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With a national title win behind me, here's how I'm preparing for NFL draft season

After a thrilling national championship win with Clemson, LB Ben Boulware opens up to Andy Staples about the beginning of the next phase in his life: the NFL.

I didn’t sleep at all the night we won the national title. After we beat Alabama and I made that speech, we got back to the hotel at about 3 a.m. I laid down at 5 a.m. and stayed wide awake. It was time to start the next phase in my life.

I already had an idea what agency I’d choose to represent me. You can’t take anything because of NCAA rules, but you can interview agents while you’re still playing in college. So I had done my homework. I still hadn’t slept when I signed with Michael Perrett and Kevin McGuire from Element Sports Group. They had the papers to fill out. You sign them. You take a picture. Then it’s business from there. And before we got into the football stuff, I had a request for my new representatives. 

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My older brother, Garrett, plays catcher in the Cincinnati Reds’ organization, so this could be a combo deal. The thing we ate almost every day growing up was Lunchables. It’s so childish, but they’re so good. I still eat them. When we met with my agents the first time, we told them “This may sound stupid, but we want our first marketing deal to be for Lunchables.” My favorite Lunchable is Pizza. I like the crackers, but I’m definitely a pizza guy. I’m dead-ass serious. Hopefully, that deal comes to fruition. Michael and Kevin, that better be coming soon. I’m waiting to get that box of Lunchables. Or just a card where I could get a discount. That would be awesome. A bearded, tattooed guy crushing Lunchables. It’s probably not the look or crowd they’re going for, but I’m definitely a loyal customer.

The next week went by so fast. That parade that Saturday in Clemson was the coolest thing that has happened since the national title. They said there were about 75,000 people inside the stadium and another 70,000 outside. We went through the whole town. The people were so appreciative and so thankful that we brought the national championship back home. Before I left for Florida to begin training for the NFL combine, I also got a new tattoo. You may have seen the picture on Twitter.

I absolutely chose to put the trophy on my achilles tendon because of something Desmond Howard said on ESPN after we beat Florida State. He said the linebackers were the achilles heel of our defense. I completely understand why. Dalvin Cook had a really good game. He ran for 169 yards and four touchdowns. But Dalvin Cook is who he is. He’s one of the best running backs in the country. Me and Kendall Joseph both had good games. I don’t think Dalvin Cook balling out was just because of the linebackers. I feel like the linebackers were a big part of our success, so what better place to put the trophy than my achilles? Did it hurt? They all hurt. It was my 13th tattoo, and that was by far my worst one. It took 20 minutes to do it, and those were the longest 20 minutes of my life. It was tolerable, but it sucked.

Desmond Howard isn’t the only person whose comments I’ve used for motivation. There is a guy named Tripp Williams who tweeted in September 2012 that I’d never start for Clemson. I used a screen shot of that tweet as the wallpaper on my phone until I made my first start as a sophomore in 2014. Then, when I started winning some awards, I would occasionally let Tripp know how things were going. He’s in the Navy, and I feel bad calling him out. I respect him, and I’m grateful for what he’s done for our country. But he’s the one who happened to say it. He called me out, and I feel like he has to be held responsible.

Stuff like that adds a little extra fuel to the fire. It provides a little extra motivation. But I’m going to need to ignore it for the next few months. This pre-draft period is definitely going to be difficult. I’m going to try my best not to read all the tabloids or hear all the naysayers. I’m going to try to focus on me. I know I’m going to get completely pooped on this entire process, so I’m going to try my best not to let it get in my head. 

I hate that they put so much weight on height, weight and 40. That doesn’t make a good football player. The fact that they put so much money on that blows my mind. I want to make the most of this opportunity and do the best I can do, but I know at the end of the day I’m a football player. I’m not going to measure 6' 3" and weigh 245 and run a 4.4-second 40-yard dash. That’s not who God intended me to be. Those aren’t the blessings He placed on my life. He blessed me in other areas, like the drive to go to work every day. People watching my tape is where I’ll make a lot of my money. I’m proud to say that. I’d much rather be the guy who is a good football player who doesn’t run a 4.4 than be the guy who is 6' 4" and runs a 4.3 and sucks at football.

I started my combine training last week at the Exos facility in Gulf Breeze, Fla. I work out in a group that also includes Leonard Fournette from LSU, D’onta Foreman from Texas and Jalen Reeves-Maybin from Tennessee. For part of the day, it feels like we’re training for a track team. But that will help me so much when I run the 40 at the combine. There are so many small movements that you don’t think about when you’re running. You naturally just run. But there’s a mental side you can focus on to maximize your peak potential. Go heel to butt. Keep tall and don’t crunch down into your running stance. There are a lot of small things that go into running a good 40 time, and that’s what we’re focusing on every day. Every two hundredths of a second, there’s more money to be made.

The schedule isn’t bad. You have weights, class, lunch, weights and dinner. That’s not that different than meetings-practice-dinner in college. The main difference is the food and watching what you eat. They prepare everything for you. There’s so much that goes into refueling your body that I didn’t know about. I figured you can give me some lean meat and vegetables and I’ll be good. But they measure out the carbs. They measure out the fats. They break it into so many parts. I don’t think I get a cheat meal. My time is super limited. I’m going to try not to be an idiot and eat crappy food. I’m going to try to stick to the plan.

I’ll be back at Exos next week, but this week I’ll be in Mobile for the Senior Bowl. These practices are my last chance before the draft to show the coaches and scouts what I can do as a football player. I can’t wait to get on the board. I can show them my knowledge of the game. I can show that I know how to line people up. Want an example? Go back and watch the national title game. There’s a play where you can see me waving everybody over. I can show you that play drawn up in my playbook. I saw that the whole week before the game. They’ll put all their receivers to one side of the field, and there’s no one to the boundary side. They’ll have the back to the weak side and they’ll motion the tight end from the field to the boundary. When they do that, they run a quarterback toss play every time. Kendall got the tackle for loss, and I was pumped.

This week, I can show what I can do in the meeting room and on the field. Then it’s back to training for the combine. My wallpaper on my phone the past year has said “Control the input, not the output.” I can control how hard I work. I can control my attitude every day. Hopefully, the output will take care of itself.