Chris DeLambert hosts From the Cheap Seats on WFJA Radio on Mondays from 9 to 11 a.m. DeLambert interviewed Lee County Yellow Jacket running back A.J. Boulware, 18, on Sept. 23 to discuss the senior’s plans for college ball, his overcoming of adversity off the field, and how he balances the responsibilities of football, school and home. This interview has been edited for length.
DELAMBERT: AJ, how many yards exactly did you put up last year?
BOULWARE: Last year I put up 2,163 rushing yards.
DELAMBERT: Alright, so you were the top returning 3A back in terms of production last year. I know you and I have talked about Jahmir Smith, kinda being in his shadow your first couple years in the program. What did you learn from him?
BOULWARE: I learned a lot from Jahmir. Like, the way he ran the ball, the way he was patient going through a hole, and the way he used his body in the motions, and the way he could take on just about every single man. He had no fear. And he just went straight for it.
DELAMBERT: How would you say that your game is similar to him, and how would you say you’re different?
BOULWARE: The reason how I can say my game is similar is my patience. The way Jahmir ran the ball, like I said, was very patient with the ball and going through the motions with everything. That’s how I would say he’s similar. And he can make a man miss in a second. Now the difference from my run game is I’m very patient going through the hole, but as soon as I go through the hole, I take a burst, and I’m going. I make sure that I get a man before I get into the end zone. And I just feel like, me being the shorter man than him, weight-wise and height-wise, I just feel like I’m making a very big difference in the running.
DELAMBERT: Okay, now the first time I saw you this year was at the Jamboree, and it was obvious to me you’d put on a lot of weight. What was your weight when you started the summer, and where are you at now?
BOULWARE: Whenever I started the summer, I was weighing 170 pounds, and now I’m weighing 193 pounds.
DELAMBERT: Are you comfortable playing at that weight?
BOULWARE: Yeah, I’m very comfortable playing at that weight. I’m actually glad, I’m excited that I’ve finally reached this weight. It adds more power to my run, and I can be able to lower my shoulder with no care.
DELAMBERT: You came into the program as a freshman. How much did you weigh then?
BOULWARE: I was weighing about 165.
BOULWARE: Yeah, I really do. I might have improved even more. I feel like I’ve worked harder than I ever have before. I used to wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, go outside and hit the ladder. I would hit it, I would do squats, I would go jogging. Or whenever it was like, during the wintertime, snowing, I would be out working out. Raining, I’m outside working out. When it’s really hot, some people would not be going outside, I’m working out. I make sure I work my butt off to be successful.
DELAMBERT: That sounds like a lot. Mom, talk about that level of dedication and what you see from him.
BRIDGETTE BOULWARE: He’s always been dedicated. Even from middle school, he started in middle school. In sixth grade, he wanted to try out for the football team, but they wouldn’t let him. Sixth graders couldn’t try out.
DELAMBERT: Now which middle school did you go to?
BRIDGET BOULWARE: East Lee.
BRIDGETTE BOULWARE: It was him and Timothy Lett, who also plays for the Jackets. Timothy Lett got ballboy, and he didn’t. So it kinda upset him. And he came home and he was like “mom, I’m so upset, I’m so mad. But I’m gonna make you a promise. I’m gonna make that team next year.” The whole entire summer he got up, six o’clock in the morning. He worked out nonstop. I didn’t know anything about football. He had me outside during the summertime throwing him the football. I’ve never thrown a football a day in my life. But he was like “mom, you have to do this.” And during the evenings and nights he’s on the computer, looking at plays, looking at different colleges, watching NFL. He eats, breathes and sleeps football ever since sixth grade.
DELAMBERT: People talk to me all the time about the young men in our district that have been offered scholarships. Now you’ve got several offers out there. The Division 1 schools that have offered so far – Eastern Kentucky, Georgia State, Coastal Carolina, North Carolina A&T.
DELAMBERT: Okay. I have told people for the last couple months, I feel like you’re under recruited because you played last year at 170. And that’s a little light for a tailback at the D1 level. Have you seen any traction built with some of the larger programs that are starting to get wind of the fact that you’re 193 pounds now?
BOULWARE: I would say yes, and I would say no. Whenever I started talking to UNC Charlotte last year, they came to visit me. I was weighing 170 pounds the first time they visited me. Alright, they came and visited me during June. Whenever they came back to visit me, I was weighing in at 190. They were like “wow. I gotta make a call to the running back coach to let him know that you put on some weight. Because we really want to talk to you.” He wants them big backs.
