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January 24, 2012

Patience pays off for Boehm





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Evan Boehm arrived on the practice fields of Lee's Summit West in the summer of 2008. He had a verbal offer from the University of Missouri, yet he didn't have a starting spot on the Titans' varsity squad.

Nearly four years later, Boehm has evolved from Coach's Son to one of the top offensive guards in the nation and an Under Armour All-American. He's gone from hype to results -- state titles in football, wrestling and discus. He's gone from that lone, early offer from Missouri to preparing to sign with Gary Pinkel's Tigers in a week.

All along that rise, his coach and father reminded him to be patient. Luckily for Boehm, those roles were played by the same person.

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Gary Pinkel wanted Evan Boehm before he played a down of high school football. Royce Boehm, however, wasn't quite as sold.

That's what happens when your dad also happens to be the head coach of your high school football team. Now, Coach Boehm is one of the few people around Lee's Summit West that can still cast a shadow over Evan. Tall, thick and with a shaved head, the coaching veteran of 23 years would be an intimidating figure, if not for an ever-present smile and a welcoming demeanor.

Before his oldest son's freshman year of high school, Coach Boehm took Evan to Missouri's one-day recruiting camp at William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo. Quickly, the 14-year old lineman established himself as a prodigy. Missouri's coaching staff immediately put Boehm in rotations with older players, allowing him to go through drills three and even four times.

Toward the end of camp, Missouri coach Gary Pinkel came over to watch. Royce Boehm saw receivers coach Andy Hill talk to Pinkel during the drills. Pinkel said something quickly back to Hill before walking away.

Later on, Royce Boehm would find out the details of that conversation. Hill, who recruits Kansas City for Missouri, asked Pinkel if the team should verbally offer Evan. Hill relayed Pinkel's answer to Lee's Summit West's coach:

"Hell yes," Pinkel said to Hill.

Boehm became the second incoming freshman to receive an offer in Pinkel's tenure. The first was Dorial Green-Beckham. The staff verbally offered him the day before, after a recruiting camp in Springfield.

Still, a verbal offer from Missouri didn't guarantee Evan Boehm anything on the football field. It isn't even an official offer. Always conscious of public perception, Royce Boehm wasn't about to hand his son a spot on the varsity team as a freshman. During the Titans' pre-season camp, offensive line coach Chris Barrows (played at Missouri) and defensive line coach Limbo Parks (played at Arkansas and briefly in the NFL) began asking the head coach to allow his son to practice with the varsity.

"They'd been pestering me all week," Royce Boehm said. "By mid-week, I finally said, 'All right.'"

Royce Boehm's only condition was that his son would have to block the best players on the team. The Titans' defensive line had two all-state performers in defensive end Brooks Mosier and defensive tackle Steven Welling. The elder Boehm stayed with the skill-position players during 7-on-7, but made sure to stand and watch the linemen drills.

"If he could hang with those guys, then possibly he could play varsity," Royce Boehm said. "Possibly. But I wanted the best on our team, and I didn't want anyone to take it easy on him."

He still remembers vividly what transpired. His son pancaked both Mosier (Evan's cousin) and Welling. Parks and Barrows approached the head coach after the session. At first, Royce Boehm played coy, acting like he wasn't paying attention.

"Coach, you see that?," the assistants asked. "Coach, he dominated."

Parks and Barrows each wanted Evan for their respective units, but eventually Parks stepped back. He admitted that the incoming freshman was a perfect fit for the offensive line.

Royce Boehm needed his assistants to answer one more question, however.

"Can he start on varsity? If he's not a starter, he needs to go back with the freshmen."

"Coach, he's a starter," Barrows said.

That was 53 games and one state title ago, in which Evan started 52. He missed a game during his senior year because of a mild concussion.

"I knew I was going to get grief about it then, because I was a freshman and my dad was the coach," Evan said. "That gave me the reason to put more time and effort in it. I had to prove myself not only to my peers, but everyone around the metro and the state."

According to his father, one of the first people that Evan convinced was veteran Blue Springs coach Kelly Donohoe. During the first game of the 2008 season, Donohoe moved his best defensive end, Gustavo Toca, inside to take advantage of a true freshman starting on the offensive line.

By the end of the game (a 36-35 Blue Springs win), Toca moved back outside, as he was unable to consistently get by Boehm.

