Portfolio: From Philomath to Super Bowl

Appeared in the Salem Statesman Journal Feb. 3, 2008

Tight end Kevin Boss, the ex-Western Oregon star, took an unusual road to get to pro football’s biggest game

By CHRIS HAGAN

Statesman Journal

Many people were staring at their televisions in disbelief two weeks ago as Lawrence Tynes sent a field goal through the uprights to send the New York Giants to today’s Super Bowl.

Although more than a few of those were in Wisconsin, one sat in Monmouth. Mark Thorson, the starting quarterback for the NCAA Division II Western Oregon Wolves since 2005, saw a familiar face staring back.

Wearing No. 89 for the Giants was former Wolves tight end Kevin Boss, Thorson’s teammate for four years. Slowly it sunk in that Boss would be heading to Glendale, Ariz., to start against the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

“Last week after they beat Green Bay, I sat there for about five minutes, just in shock,” Thorson said. “I still can’t believe he’s in the Super Bowl.”

Boss hasn’t taken the well-traveled road to the NFL. A lightly recruited player from Philomath High School, Boss landed at Western Oregon in 2002.

After a standout career at WOU, including a selection to the Daktronics all-American team his junior year, Boss was selected in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL draft by the Giants. Boss is the second WOU player drafted by the NFL.

Boss spent most of the season backing up Pro-Bowl tight end Jeremy Shockey until an injury to Shockey moved Boss into the starting lineup. Boss started all three Giants playoff games and will start today against the Patriots.

“I just feel really blessed to be put in these situations, being drafted by the Giants, working with Jeremy, playing in the Super Bowl my first year,” Boss said.

Boss wasn’t always the prototypical 6-6, 253-pound target that he is now. At Philomath, many thought basketball would be the big, skinny — yes, skinny — kid’s future.

“He’s 6-6 about 205 when he played for us, which was great for us because he was so athletic,” former Philomath head football coach C.A. Rath said. “He’s always had great hands, which helped his basketball abilities as well or vice versa.”

Boss helped Philomath win the 2002 Class 3A basketball state title and was an all-state honorable mention pick as a post.

Boss spent two years playing junior varsity football before moving up as a junior. Although Boss had the height, he didn’t have the strength to dominate.

“He wasn’t somebody that physically would tackle someone and knock them down and hurt ’em kind of thing, but he would always make the play,” Rath said. “But on offense when he got the ball, there was something electric about it.”

Rath still remembers a late-season game against Toledo in which Philomath went to halftime down 18-0, needing a win to stay in the playoff hunt.

“In the second half we ended up beating them 21-18 and Kevin caught a 6- or 7-yard yard pass on a crossing route and took it 57 yards for a touchdown,” he said. “When you see a guy who’s 6-6, 200 pounds running 57 yards down the field and basically outrunning everyone on the field for the win … it’s pretty amazing.”

Despite being an honorable mention all-state Class 3A pick as a senior, Boss wasn’t heavily recruited.

Boss wasn’t sure he still wanted to play football in college. He loved basketball, and that was what he planned to focus on.

“I didn’t decide to play college football until the end of my senior year,” Boss said in an interview before the draft. “I was just thinking of playing basketball. It was kind of last-minute. I decided I didn’t want my football career to be over, and I could do both at Western.”

Western Oregon head coach Arne Ferguson got his first look at Boss in a hall outside his office.

“He walked in the hallway, and I peaked around the corner and there’s this good looking kid, 6-5,” Ferguson said. “And he lifted up his arms and I thought, ‘What are we going to do here?’ ”

The team chose to redshirt Boss, giving him time to put on weight and adjust to the college game. But quickly Boss began to catch up to his peers, eventually bulking up to 255 pounds.

Hands proved his biggest assets

But even with the added mass the most important part of his game was still the hands.

“Catching the football … I’ve never seen so many amazing catches,” Ferguson said. “He’s just so fluid. That’s what’s drawn him to where he is.”

The Wolves inserted plays to get the ball to Boss, flexing him off the line and keeping him in motion, the same way the Giants have used Shockey.

For a young starting quarterback such as Thorson, having a huge mobile target was a comfort.

“For me, he was definitely a security blanket,” Thorson said. “My first year starting, he helped me out seeing the defense and we all know he’s a big target, so he was a huge help to me.”

NFL scouts began calling early in Boss’ senior season. But a torn labrum in his left shoulder forced him to miss the final four games of the season and throw his NFL career into doubt.

But Boss worked back from the injury, including training with strength and conditioning coach Tom Shaw in Florida. On the second day of the draft Boss’ name was called with the 153rd pick overall.

Just as in high school and college, Boss needed to work to add size to help his blocking. He spent time in the weight room and with Giants tight end coach Mike Pope.

But the biggest adjustment has been mental. Boss credits Pope and Shockey with molding him.

