Alex Boone has such a compelling back-story that it is easy to focus only on his past when the real story is his present and his future. It's easy to dwell on the decisions that nearly cost him a shot at an NFL career when the more remarkable decision was the one that led him to rebuild himself physically and mentally and finally land him where he seemingly was born to be -- in the NFL, with a chance to make a roster.
Of course, challenging for a backup role with the San Francisco 49ers and being happy for the chance is not how things were supposed to go when Boone came out of high school as one of the nation's top recruits. Or when he developed into one of the Big Ten's best offensive tackles at Ohio State.
An affinity for beer, hard-partying and being the center of attention off the field steered him off track and left him scratching and clawing to salvage his career -- and his life -- instead of reaping the rewards of his massive size (6-foot-7, 310 pounds), exceptional talent and dynamic personality.
"I think everyone is worried I've gone up so far now I can only go back down," said Boone, 23. "You can only be so focused, and then it starts to fall away. This is the most focused I've been in my life. I see the goal, and I see the prize at the end, and I'm working as hard as I can to get it."
Boone making San Francisco's 53-man roster would be more than a story of redemption. It would be one of clarity, dedication, sobriety and second chances. He has a locker room and a coaching staff pulling for him, and there are mechanisms in place to prevent regression. However, the team's affinity for the charismatic tough guy won't supersede the need to put the best players in uniform. If he doesn't make it, it will be because he either wasn't good enough or someone else was better.
Now the back-story.
Today, Boone is the guy everyone wants to see succeed. About a year-and-a-half ago, he was a guy a lot of people wouldn't want to be around.
After a junior season that had him projected as a top-60 NFL draft pick, he regressed as a senior and was targeted somewhere in the middle rounds. Then he drank himself out of the draft completely after he was arrested -- and tased in the process -- by police near Los Angeles on Feb. 2, 2009. After a Super-Bowl-party drinking bender, he reportedly tried to stop a tow-truck driver from towing a car by beating on the truck's window and jumping on vehicles. When police arrived, he became so aggressive he was tased into submission.
Boone, who is from suburban Cleveland, was in Southern California training for the NFL Scouting Combine. His arrest came two weeks before he was to showcase himself for top NFL personnel men. Even if he had gone on to perform better than any lineman at the combine, he had just kissed his draft-worthiness good-bye.
"I remember sitting there the next day thinking, 'How am I going to get myself out of this one?'," Boone said. "I remember thinking to myself, 'This isn't what I want. This isn't me. I'm not this wild animal.' People are always talking about those tough guys. I wanted to be one of those tough guys. When I walked into the room, everyone would say, 'That guy is tough.' I was just looking at it from the wrong angle ... I had hit rock bottom, having everyone laughing at me.
"There were so many people calling my house saying, 'You know, I knew this was coming. I knew he was trouble.' I felt so bad for my mom and my grandma."
"I know there is a big difference from when he started getting in trouble in college to where he is now," Laurinaitis said. "He realizes it's a problem. It's easy to say when you get in trouble, 'Hey I have to change.' It's harder to realize the whole motivation behind it. Him questioning why he had to be the in-front-of-the crowd guy -- him addressing that is important. He has an awesome mother and a good support system. The fact that he realized the problem is a first step, and maybe it's hitting him. That whole misstep before the draft, maybe that's what was needed to get him to realize to get it together. I want to see him do well."
Boone said he hasn't had a drink since being arrested, but when asked about temptation, he gave a one-word answer: "Beer."
After Boone went undrafted in April 2009, the 49ers signed him as free agent. Upon his arrival at team headquarters in Santa Clara, he was administered a wake-up call more sobering than the jail cell.
"I literally walked through the door in the hallway, and (Singletary) pulled me into a room and sat me down and gave me that stare," Boone said. "He must have just worked out, because his traps were looking huge. He just gave me that stare, and I'm like, 'Oh, God, I've been here like three minutes. Have I done something wrong already?' He told me, 'I'm going to break you like a wild horse.'
"I've never had someone of his stature sit there and say, 'Your ass is mine.' "
Said Singletary: "He's a guy with a great personality. He had some tough breaks, and he just really needed somebody to believe in him and somebody that cared. Sometimes, as a rookie, you've already heard all of the promises and all of the 'stuff'. By the time he got here he heard enough of that. He wanted somebody to be real with him."
Singletary was and has been. The two men have forged an interesting bond that typically doesn't materialize between a head coach and an undrafted rookie.
Boone worked his way onto the practice squad last season and caught the coaches' attention -- but he almost blew it again. Out of shape when he reported, Boone let himself get to a sloppy 340 pounds -- about 20 more than he weighed in college. Singletary gave him a final warning to get in shape or turn in the playbook.
Boone became so fanatical about his fitness and diet that he dropped nearly 40 pounds in a matter of weeks.
"He lost too much weight," 49ers strength and conditioning coach Duane Carlisle said. "He was at 303, 304. We needed to rebuild muscle on top of that frame."
That was the beginning of the transformation that has made Boone a viable candidate to make the 49ers' 2010 roster. Boone began to add muscle where there was fat, never stopped working out once the season ended and developed a reputation for diligence.
"I live right around the facility, and I popped in late at night, I forgot something, and he's been on the cardio machine, on the weight machines, benching, by himself," Carlisle said. "I can always tell when he's in here, because he has the heavy metal cranking. I've been here 10 to 12 times (after hours), whether its Saturday or Sunday. He's in here. He's a guy you pull for 100 percent. He pushes us as coaches, because he pushes himself so hard."
|Ben Liebenberg / NFL.com|
|Having once allowed himself to get to a sloppy 340 pounds, Alex Boone has hit the gym and replaced fat with muscle.|
Boone's strength is way up, as is his agility. Once viewed as a plodding right tackle, he's now being worked out as a pile-moving and pass-protecting left tackle -- a move that enhances his chances to make the team. What hurts his chances, though, is that for all the positive momentum he has generated, his roster spot is hardly secure.
Joe Staley is entrenched as the starting left tackle, and Adam Snyder is on the right side until Davis is ready. That's three tackle spots occupied. Boone is pushing veteran Barry Sims to lock up the fourth. Boone still has practice-squad eligibility, but he'd rather not go that route again.
"This camp, this year, it's all or nothing," Boone said. "People told me that this was my year to make a statement. No more waiting. No more sitting around. There is no more, 'I think I'll do that next week.' It's right now. Coach (Singletary) tells me all the time, 'If you're going to make a statement, make it now, because it's not going to come back around. You're in great shape. You need to do it.'
"That's what I need. I need people to say, 'If you're going to do it, do it now.' Sometimes we do lose a little focus. I've got to work hard every day and keep it going."