"That was when I knew we had something special," Royce Boehm said. "It wasn't anything political. There may have been questions before, but once they saw him play, the questions went out the door. Even Kelly Donohoe said the same thing."

-----

Missouri was the first to offer Evan Boehm, but it wouldn't be the last. After his freshman year, college coaches began calling the Titans' football office. Then the offers began. First, it was then-Nebraska defensive coordinator Carl Pelini who made his way to Lee's Summit to verbally offer Boehm on behalf of the Cornhuskers. Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas State followed suit.

Suddenly, Boehm wasn't just a regional name anymore, as Alabama, Auburn and Stanford all offered.

After shedding the Coach's Son label, the spotlight was back on Boehm. It would remain there for the rest of his high school career.

"It was more weird than anything," Boehm said. He mentioned how he didn't want to be singled out from his team by college recruiters. Early on, he decided that when college coaches came by to show interest in him, he would tell those coaches to also look at his teammates.

"Whenever Missouri came by, I would tell them, 'Take a look at Panko. Take a look at Shaq,'" Boehm said, referencing fellow seniors Austin Panko and Shaq Harrison.

"I tried to get those kids' names out there as much as I could. We had all these coaches coming by here, and I wanted them to see my teammates, too."

Boehm's goal doesn't ring hollow. Before the interview began, he made sure to introduce Panko, who recently was offered a preferred walk-on spot by Missouri. Panko said he'll decide between Pittsburg State, Northwest Missouri State and Missouri on National Signing Day.

During Boehm's recruitment, the message his father preached was one of patience. During an unofficial visit to Oklahoma during his junior year, Evan thought he was ready to commit. His father told him to wait. When Evan thought he was ready to commit to Missouri in late May, his father asked him to wait to talk it over with his mother, Teresa, who Royce Boehm calls "the rock of the family."

(Royce makes sure to add that, while his job as coach is more obvious in recruiting , his wife had even more of a role in the process.)

At that time, Boehm was down to two schools -- Missouri, his top Big 12 school, and Auburn, his No. 1 SEC school.

Ultimately, the pull of staying close to home was too great for Boehm.

"Did I want my parents to hop on a plane after a game on Friday night, fly to Auburn, and then back on Saturday or Sunday?, Boehm said he asked himself. "Or did I just want them to drive two hours to see me play?"

At his grandparents' house in Boonville, Boehm announced his decision after talking to his mom. He's developed a reputation as a practical joker, and he pulled a fast one on his extended family by wearing Oklahoma gear before announcing his choice of Missouri.

"Everyone in my family is huge Missouri fans," Boehm said. "So when I took off the Oklahoma shirt and had a Mizzou shirt underneath it, my grandma just started crying. Everyone went nuts.

"Grandma was probably close to disowning him before he announced," Royce Boehm said of his mother.

Circumstances arose, however, that caused Evan Boehm to re-think his decision. At the beginning of the recruiting process, Royce Boehm told his son that, after he committed to a school, there were only three scenarios to warrant re-opening his recruitment:

1. A head coaching change.
2. A position coaching change.
3. A conference change.

When Missouri-to-the-SEC rumors began swirling early in the season, Royce Boehm feared the worst. And, sure enough, after the move became official in early November, Evan Boehm re-opened his recruitment. He de-committed from Missouri on Nov. 22, and immediately scheduled a visit to Auburn.

"We weren't going to be a family that took other visits while Evan was committed to a school," Royce Boehm said. "I told him if he wanted to look around, he had to de-commit first. I felt like he wouldn't hear what he needed to hear if he was attached to another school."

To outsiders, that decision might not make much sense. After all, Missouri would still have at least six or seven games in Columbia, and depending on netural site match-ups, perhaps eight games total in-state. An SEC move wouldn't change location.

However, Evan explained that because his top Big 12 school (Missouri) was in the same conference as his top SEC school (Auburn), he needed one more look to be sure.

"I remember he said, 'I want to make sure Missouri is the right choice,'" Royce Boehm recalled.

While Evan talked publicly about possible visits to Nebraska, Kansas State and Michigan, he admitted those weren't serious options.

