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Army veteran, recent NFL hopeful Nate Boyer still aiming high

To say Nate Boyer challenges himself is an understatement.

He's served as a Green Beret. He walked on to one of the country's most prominent college football teams at 29 despite not having played in high school. He's tried to make it in the NFL as a 34-year-old rookie long snapper.

And now he's planning to climb one of the tallest mountains in the world.

The one-time Seattle Seahawk is hoping to ascend Mount Kilimanjaro -- and he's aiming to raise $1 million for the Waterboys Initiative, which was started by St. Louis Rams defensive end Chris Long to support clean-water projects in Africa, in the process.

How does someone end up in a place where he can see setting such a lofty fundraising mark as "insane" but doable, as Boyer does?

Following high school graduation and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Boyer began doing relief work in Darfur, Sudan -- where he developed his sense of patriotism and pride in serving others.

He enlisted in the United States Army in 2005 and later was accepted into the Green Berets. Boyer served for several years, then decided to go to college, as it was a "now-or-never type thing."

Of course, he didn't want to just go to school. He wanted to give football a shot, since it was something he regretted not playing early in his life. Boyer had this feeling that he "could do anything" after serving in an elite unit. So he went to college and played football. And not for just any team. Though he was close to 30 years old, Boyer walked on to Mack Brown's University of Texas squad.

"I wanted the biggest challenge possible," said Boyer, who also served in the National Guard while pursuing his degree. He was deployed during the summers. "I was on the scout team my first year, but I wanted to play and travel and be a part of the game day experience."

After redshirting his first year and playing in one game on special teams as a redshirt freshman, Boyer became the Longhorns' long snapper (something he practiced while deployed), holding the job for three seasons. Following the 2015 NFL Draft, the Seahawks signed Boyer as an undrafted free agent. He spent several months with the team and played in a preseason game against the Broncos, but he was released on Aug. 18.

Boyer -- who is eager to get back on the football field -- said being a Green Beret helped him on the gridiron in multiple ways.

Prior to enlisting, Boyer would set what seemed like unattainable goals without knowing exactly what it took to achieve them. Not until becoming a Green Beret did he truly understand the hard work and sacrifice necessary for success. He learned to apply his work ethic and built up his confidence.

"You gain that real belief in yourself after you push yourself to the limits and go harder than everyone else," Boyer said. "You feel like you can literally do anything."

He also discovered that nothing could be achieved without help from those beside him. He realized that each job, no matter how small, was important to the success of the unit. Tiny details matter.

"If your mindset is, Everything that I'm doing is to protect the man on my right and left, whether in combat or the field, it's going to lead to a more successful team effort," he said.

Boyer saw a similar brotherhood in Seattle. No one member of the Seahawks, he said, wanted to be the reason a play or scheme didn't work.

"In combat, you're so alert and ready for anything, and it's not because you're worried about your own," Boyer said. "You're worried about the guys who are with you. You never want somebody else's blood on your hands because you got complacent at a critical time."

Some players treat their performances in the NFL with life-or-death seriousness. But Boyer's actual life-or-death experiences helped him enjoy the game and put it in perspective. "After all, it's the outcome of a sporting event ... not somebody's life," he said.

At Texas and in Seattle, Boyer ran out of the tunnel at the beginning of games carrying the American flag -- and his butterflies and jitters would go away as he remembered what was important.

"There's guys [overseas] right now who are fighting so we can play and watch football, among other things," he said. "I didn't do anything to deserve this. I was just born here. After realizing all of this, then, the game becomes a privilege."

That approach kept him from having any regrets. He put everything he had into perfecting his small role. Though his time with the Seahawks was brief, his actions and what he stood for didn't go unnoticed.

"When I was released [in Seattle], I tried to not make it a big deal and sneak out of the locker room, but a lot of players, even big-name guys, made it a point to say goodbye," he said. "Richard Sherman tracked me down in the parking lot and gave me a big hug. He appreciated me being there, and that meant a lot."

When Boyer hooked up with the Waterboys Initiative, he immediately knew he wanted to help raise funds to build water wells, which each cost $45,000. And he devised an especially challenging way.

"I decided that I would climb Mount Kilimanjaro and bring a wounded veteran with me," he said. "My buddy Blake Watson, a single-leg amputee, and I are going to make the hike, which will last, give or take, five days, in February.

"I can't be upset about getting released, because I would've never gotten the opportunity to do this."

Boyer's initial goal was to raise $100,000, but his "Conquering Kili" campaign brought in that amount in just 10 days. So, naturally, Boyer set his sights at the highest bar: $1 million.

That amount would build 22 wells -- one for every NFL player involved in the project -- and, Boyer said, honor the fact that 22 veterans die every day from suicide "because they don't feel like they have a purpose, challenge or anything to fight for like they did in the military."

Some might call that fundraising aim unreachable. It's no surprise Boyer would disagree.

Follow Brooke Cersosimo on Twitter @BCersosimo.

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