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Bremerton football assistant Tony Boddie is a coach, mentor
For Tony Boddie, the line between success and setback was skinnier than the creases through which he ran.
The former Denver Broncos running back suffered a career-ending back injury prior to the 1988-89 NFL season, less than a year after co-captaining a Broncos team that reached Super Bowl XXII and about five years after abandoning college in pursuit of a professional football career.
Twenty years later, the 1978 Bremerton High School grad is back on the gridiron with his alma mater as an assistant coach.
His message to the young Knights: Pursue your football dreams, but not at the expense of education.
“I did the smartest thing I could ever do — I went back to school,” Boddie said of how he rerouted his life after a doctor told him it would be foolish to continue playing football. “The most rewarding thing to me, outside of seeing my kids born, was graduating from college. Walking across the stage, shaking the president’s hand and getting my degree was bigger than playing football.”
“When I got to college it really was about football,” Boddie said. “Education became secondary and football was my top priority, so my grades suffered because football was what I was there for.”
A wooly eyed athlete who was accustomed to being the best football player on the field, Boddie passed up a college degree from Montana State University, where he played through his junior year, in favor the now-defunct United States Football League, which officially folded in 1988.
Boddie was drafted by the Los Angeles Stars in the 1983 USFL Draft during his senior year at MSU. Against his parents’ advice, he signed a modest contract and flew to Hollywood.
A three-year player for the Stars, it took little time for Boddie to emerge as a top talent. He rushed for 128 yards in a game against the New Jersey Generals, outshining the Generals’ Herschel Walker in a game that was televised nationally.
The Stars advanced to within one game of the USFL championship in Boddie’s second season, thanks in large part to his feet and the quarterbacking of Steve Young, who the Stars had drafted prior to that season.
Following that playoff season, however, the Stars ownership folded and was handed over to a new owner with less money. Many of the best players left the team in pursuit of bigger contracts and the Stars went 3-15 in the ensuing season, which proved to be Boddie’s last in the USFL.
“I had to find a team to go to,” he said of what proved to be a transition into the NFL.
Boddie tried out for the Los Angeles Raiders after declining an offer from the Broncos in 1984-85. He was cut after a week.
“It was a heartbreak for me,” Boddie said. “So I took a step back.”
It turned out to be a baby step because the Broncos called again, needing his services for the 1985-86 season. Again, however, after tryouts came down to the final cut, Boddie was left off the roster.
Injuries at the running back position gave Boddie another chance with the Broncos midway through that season and he stepped on the field for a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He only carried the ball once, but the taste of the field was enough to rejuvenate the 20-something.
A year later, Boddie entered training camp in peak shape and was ready to prove he was worthy of a full-time position. But an injury, this one to his knee, kept him out of the lineup and on injured-reserve.
But he came back healthy in 1987, earning a position on the Broncos special teams unit. He did enough to impress his coaches and teammates. On a day Boddie remembers fondly, however, the general manager approached him in the locker room.
“He (the GM) comes up and says, ‘We didn’t realize you were that good. If only you were a little bigger and a little faster,’” Boddie said. “Talk about getting slapped.”
Yet Boddie stuck with the team and became captain of the special teams for the Broncos’ Super Bowl XXII appearance, a 42-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. It seemed the pieces were falling in place — the media guide even listed Boddie as a player who would compete for a starting position the next season — but right around then, he herniated a disc in his back while lifting weights.
Doctors told him to call it quits. The Broncos released him. Nobody called.
“I think they knew after speaking with the coaches that I was damaged goods,” Boddie said of his stock in the NFL. “The neurologist told me it would be foolish to continue playing football.”
BACK TO SCHOOL, HOME TO BREMERTON
Boddie’s new, post-NFL life started with him earning a business degree from the University of Washington in 1990.
He has worked for Nestle Co. the past 19 years and has been a volunteer assistant on the BHS football coaching staff off and on since 1994.
As much as enjoys drawing up game plans, Boddie preaches about getting ‘A’s’ in the classroom as much as X’s and O’s in the playbook.
“In order for a dream to come true, you have to set goals and know exactly what it takes to make that dream come true,” Boddie said. “Now when I speak to kids I say, ‘Keep your dream. But if you want to be a professional athlete, you have to understand what it takes to get there ... Are you willing to go the extra mile to get there?
“I’m a true believer that everyone can get their education. It comes a little harder for some people and it’s natural to others. But if you’re willing to put that commitment in ... you can get your education.”