New beginning for Boulware Ravens: Holding out as a rookie last season threw the linebacker for a loop, so camp, opening for veterans today, promises to be a special occasion.

July 24, 1998|By Eduardo A. Encina | Eduardo A. Encina,SUN STAFF

This time last year, Peter Boulware seemed as though he had it all, but in reality he was facing one of the toughest times of his life.

Boulware was about to enter the NFL, having been drafted in the first round by the Ravens.

But as camp opened, he wasn't playing the game he loved, he doubted he'd be able to perform at the professional level at a new position, he was in the midst of a five-week contract stalemate and, in the process, he'd quickly lost the support of Ravens fans.

"At first, I took it personal, like it was a reflection on me," Boulware said of the contract negotiations. "Now, I know it's just the way the business works. I was just glad to get it out of the way and play ball.

"I really didn't know how to handle it. I was never in a situation like that before in my life," said Boulware, who begins his first training camp today. "It was like I went in with one strike already against me."

After Boulware signed a six-year, $18.5 million contract, including a $6 million signing bonus, doubts persisted as Boulware struggled early in the season, having difficulty shedding the mind-set of a defensive end while playing linebacker. But as the year continued, Boulware began to flourish.

During the course of the season, a confused rookie became a skillful, confident linebacker, and Ravens fans again became supportive of Boulware. He finished the season with 11 1/2 sacks, one behind the rookie record, en route to winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award.

Boulware earned a reputation as a fierce competitor. Againstthe New York Jets, he caught heat for being too aggressive after slamming quarterback Glenn Foley to the turf after a play was over.

But away from the game, Boulware is anything but fierce. He shuns the spotlight and speaks humbly, consistent with his strong religious beliefs.

"[My faith] is the foundation of me," Boulware said. "All the abilities I have, have been given to me by God. I can't be cocky and arrogant. I'm not supposed to live my life in my own glory, but in his glory."

Off the field, Boulware doesn't drink, doesn't swear. He is close to his family. He holds a business degree.

He is a member of Champions for Christ, a ministry consisting of college and pro athletes, among them Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green and Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell. He joined the group as an underclassman at Florida State.

Boulware was raised in a successful family in Columbia, S.C. His father, Raleigh, is a radiation oncologist. His mother, Melva, used to conduct a Bible study program at a local prison, and is part-owner of an office supply business to give released inmates jobs.

Boulware has an older brother who is an electrical engineer, an older sister in medical school at Wake Forest and a younger brother in high school. Boulware's parents' attitudes have rubbed off on him: He donated 10 percent of last year's salary to his church, the First Northeast Baptist Church in Columbia.

But he has driven himself, his mother said.

"Peter set his own list of personal goals," Melva Boulware said. "To get his degree, he did what he had to do to graduate in four years. He went to summer school and did what he had to."

Boulware grew up in a household where seeing pro football players was routine. Friends of the family included former South Carolina assistant coach Tank Black and former Gamecock and Green Bay Packer Sterling Sharpe. Then there was his brother, Shannon, a tight end for the Denver Broncos, as well as Cincinnati Bengals running back Harold Green.

"You always hear how unlikely it is to play professionally, but he set that goal for himself and he was a very good player," said Melva Boulware. "It also helped when players we knew would visit that house and help him to realize they were just normal people like him and that his goal was in reach."

Boulware now fills his off-season time with traveling, going to Christian meetings and speaking at youth football camps. After minicamp in June, he traveled through four states in two weeks.

"It's a blessing that I'm in this position," Boulware said. "I'm very thankful for it and not taking it for granted."

Opposing teams certainly can't take him for granted.

"He has just so many superlatives," said Bengals linebackers coach Mark Duffner, former head coach at Maryland, who saw plenty of Boulware in college.

Recalling Boulware's Florida State days, Duffner said: "He was quick, very agile for his size, could stay on his feet. You just had to hope he had the flu. He was a dominant player on a dominant team."

Duffner also saw Boulware and the Ravens twice last year as AFC Central foes, and said that the rookie adapted nicely to his new position.

"I think he's done a great job. I think that's something that's not easily done," Duffner said.

"It's a testament to the fact that he's very well-coached, but also that he is a very intelligent player."

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