“When I was in college I just went out there and played,” Boss said. “I did well, but I didn’t know the game as well as I do now. There were little things I never used to think about.”

He’s spent hours watching game tape and talking with Pope and Shockey and now feels he understands what the defense is doing.

“In college, I hardly ever read the defensive coverage. I just ran my routes and tried to get open,” Boss said. “Now, I’m looking at the secondary, I’m looking at the defensive lineman’s stance, trying to see if he’s heavy on his hands to see if he’s rushing or dropping back in coverage.

“I know what every single defender is supposed to do in every single coverage,” he said.

Boss began backing up Shockey and playing some on special teams. But the season didn’t begin well.

“We got off to an 0-2 start, so I didn’t know what type of season we were going to have,” Boss said.

Boss picked up his first catch in week 10 against the Dallas Cowboys. His first touchdown came in week 15 against the Washington Redskins, the same week Shockey broke his left fibula.

“I definitely had mixed feelings,” Boss said after the Shockey injury. “I felt like because of the time I had spent behind (Shockey) and with coach Pope, I felt they had prepared me for this situation. All year I was one snap away from having to fill his shoes.”

His first start came on a miserable day in Orchard Park, N.Y, against the Bills. Wind gusts reached 50 mph. Snow and rain pelted the players.

The team rushed for 291 yards and clinched a playoff berth. Despite not catching a pass, Boss said he though the game solidified his role on the team.

“I was excited,” Boss said. “We had rushed for almost 300 yards, and I felt I had contributed to that success, so I felt ‘I do belong.’ ”

“Kevin’s done a great job of picking up our offense, understanding what to do,” Giants quarterback Eli Manning told the Boston Herald. “It’s taken him awhile, and it’s probably better that he had to sit and watch and figure out what was going on, but he’s responded and he played real well for us.”

“He’s a young guy who’s responded very well. He’s made plays along the way, and he’s gotten better as a blocker,” head coach Tom Coughlin told the New York Sun.

Even Giants fans are starting to recognize the name ‘Boss’ as something other than that musician guy across the river in New Jersey.

Edward Valentine runs the Giants blog www. bigblueview.com. He said that fans have taken a liking not only to Boss’ play but his personality.

“First of all, he has skills. We can all see that,” Valentine said. “Secondly, he’s a quiet, unassuming guy who doesn’t rattle any cages or make a scene when things aren’t right.”

The Giants lost a week 17 matchup with the Patriots but charged through the playoffs, beating the Buccaneers and the Cowboys on the road to advance to the NFC championship game in Green Bay against the Packers.

The game was played in the third-coldest conditions in NFL history, hitting minus-1 degree at kickoff.

“I don’t think anybody was really excited playing in whatever it was, negative something, but we knew it would affect us and affect Green Bay also so (you) try not to think about it and play,” Boss said.

When Tynes’ field goal in overtime sent the Giants to the Super Bowl, Boss remembers running onto the field and hugging teammate Zak DeOssie hard enough to bloody his friend’s nose.

Boss said that after winning three playoff games on the road the Giants are trying to look at the Super Bowl as yet another road trip. After losing the first matchup with the Patriots, the Giants are happy to have another shot at the undefeated team.

“I think we’re almost glad to have drawn the Patriots again,” he said. “We feel we match up well against them.”

They’ll be watching back home

In Monmouth, old habits die hard for Ferguson. After years of watching Boss on tape, he can’t seem to let go of the remote control even with Boss now in the pros.

“Sometimes when Kevin’s playing, I’ll rewind the DVR,” he admitted. “I bet (my wife) won’t let me do it during the Super Bowl.”

Ferguson talked to Boss early in the week and told him to relax and just treat it like another game. Ferguson remembers Boss always played better relaxed.

“He just kind of laughed,” Ferguson said.

Thorson will be watching the game with a group of teammates, just like Boss did while at Western Oregon. Thorson said Boss is setting an example for every small-town Oregon kid with NFL hopes.

“For me, it’s just hard work pays off,” Thorson said. “For young players out there saying ‘I can do this.’ He came from a small town, played at a small college and it all paid off.”

Rath said he feels pride watching a player he’s known since childhood on the NFL’s biggest stage.

“I taught Kevin when he was in third grade at the elementary school and I was his football coach at the high school,” Rath said. “For me, knowing the type of person he is and what a hard worker he is it’s been kind of a really neat thing to see.”

For Boss, thinking back to how close he came his senior year to not being able to play again, this opportunity is even sweeter.

“Everyone’s just feeling the same way I am: They just can’t believe it’s happening,” he said.

Although the game is top of mind now, Boss also is looking ahead.

“I’m looking forward to coming home in the offseason,” he said. “I’ll definitely be going to see some basketball games at Western and some basketball games at Philomath. I’m looking forward to getting back to the great Northwest.”

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