Tre Boston told reporters minutes after the Carolina Panthers picked him in the fourth round that he couldn’t lie – he’s come a long way.
From a cornerback to a safety, from a traditional defense to a 4-2-5 formation, Boston faced his fair share of struggles as a defensive back at North Carolina.
Blown coverages and poor instincts haunted him as a starter, but he improved midway through his senior season and now says he’s ready for the NFL.
Boston enters a Panthers defense set at both safety positions, but he’s not worried about earning the starting job just yet.
“I know they brought in two veterans in Roman Harper and (Thomas) DeCoud,” Boston said on a conference call, “and to be behind those guys, just talking about it, I’m getting chills because I know there’s so much I can learn from those guys.”
Recruited to the Tar Heels from North Fort Myers (Fla.) High by Butch Davis, Boston played cornerback for North Carolina in his first two seasons. He began to transition from corner to safety at the end of his sophomore season under interim coach Everett Withers, and then stayed at safety after Larry Fedora was hired as head coach.
Boston struggled to settle in at safety in his junior year, and often was in highlights for the wrong reasons as receivers got behind him en route to scores.
In Fedora’s 4-2-5 defense, Boston was forced to make more tackles with one fewer linebacker in front of him. He led the Tar Heels in tackles as a junior (86) and a senior (94).
“We didn’t have a linebacker, now we’re having another nickel who’s going to play linebacker,” said Boston, who spent more than 10 minutes with a Panthers scout on the sideline at UNC’s pro day in March. “It switched up a little bit, but the thing about defenses is it’s all the same. Players got to play it the same ways. It didn’t hurt too much for us. It was just getting everybody on the same page.”
Four games into the 2013 season, the Tar Heels’ defensive players were nowhere close to being on the same page. UNC gave up 603 yards of total offense in a 55-31 loss to East Carolina and had limped to a 1-3 record.
North Carolina defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said less than a week later there was no leadership on the defensive side of the ball, though Boston was the ostensible leader of the defense.
“It’s like I’m in a fist fight with the heavyweight champion every day to get these guys to do the right things,” Koenning said at the time.
Two games later against Miami, it clicked for the defense, Boston said. North Carolina lost 27-23 to the Hurricanes, but then rattled off five consecutive wins.
“We couldn’t find our identity at the beginning of the year,” Boston said. “I don’t think we really found it until the Miami game. I think once we found it, we knew what kind of team we were and what kind of defense we were. And that pushed us to win games the rest of the season.”
Boston is familiar with Bank of America Stadium after the Tar Heels beat Cincinnati 39-17 in December’s Belk Bowl. He was one of the Tar Heels’ leaders on the field and on the sideline. Toward the end of the game, he and several other players repeatedly were seen on TV doing the popular Nae Nae dance.
He hopes to perform that dance a few more times in Charlotte.
“Yes, yes I definitely will!” Boston said. “I hope I bring a lot more than just that. I plan on bringing everything I can to the Panthers.”
Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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