Boehm visited Auburn with his family for the Iron Bowl the weekend after Thanksgiving, and he still admits he was "blown away" by the atmosphere of the weekend. He was ready to commit to Auburn then, but once again, his father told him to wait.

Two weeks later, Boehm took an official visit to Missouri. There might not be much comparision in tradition and pageantry between Missouri and Auburn. Two weeks after hearing thousands of fans chanting his name in Jordan-Hare Stadium, Boehm arrived in Columbia on a cold Friday.

On this visit, there wouldn't be the grand spectacle of a College Football Saturday. There wouldn't be thousands of fans lining an entrance to a restaurant before a recruiting dinner.

Instead, there was a solitary fan, standing on Stadium Boulevard, waiting for Boehm to drive by. At an intersection, he held a home-made sign on poster board.

"It said, 'Evan Boehm, come to Missouri. You're a True Son,'" Boehm said. "That was one of the coolest things I've seen."

That weekend, Boehm told his father that he was ready to re-commit to Missouri. Once again, his father told him to wait.

"You're going to let it all soak in," the father said to his son. "You're going to let the Auburn soak in, the Missouri soak in. After two weeks, the honeymoon stage is over. Does it feel good at the time? Hell yes. I totally get that. But you have to walk away from it to see it clearly.

"That was our job as parents."

Two weeks later, Evan Boehm re-committed to Missouri.

"They could always be there for me," Boehm said about Missouri. "Mizzou was the first one to offer me. That doesn't just happen."

Both father and son cited stability as a big reason for re-affirming to Missouri. After his visit to Auburn, offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn left for Arkansas State. Defensive coordinator Ted Roof left Auburn for Central Florida, and then Penn State, in the span of a month.

"There were question marks that popped up," Royce Boehm said. "The stability in the coaching staff was a huge thing for him."

------

In retrospect, maybe Boehm's re-commitment to Missouri shouldn't have come as a surprise. The writing was on the wall on Dec. 6.

On that day, Evan Boehm became the first lineman in history to win the Thomas A. Simone Memorial Award, given annually since 1983 to the best football player in the Kansas City area. High school coaches and media members in the area vote for the award winner.

During the week leading up to the award presentation at Lee's Summit West, Boehm was kept in the dark. His family kept the secret from him, until he was led out in front of a packed gymnasium to accept the award. His father stepped up to talk about his son, and after a few words, Royce Boehm was overwhelmed. He could choke back tears no longer, brought his hand to his mouth and fell quiet.

"There was just a lot of build up of emotion there that you caught that day," Royce Boehm said.

At that time, Royce Boehm realized it was the end of one legacy.

"I got up to talk about Evan, knowing that I have another one coming through," Boehm said, referencing his youngest son, Tyler, who will be a freshman in the fall.

"My wife, Teresa, and I, we've done what we've done with Evan," he continued. "You're out the door, you're on your way, and hopefully Teresa and I have instilled a part of life for you when you move on into the next level."

But on Dec. 6, Royce Boehm couldn't quite get those words out. After a student shouted, "We love you, Coach" from the bleachers, Evan stood up from his seat, walked to the podium and put his arm around his father.

It was a tender, unique moment in front of a gym full of students, teachers and the media. It wasn't forced. At that time, all the previous talk about the importance of family, about Evan's desire to have his dad see as many of his college games as possible, it manifested itself in a son comforting his father. For so long, it was the other way around.

"He's not just my dad and coach, but one of my best friends," Evan said. "That's how I look at him."

It was the end of one legacy. And, at that point, it was the beginning of a new one. With the family's close relationship on full display, it was clear that Royce Boehm's eldest son wouldn't stray too far from home.

----

As the world sped up, Royce Boehm told his son to be patient. As a coach, he was patient with his son's development, only moving him to varsity when he proved it to the coaching staff. As a father, he reminded his son to be patient during the recruiting process.

Evan Boehm had to walk away from Missouri to see everything clearly. On Feb. 1, he'll sign with Missouri.

It may have never happened without his parents' guidance.

When he enrolls at Missouri in June, that guidance will come back into play.

"(The Missouri staff) said they see my ability, and see the things I do well and don't do well," Boehm said. "They said if I learn the offense, and get those things fixed quickly, then I could compete for playing time."

Nothing will be handed to Boehm in Columbia. That's okay, though, because he's used to waiting.

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