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Master of sack: Peter Boulware

By Kirk Noonan

Peter Boulware is scary — especially if you’re a quarterback. Shielding Boulware’s 6-foot-4-inch, 255-pound frame is rock-hard muscle. If you would dare run — don’t! This outside linebacker for the Baltimore Ravens runs the 40-yard dash in 4.54 seconds. Then again, if you let Boulware in close he’ll hurt you with his brute strength; he bench-presses more than 400 pounds. Boulware can also spring on you like a leopard with his 37-inch vertical leap. And his hands? They’re quick too. Think Muhammad Ali or the chef on the Ginsu knives commercials.

Take a peek at Boulware’s trophy case and see his awards for a college national championship, consensus first-team All-America selection his junior year, first-round pick in the National Football League, defensive rookie of the year (1997), three appearances in the Pro Bowl (1998, 1999 and 2002), and a Super Bowl ring (2000), along with countless other awards and accolades. Combine all of that with a warrior’s heart and an insatiable desire to wreak havoc on an opponent’s offense and you have a one-man wrecking crew.

But spend a few minutes with Boulware off the field and a different picture emerges. Hear him talk to reporters; he’s enthusiastic, sincere and humble. Watch him joke around with his teammates; he’s one of the guys, but there’s something distinctively different about him. Then look him in the eyes — the same ones that have tracked and warned quarterbacks that something awful was going to happen — and that’s when the confusion sets in.

How can it be? you ask yourself. Is this really the same man who terrorized college quarterbacks with 32 sacks in only 13 starts at Florida State University? Can this be the same guy who had 15 sacks in 2001? Is it possible that the guy who wants nothing more than to put all his weight, strength, determination and force into a tackle is the same guy whose eyes tell you that he is a man of faith and peace?

Indeed, he is.

And, perhaps even more surprising, Boulware will tell you that his work is more than an occupation — it’s a ministry.

“I play well so I can represent God,” Boulware says during a break from practice at the Ravens’ training facility in Owings Mills, Md. “Through Him elevating me and giving me a platform, I can share what He has done for me.”

You begin to wonder if Boulware realizes what he is saying. After all, football is one of the most aggressive and dangerous sports, and linebackers have everything to do with that. So you decide to press him a bit on this point, figuring he won’t tackle you in a locker room.

“I play to glorify the Lord,” he offers graciously. “Win or lose, good or bad, I am going to play as hard as I can so that I glorify Him.”

When a person speaks so openly of his faith some people assume that person is soft like a pillow. Don’t make that mistake with Boulware. When he steps on the football field he is out there to do a job — one that asks him to ruin other people’s plans and make them pay for every mistake.

Stare down your receiver and Boulware will intercept your pass. Juggle the ball and he’ll blindside you then drive you into the ground. Try to run and he’ll slam every fiber of his being into you. He’s a player’s player.

Boulware won’t shy from sharing his faith, but if you’re expecting a thump over the head with a Bible you’ll be disappointed. That brand of evangelism isn’t his style. Instead, Boulware aims to be Jesus in a football uniform. Look closely at his life, actions, sportsmanship and the way he treats others — this guy is the real deal. “Sharing my faith is what I am here to do,” says Boulware. “I am an ambassador. I am here to let people know that there is hope and that they can make it.”

Where many Christians would be content to let their actions speak louder than words, Boulware will unashamedly point you to God’s Word if you come to him seeking help.

“The Bible has all the answers to life’s problems,” he says without reservation. “I don’t care if you’re in the NFL or not; everyone has issues.”

The foundation that has made Boulware the man he is today was laid long ago by his parents, Raleigh Sr. and Melva. In the Boulware household there were rules to live by and standards to uphold. As an adolescent Peter Boulware didn’t always agree with his parents, but now he is thankful that he grew up in a loving Christian home where boundaries were set.

“My parents were there,” he says. “They took time to teach, discipline and correct me. Today we hear we shouldn’t discipline our kids, but a lot of kids are looking for parents who will discipline and correct them. That is what my parents did.

“They set a standard in the house that we had to abide by,” he continues. “When I was growing up I thought it might have been a little harsh at times, but when I look back now I am thankful that we had rules. Now that I have a daughter of my own [with his wife, Kensy] I am going to do the same thing.”

Today, one of the ways Boulware stays strong in his faith is by depending on other Christians to pray for him and keep him accountable.

“On my own I can’t do it,” he admits. “Having strong Christians around me keeping me accountable and standing with me when times get hard — that’s the only way I am making it because every day it’s a battle.”

A quick survey of the locker room proves this to be true. A horde of television and print reporters clamor for position around Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller. They seem to hang on his every word as he talks about his passing game and the team’s offense. Outside in the players’ parking lot brand-new HUMVEES, Cadillacs, BMWs and other high-priced cars make the nondescript lot look like a designer’s showcase. Fame, money and women are for the taking in this world where men are paid millions of dollars to play a game.

It would be easy for anyone to get lost in this alternate universe. But Boulware has learned the secret to keeping the temptations at bay.

“My first priority is to the Lord,” he says. “I have responsibility to be an ambassador for Him. My second priority is to my wife and daughter; I want to be an example to them. And my third priority is to my [extended] family, friends and my teammates.”

Sounds simple, but doing so is not easy. That’s all right with Boulware. In football he has had to depend on his God-given talents and gifts. In life he has learned to rely on his faith, family and friends. In other words, he knows how to keep his eyes focused on eternal things — the things that will transform people’s lives.

“A lot of people may not like it [his faith] or agree with what I do, but the fact that I have values and a set of standards I am living by earns people’s respect,” Boulware says. “I hope people will look at that and say, ‘I want to be like him and live like he does.’ ”

Kirk Noonan is associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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