If you watched Sunday’s game on TV, you saw Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan throw deep down the left side and you saw receiver Harry Douglas appear to be open.
As you yelled at the screen, Carolina rookie Tre Boston sailed through the air, grabbed the ball and landed on the Carolina 14. He celebrated his first NFL interception by sidestepping Atlanta’s Julio Jones and taking off.
Boston looked like a running back as he flew down field, dreadlocks trailing like a wake behind a fast boat. Did he play running back at North Fort Myers (Fla.) High? Of course he did. But everybody inside the Carolina locker room claims to have been a running back. Tackle Byron Bell probably once was a 340-pound Texas tailback.
Boston, who rushed for 11 touchdowns as a high school senior, scored, and he didn’t mind if people noticed.
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“I high stepped, I jumped to the end zone, I posed,” Boston says Tuesday. “I just pretty much acted like I’ve never been there because that was my first NFL TD. I’ll act like I’ve been there next time.”
Boston’s mom sent him a clip in which Deion Sanders, the most famous defensive back to come out of Fort Myers, described the return.
Says Boston: “Oh, he was just saying here’s this guy from Fort Myers, let’s see what he’s going to do with the rock. I scored and he was just giving me praise for that. I thank him because I’ve talked to him a couple times and … to hear a hometown hero just hype you up like that, it’s amazing for me because I looked up to him my whole life.”
If you want to know how Boston feels about his first season in the NFL, listen:
“I don’t know how it feels not to make” the playoffs, he says.
He woke up Sunday in Atlanta and knew he and fellow safety Roman Harper would return interceptions against the Falcons for touchdowns. And they did. The touchdowns were the first scored by the Carolina defense this season.
He’s thrilled and he’s not going to hide it. He’s also not going to hide his respect for the people he plays with and for.
Boston says some players never attain the playoffs, and getting there is a privilege that should be cherished, and it’s something he and his teammates need to repeat every season.
Boston praises the defensive line for the pressure it applied to Ryan on the interception as well as the pressure it applied the rest of the afternoon. He praises cornerback Josh Norman for his blocking on the interception return.
He praises his coaches. And in roughly every third paragraph he praises veteran safeties Harper and Thomas DeCoud.
“We’re a big family in this locker room,” says Boston. “I think me and Roman are real close. I look at him as an older brother or an older uncle. I come to him and he comes to me with stuff, and that’s the perfect way. I’m not always going to know what questions to ask. He’ll come to me and say, ‘Hey, this is what I see as an old vet. This is what you should see.’ And I thank him and Thomas DeCoud for this.”
A mere season ago Boston was at North Carolina, where defensive backs go to be beaten deep.
But the Panthers liked what they saw.
“Tre has something that’s, I don’t want to say unique, but its something you look for in the secondary,” says coach Ron Rivera. “He’s got good ball skills. He’s got a good sense about him. He’s got good football awareness and he understands the game. (On the Atlanta interception) he was in position. He was where he needed to be.”
Boston was limited by a sports hernia he suffered as a Tar Heel. He missed the Panthers’ organized team activities, had surgery in June and missed training camp and the season’s first five games. He took reps not on the field but in his head. When his health returned, he was prepared.
“When I get in the game I feel like I’m just another playmaker out there ready to make plays,” he says. “And my team believes in me like that, too, so it was a big key for me to come out and finally show myself and finally show the guys, ‘Hey, I’m here to stay.’ ”
Boston is asked several times by the media Tuesday if he has a prediction for the Arizona game. He doesn’t. It wasn’t something he manufactured to attract attention, he says. He woke up Sunday, and there it was, tangible as a newspaper at the hotel door. He didn’t tell Harper until they were on the bus to the Georgia Dome.
“I haven’t called anything like that before,” Boston says. “It was just one of those things where I wake up and I felt it. And I hope this week I wake up with something more.”