BOULWARE: UNC Charlotte sent me a couple of game invites, and I’ve been to that camp and everything. But the coach who was recruiting said that if I come to the camp, that they would offer me. So I go to the camp for UNC Charlotte, I showed them what I got. And I still weighed the same. I was weighing 190 pounds. I texted him and said “did I do good?” And he said “yeah, you performed perfect.” And I never got an offer from them
DELAMBERT: You’ve told me that you don’t plan to make a decision until after the season. Is that still the case?
BOULWARE: That is still the case. I’m still looking.
DELAMBERT: Outside of the four Division 1 schools that have offered, are there any other schools that you feel confident about right now, that you expect to be offered from?
BOULWARE: I would say Western Carolina, because they just emailed me today about a game invite. So Western Carolina looks like one. And I’ve been talking to a couple other schools. There’s a Division 2 school down in South Carolina that I’ve been talking to. I feel very strongly that I can get at least LSU, or Penn State. I’m not sure, because those are some big backs they got up there. Big boys. But the colleges I would think I would be expecting to get an offer from, I still feel like UNC Charlotte strongly, and Colorado State as well. That’s probably one of my biggest ones, Colorado State. Also, Old Dominion.
DELAMBERT: It’s funny that you say that, this morning on the air we talked about ODU, and I made the statement “nobody should want to schedule ODU.” ODU is a program on the come, that’s an exciting one. How does a school as far away as Colorado State get wind of you, where you haven’t gotten traction with some of the schools that are within driving distance? Did you reach out to them, or did they just get in touch with you blindly, how did that work?
BOULWARE: They got in touch blindly. I was walking from my second block to my third block, in the middle of the hallway, I had three Colorado coaches start following me on Twitter at the same exact time. And as soon as I followed them back, they texted me. Said “hey AJ, how you doing?” They just started texting me out of nowhere, and I just don’t understand how a big school like Colorado State can find me when all these other colleges have not talked to me yet. Like South Carolina, or some of the big, good schools. I have talked with Virginia Tech, I’ve had a couple of letters from Virginia Tech. Appalachian State, that was gonna be my first offer. But whenever I went up to Appalachian State for a visit, that whole coaching staff had left. Coastal Carolina came out of nowhere, just shot straight through.
DELAMBERT: You’ve been dancing with a lot of schools.
DELAMBERT: Some of these schools, like Coastal, A&T, Colorado State, have been showing you love throughout the process. If one of these schools comes out of nowhere at the last minute. Let’s say that Penn State shows up on the last day. Or right before the signing period, a school like South Carolina, like the Gamecocks give you a call. How much of a difference is the love that you’ve seen from these schools throughout the process gonna mean as you make that decision? Or is it all about choosing the best school to give you the biggest opportunity and the most exposure at the next level?
BOULWARE: I would have to base if off of my academics and how they’re gonna carry me academically. Academics always comes first for me. So I would have to look into the program very strongly and if I get a good feeling from coach, that he would call me every day, and start talking to me, and make sure I’m set and I’m good, then that’s where I’d like to be. That’s what I’d have to take.
DELAMBERT: Speaking of being good. I know you’ve had a little bit of an ankle injury. What happened with that? Was it a twisted ankle? Is this just a precaution? Is this something that might linger? What’s going on with the injury?
BOULWARE: We were playing against Douglas Byrd on Monday, if I’m not mistaken. After the hurricane. I took the snap, it was the second drive. It was a pitch play. I was running, and I cut up the middle. As I was downed, I was trying to get up, and one of the players grabbed my ankle, and twisted my ankle. I tried to play through it, but I came out the first quarter. I didn’t play the rest of the first quarter. By the middle of the second quarter I felt like I was good to go. I was still limping, but I decided to come onto the field and I decided to take a snap. So the first snap I took, I ran it up outside, had great blocks, went straight, cut up the sideline, and one of my teammates, Desmond Evans, he came in, gave the man a shot for me. I chucked the guy, made it up the sideline, tiptoed the sideline and went straight in for a touchdown.
DELAMBERT: I remember the play, I remember it vividly.
BOULWARE: So the ankle injury, I’m gonna improve. I’ve been taking time every single day, take it step by step. Because I take it very seriously. Last week it was hurting like crazy. Next day, I get up, I’m starting to walk. I can move my ankle, rotate it more than I was able to.
