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves; ultimately to conduct the mission that our motto calls us to: De Oppresso Liber, meaning, To Free the Oppressed.
While in Iraq, when we didn’t have a mission, Brad and I would sit around the campfire at night on the rooftop of our team house and talk, sometimes for hours. I learned a lot about his heart and the type of man he was, one that I still struggle to be.
You see, Brad married Lisa, a single mother, but not just any single mother. She’s Ethan’s mom, and Ethan is a child with severe disabilities. His infectious smile and positive attitude make him an exceptional young man, one who has captured the hearts of many people, including Brad.
Brad would tell me how in some ways, he fell in love with Ethan even before Lisa, and he knew that this would be his family because it just felt right. I will always admire Brad not only for what he did, but also for being vulnerable enough to share that with me. He was a special dude.
On Wednesday, December 12, 2012, just a few days after I received the Disney Spirit Award at the ESPN College Football Awards, and a few days before I headed off to San Antonio with the rest of the Texas Longhorns to play in the Alamo Bowl, I received a congratulatory call from Brad. He had seen me on TV being presented the award from Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide as well as getting interviewed by Chris Fowler and Tom Rinaldi.
“What’s next Nate? Friggin’ President?” Brad joked over the phone. I never thought that conversation would be the last time I would ever speak with him.
Brad was in the middle of a military freefall jump re-qualification with the team in Eloy, Arizona. He was essentially tactical skydiving day in and day out for a couple of weeks. I had been on one exactly like that with him just three years prior.
On Thursday, December 13, 2012, Master Sgt. Bradley S. Keys died during a military freefall training accident. He was only 33, a year younger than I would eventually be as a rookie with the Seahawks.
Lisa asked me to be a pallbearer at the funeral. It was a tremendous honor to carry Brad because I felt like he carried me for so long. Brad had survived two long deployments to Iraq and I just didn’t want to believe that this was real. It hurt too much to admit to myself.
I still find myself talking to Brad as much as I talk to myself; asking his advice and seeking approval from my big brother.
Our head football coach Mack Brown wanted to dedicate the Alamo Bowl game to Brad and his family. I got to share with the team who Brad was and why it was important to play in his honor.
Late in the fourth quarter, we trailed Oregon State (my dad’s alma mater) by 10 points and I remember feeling like I had somehow let Brad down. We had played so poorly for three quarters and I felt responsible. I never want to quit on anything, but in that moment I just felt empty and alone on that sideline.
Then something happened. I heard Brad’s voice telling me it was okay; that I didn’t have to win to make him proud. I suddenly felt a rush through my body and I marched up and down the sidelines urging the team to continue fighting and not worry about the score. Honestly, I just wanted us to not give up regardless of the result because I knew that’s what Brad would do.
Almost immediately, the tides changed. We moved down the field and scored to bring us within three points. Then our defense played as if they were shot out of a cannon. It seemed like we were sacking the quarterback on almost every play. We got the ball back and with just a couple minutes left, David Ash threw a long pass to Marquise Goodwin for a touchdown securing our first lead of the game.
I got really emotional when Marquise caught that ball in the back of the end zone and remember fighting back tears while I jogged onto the field to snap the extra point. We still had to play defense and the electricity in the stadium was palpable. We got in the backfield on four straight plays and Alex Okafor (who had 4.5 sacks) ended the game with the team’s tenth sack.
I took a knee and broke down on the sideline as confetti fell from the roof and our team celebrated on the field. I have no doubt Brad was there with us that night.
Coach Brown sent game balls to Lisa and Ethan after the game, and the following year, Lisa brought Ethan to Austin for a game — something Brad never had the chance to do.
This March, Lisa was able to travel to Tanzania with me, three wounded veterans and several former NFL players to climb Mount Kilimanjaro. We all summited together and pinned a set of Brad’s jump wings on the sign at the peak.
The climb is part of a clean water project through Waterboys, which was started by NFL defensive end Chris Long. Before the climb, we were able to visit the solar-powered water well that is dedicated to Brad.
I still carry Brad with me everyday. In fact, I wear a bracelet that Lisa had made that says, “WWBD” (What Would Brad Do?). I look down at it often, and I try to consider those words with every big decision I make. I forever want to honor his death with the way that I live my life.
Nate Boyer is who many would deem a renaissance man. The former active-duty Green Beret is also a world traveler, a philanthropist and community leader, and a professional athlete as a former member of the Seattle Seahawks. A five-year player for the Texas Longhorns, Boyer served as the No. 1 long snapper his last three seasons. Boyer has embarked on a wealth of colorful adventures and life-changing experiences: he has backpacked solo throughout much of Europe and Central America, worked for a year on a fishing boat in San Diego, gone fly fishing in Kamchatka in Russia, worked as a big brother and mentor for children diagnosed with Autism, and volunteered at Refugee Camps in the Darfur region of Sudan/Chad border. Boyer’s belief that “Anything is Possible” has served him well throughout his life and has made him especially fit to speak about finding one’s passions and living with purpose for other people. I