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Last weekend against the Tennessee Titans, Falcons’ outside linebacker Michael Boley had 15 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Boley, who played at Elkmont High, and the Falcons (1-4) host the New York Giants (3-2) on Monday night. ESPNwill broadcast the game at 7:30.
Daily photo by Deangelo McDaniel
Last weekend against the Tennessee Titans, Falcons’ outside linebacker Michael Boley had 15 tackles, a forced fumble and an interception. Boley, who played at Elkmont High, and the Falcons (1-4) host the New York Giants (3-2) on Monday night. ESPNwill broadcast the game at 7:30.

Elkmont’s favorite
Atlanta linebacker hasn’t forgotten days with Red Devils

By Michael Wetzel
mwetzel@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

NASHVILLE — Growing up, Michael Boley cheered for the orange and blue of Auburn. But when the Tigers didn’t offer the former Elkmont High football star a scholarship, Boley didn’t wallow in self pity.

He had other offers. He chose Southern Mississippi, and he said that decision enabled him to share in the riches of the NFL.

“God intended me to go to Southern Miss,” said Boley, starting outside linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, after his team’s contest against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. “I believe if I didn’t go to Southern Miss, I wouldn’t be in the NFL today.”

In his third year with the Falcons, Boley is making an impact. Heading into the sixth week of the season, Boley is third in the league with 46 tackles. In Sunday’s loss to the Titans, Boley collected 15 tackles, forced a fumble and intercepted a pass.

Boley’s teammates and opponents alike see his development into an NFL star.

Falcons All-Pro linebacker Keith Brooking said it is fun to watch a budding star like Boley blossom.

“He’s progressing every game,” Brooking said. “He’s becoming a difference-maker on our team. His athleticism and intelligence on the field separate him from others. He’s a very smart player, and he’s always in the right spot — that equals great plays.”

Fellow outside linebacker Demorrio Williams, a fourth-year player out of Nebraska, agreed.

“He continues to make big plays for us. He’s smart and getting better every week,” Williams said.

Titans’ offensive lineman David Stewart, who played at Lawrence County High, said trying to put a hit on Boley was no easy task.

“I tried to block him several times, but he was so fast, I never got my hands on him.” Stewart said after his team’s 20-13 win Sunday.

Boley’s numbers back up his progress, too.

As an all-rookie team selection in 2005, the 6-foot-3, 236-pound linebacker recorded 63 tackles. Last year, he had 85 tackles and a pair of interceptions. He’s on pace to eclipse those figures this year.

Boley played running back, safety, wide receiver, punter, place-kicker and kick returner for coach Tommy Hunter at Elkmont High. As a high school senior, he rushed for 1,015 yards and gained 746 more yards in receptions before going to Hattiesburg, Miss..

“The first couple of two-a-days down there, I was playing wide receiver, and a coach came over and asked if I was interested in playing linebacker,” Boley said. “Heck, I was just a kid from Elkmont, I’d play wherever they wanted me.”

Boley remembered the day when he thought he had what it took to play in the NFL.

He was a redshirt freshman at Southern Mississippi and was approached by senior linebacker Zaid Houston.

“Zaid told me that he wasn’t the fastest or the strongest on the team, but he knew the plays and he knew where he needed to be on every down,” he said. “He told me to be where I was supposed to be and that would make me better.”

The advice helped make him a collegiate star.

In 2002, his sophomore year, Boley racked up 142 tackles and made first team All-Conference USA for the first of his three times, a school record.

As a junior, he finished in the nation’s top 10 in tackles with 151 and had NFL scouts trying to woo him to leave school early. He stayed, got a degree in sports administration and became a fifth-round choice of the Falcons in the 2005 NFL draft.

Hunter, now an assistant principal at Elkmont, said Boley was “absolutely the best” player he had at the school.

“He had it all here, the size, speed, an instinct for the ball,” Hunter said. “He was all over the field.”

Hunter said a broken bone in his foot in Boley’s junior year may have cost Boley some attention from colleges.

“But the summer before his senior year, he went to a camp in Kentucky and saw he could play with just about anybody,” Hunter said. “I remember seeing a change in his desire after he returned from that camp.”

Now married with two sons, Boley said he spends most of his days in the Atlanta area mentoring children. He said doesn’t often get back to Elkmont, where his dad Kenneth still lives.

“Dad keeps me up on what’s happening there. He told me they’ve got a new coach (Don Jacobs),” he said. “But it’s probably been a year or so since I’ve visited. I need to get back and see some of the folks.”

He said he’ll never forget the support from his high school teachers. He specifically mentioned Joey Thompson, Lanetta Reyer (now at West Limestone) and Mona Hill.

“Mrs. Hill, my old social studies teacher, was my favorite. She was always there for me,” Boley said. “She was like my second mom. I’m especially thankful for everything she’s done for me.”

Hunter said the community hasn’t forgotten its NFL star, either. “When the Falcons are on, there’s a lot of TVs in Elkmont tuned in,” he said.

Michael Boley at a glance

Age: 25

High school: Elkmont High, played varsity football from 1996-99, all-state as a senior, when he rushed for 1,015 yards and caught another 746 yards as a receiver. His No. 24 was retired Feb. 14, 2005.

College: Southern Mississippi. Three-time first-team All-Conference USA selection. Owns a school record nine forced fumbles and his 28.5 sacks are second.

NFL team: Fifth-round pick of the Atlanta Falcons in the 2005 draft. Made NFL All-Rookie team, when he started 11 games at outside linebacker and recorded 63 tackles. In 2006, he started 14 games, had 85 tackles and two interceptions. In 2007, after five games is third in the NFL with 46 tackles.

Personal: Married (Chantelle), two sons (Michael Jr., 7, McKale, 4). Has bachelor’s degree in sports administration.

Michael Wetzel

Boley’s thoughts

Atlanta Falcons linebacker and former Elkmont High star Michael Boley shares his thoughts on five issues:

  • On quarterback Michael Vick’s fall from grace with the dogfighting/conspiracy guilty plea:

    “I believe everyone on the team was surprised when the story broke. I was. He has plenty to deal with. My prayers are with him and his family. ... We miss his presence in the clubhouse as a person.”

  • Boley was a Barry Sanders fan growing up. Is there an equal to Sanders in the NFL today?

    “There’s nobody in the league who can compare to Barry. He was one of a kind. But Ronnie Brown (former Auburn and now Miami Dolphins tailback) is a tough load to bring down. He might be one day.”

  • On containing versatile Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young:

    “Vince has so many weapons. He’s one of those guys you hate to face. Not letting him get in his comfort zone is important to have a chance against him.”

  • On intercepting two passes in 2006 and one this year so far:

    “The one I got (against Tennessee) was on a tight end fade. There are plenty of great tight ends in the league, and I am fortunate to go up against one of the best in the league everyday in practice. Alge (Crumpler) makes our defense better.”

  • The secret of going from a rural community like Elkmont to the NFL:

    “My coach in high school (Tommy Hunter), my coaches in college all said the same thing: ‘Never give up at whatever you do.’ Work hard to reach that goal. Hard work will pay off.”

    Michael Wetzel

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