DELAMBERT: So that’s not the only adversity you’ve had to deal with this year. Talk a little bit about everything else that’s going on around you as this football season unfolds.
BOULWARE: This football season has been a very slow start for me. And coming out of the summer has just been, not the best summer. This would have to be the worst year of my entire life, for my family. Because we just lost my aunt five weeks ago. And just having that happen, because I was the one that found her. My mom was up in Chapel Hill with my grandma trying to take care of her, because my grandma is down with constant strokes. So it was not good.
DELAMBERT: So what exactly happened with your aunt?
BOULWARE: We do not know. One night she was complaining about a toothache, and she didn’t know what was wrong with her. My cousin had called me in the hallway, I saw that she was about to collapse. I picked her up, we got her into the car, and we drove to the hospital. And she was doing a little bit better, she was speaking perfectly fine, she could move. She was being her normal self. At about 6 o’clock, my aunt told us to go to sleep and come back because they were giving her some medicine for her toothache, for the pain. Before we left the hospital, my aunt told us that she loved us. So I went to sleep, stay at home with my cousin. My sister went to go pick up my aunt from the hospital. She came back, as soon as the door opened, I saw my aunt. She walked back into her room and went to sleep. I woke up around about 12:30, and went to go check everybody. I checked my sister, checked my cousin, they were asleep. I went into my aunt’s room, and she was laid funny in her bed. She was laid face down on her mattress. And when I went to go touch her, she was cold.
DELAMBERT: Oh, wow.
BOULWARE: As I turned her over, her lips were purple and there was blood on the mattress, and on the pillows. I didn’t know what had happened. I tried doing CPR to bring her back, and at this time I’m screaming for my sister. My cousin, which is my aunt’s son, ended up waking up. He even came into the room and saw his mom laid out like that. And he tried to help us bring her back, and she just would not come back.
BOULWARE: Jocelyn McDougald.
DELAMBERT: And how old was she?
BOULWARE: She was 38.
DELAMBERT: Wow. That’s unreal. And you said while this was going on, your grandmother’s in the hospital as well?
BOULWARE: Yeah, she was. She ended up being admitted to the hospital a couple of days before all of this happened, with a stroke. So my mom was up in Chapel Hill with my grandma. I called my mom and told her “hey mom, Jocelyn is not responsive. She’s not moving. I’m sitting here trying to wake her up, calling her name. She’s not breathing.” And at this time she’s like “okay, you just gotta listen. I’ll be down there, I don’t know when, I’ll try to get down there.” I was like “mom. We got this. This is just something we have to do.” It’s life. Everybody goes through something in life that they have to take on alone. Because we were two people down in this family, and we felt like two people had to step up, me and my sister. I’m 18, my sister is 19. We had to come together to try to bring back our aunt. We could not do it, but at least we were able to put up with something like that. My worst fear was to see my aunt, or anybody in my family, laid out like that. I’m just thankful to God that she went in her sleep instead of somebody coming into my house, or her to be laid out on the street. I’m thankful.
DELAMBERT: This had to be a shock.
BRIDGETTE BOULWARE: It really was. It was a total shock.
DELAMBERT: How are you as a family? How have you rallied, and how are you coping with this? This is a lot.
BOULWARE: The way we’re having to cope with it is just take it step by step, and we just gotta make ourselves stronger through this. Knowing that we had lost a lot in so little time, we just felt like, no matter what, push come to shove, we have each other. God has us, has taken us step by step. It’s rough. We don’t even know how we are able to push ourselves every day. But just to wake up and see each other every day, that’s what makes us stronger.
DELAMBERT: So it seems to me like football is probably the release for you right now.
BOULWARE: Yes it is. And just from this ankle injury, I haven’t been able to release what I need to.
DELAMBERT: Alright. So you’re excited about this weekend then?
BOULWARE: Yes I am.
DELAMBERT: How do you compartmentalize and set everything aside so that you can focus on the job that needs to be done when the lights come on? Because that seems like the least important thing going on.
BOULWARE: I just gotta separate my mind from the bad to the good. I gotta make sure I stay focused. I told my coach, “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to come to school today. I just cannot do it.” But everything that’s been going on in my life, I decided I’m gonna go to school today. I’m gonna make sure I get this education. I’m gonna make sure I can make my family proud. And for whenever the lights come on on Friday, I’m ready to come home.