This wasn’t how Tre Boston envisioned his first NFL game.
Boston, the Carolina Panthers’ rookie safety who played at North Carolina, had never attended an NFL game before Friday’s exhibition opener against Buffalo Bills.
So standing on the sideline while his teammates and several friends on the Bills’ roster took the field was a bit of a downer, even for a player known for his positive energy.
“I’m not going to lie, it really hurt me just watching the guys get ready for the game,” Boston said Sunday as the Panthers returned to Wofford for their final three days of training camp.
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“Just sitting back, taking that backseat, anxious isn’t even the word. Anxious, eager – everything going through me – just wanting to be out there with those guys.”
Boston, a fourth-round pick during the May draft, is recovering from sports hernia surgery in June. He came off the physically unable to perform list July 29 but was carted to the locker room after aggravating the injury during his first practice.
Boston said Sunday he plans to play this season, even if he’s unable to suit up for any exhibitions.
“If it doesn’t happen, hopefully I get reps in practice so they can trust me to play in the game,” he said.
Boston said the sports hernia – which is not an actual hernia but a soft tissue injury in the groin area – occurred a year ago when he slipped on a wet field during a Tar Heels’ preseason practice.
He postponed the surgery so his draft stock wouldn’t be affected, and estimated he played his senior season at 80 percent. He said North Carolina’s trainers limited his practice reps and games were “like running off adrenaline.”
Boston, recruited by the Tar Heels as a cornerback by former coach Butch Davis, had several instances when receivers beat him deep after he first made the switch to safety. But he led North Carolina in tackles as a junior (86) and senior (85), and he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds at the combine despite the injury.
Coach Ron Rivera said the Panthers knew about the sports hernia when they drafted Boston, who impressed the team’s scouts and coaches with his playmaking ability and take-charge attitude.
“We liked his range, liked his command of what they did, his command of the defensive backs,” Rivera said. “We’re looking for safeties that control things, and he was one of those guys that fit that criteria.”
After the June surgery to both groins, Boston tore the scar tissue during his only training camp practice, which he said is not unusual with the injury.
“Doctors told me after it happened it was supposed to happen. So right now I’m just working to try to get that tissue 100 percent and get ready to play,” Boston said. “I’m on a ‘as I feel’ basis. They don’t want to rush back into things. Now that we’ve got the tissue ripped and we’re repairing it, we’re just trying to get where we really feel 100 percent.”
Boston said his left side feels “amazing,” but the right still is “a little tweakish.” He said it’s the first major injury of his athletic career.
Boston, who grew up in Fort Myers, Fla., has not had the injury sap his energy. During practices, Boston usually is talking and bouncing around the sideline.
Fellow rookie Trai Turner called Boston “a goofy guy” who is constantly joking with teammates.
“Always smiling, always happy – a good spirit to be around,” Turner said. “Someone who’s always going to uplift you.”
Turner hasn’t seen anything, yet.
“When I get back, that’s full-blown. You’re just getting a little side of it right now, just really trying to show guys that I bring the energy,” Boston said. “When I get back on the field I plan to do that times 10. I’m on the sideline pumped, I’m fueled. I just want to be happy for my teammates.”
As for a more pumped-up Boston, Turner said: “I can’t imagine that right now, but we’ll see.”