WITH HIS WIFE A ROOKIE WNBA LOTTERY PICK, PAUL BOYETTE TRYING TO BECOME 'PREMIER PLAYER' AND LIFT OTHERS

A few weeks ago, Texas fifth-year senior defensive tackle Paul Boyette was on one of many long-distance phone calls with wife, Imani, a former Longhorn-turned-WNBA rookie lottery pick with the Chicago Sky.

Paul wasn’t happy with the way the defensive line played last season and was expressing concern about how to get the team’s heralded five freshmen defensive tackles to understand how much work would be required to improve from a unit that gave up 219 yards per game on the ground in 2015.

Like a good wife, Imani said, “Well, you’re a big, scary, 300-pound lineman. Come up with a way to make them understand.”

Nothing like a little loving advice.

So that’s what 6-foot-3, 317-pound Paul Boyette has done while earning the respect of teammates and coaches as one of the defense’s best leaders - along with the best man in his wedding - fifth-year senior LB Tim Cole.

“Paul is the emotional leader of the defense,” said senior safety Dylan Haines. “Paul and Tim Cole have been really vocal.”

“Those two have given us really good leadership,” said third-year Texas coach Charlie Strong.

Boyette told talented freshmen DTs Jordan Elliott, D’Andre Christmas-Giles, Gerald Wilbon, Chris Daniels and Marcell Southall to form a “study group.”

If the young players would get into their playbooks at night, Boyette said he’d come in 90 minutes before summer workouts to answer any questions they had about assignments that needed to be mastered.

“I don’t want to play 90 snaps a game,” Boyette said, half-joking about the need to develop depth quickly, so players can be rotated out every 8 to 10 snaps for a breather.

So far, so good, Boyette said: 

“I tell them to have a study group with each other at night and to go over plays. Then, we come in the next day early and work on it. 

“At 17 or 18 years old, if you’re not willing to work, you’re going to struggle.

“And these guys are willing to work, and they’re not shy to ask questions. So we come in early and work on it.”

LOVING (BUT INTENSE) COMPETITION

Imani was able to return to Austin and surprise her husband for their first wedding anniversary (July 25) because of the WNBA’s break for the Olympics.

Anyone who knows Paul and Imani knows they compete at everything, including who is the “premier player” in the relationship, something Paul concedes to his wife - for now.

“Obviously, our goal is the NFL,” Imani said.

“He’s had to work his way through the rotation and kind of gone from the bottom to the top. So watching him grow into this work ethic and him leading now, he’s changed a lot.”

Not many first-year brides would say leaving the house to travel for work for weeks at a time would end up being a key for their spouse to find the best version of himself. But Imani believes it.

“I’m like a cautionary tale for him,” Imani said. “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity I have now to play professionally, but I didn’t deserve it. 

“I wasn’t the hardest worker in the gym. I’m secure in that. I wasn’t. I never have been. I was just really talented.

“So for me to figure out how to flip a switch going into the (WNBA) draft and now as a professional player, he’s watched that evolution, because he helped motivate me.”

Imani played in her first WNBA game. Then didn’t play at all in her next six games. Paul helped encourage Imani to work harder. Now, Imani, who is 6-foot-7, is in the starting lineup.

“We’re the same player in terms of relying on our talent and not always having the best work ethic,” Imani said. 

“Now I’m trying to help make sure he has the work ethic to match his talent, so he doesn’t have to go through what I went through after turning professional. He’s getting after it now.”

COMING UP BIG IN BIG GAMES

Boyette has come up big in big games. He had two tackles for loss, including a sack, as well as a QB pressure in UT’s upset of Oklahoma last season. 

And he led the team in tackles (9) in a season-ending upset of Baylor, including a huge, third-and-goal stop that forced a field goal late in the third quarter of Texas’ 23-17 win in Waco.

“I flashed last year,” Boyette said. “I had good plays and bad plays. But I’m confident I can help make that big stop to help us get off the field and help as a vocal leader to make sure my teammates are ready to do the same thing.”

Added Mrs. Boyette: 

“It’s about consistency. He’s played great against Oklahoma and Baylor and now needs to be consistently great - whether it’s against UTSA or Notre Dame.

“And it’s great if all the (NFL) scouts are going to the first game. But how many are going to come back if you’re not a great team? How many are going to come back just to watch (Paul)? 

“I told him, ‘If we really want to do this, you gotta make sure everyone is good, so y’all can be killing it on a national stage all the time.’”

A SECOND CHANCE UNDER STRONG

Imani, the 10th pick in this year’s WNBA draft, said she was happy to be getting a phone call from a reporter for a story about her husband - instead of Paul being asked about Imani for the umpteenth time.

“He’s kind of had it hard,” she said. “He came in under Mack Brown and redshirted. He didn’t think he was going to redshirt.

“At the time, he’s dating me, and I was all-everything. I had a great freshman season.

“We’re very competitive, and we always have been very competitive.

“So, watching me succeed and having to kind of grit his way through it - but he really got an opportunity under Coach (Charlie) Strong.

“Under the old staff, you kind of had one chance. And if you didn’t show up big with that chance, they might move on from you. And under Coach Strong, Paul got a lot more opportunity to prove what he can do and get into the rotation.”

Boyette and Cole join a list of Texas players who appeared headed for the pasture under the previous coaching staff who found new life under Strong, including former WR John Harris, former LB Peter Jinkens and former walk-on S Dylan Haines.

Imani has noticed a big change in her husband when he goes off to workouts now.

“It’s easy to give effort when you know you have a chance,” Imani said. “It’s hard to work hard when you feel like you have little to no chance. 

“And I think that feeling of opportunity has been across the board under Coach Strong. It’s fun to practice and compete for playing time when you know what you do in practice matters now.

“He’s very motivated. I’m excited for him. I’m excited people are calling me to talk about my husband now.”

BECOMING THE ‘PREMIER PLAYER’ 

Boyette doesn’t want to look back at his last season at Texas and say he didn’t do everything he could to help his team win.

“I’m looked at as the grandpa on the team,” Paul said. “So I’m looked at as a leader.”

Imani said her husband takes pride in being the “old, married guy on the team.”

“There’s a lot of temptation for a football player, especially at the University of Texas,” she said. 

“There’s a lot of things you can fall into that aren't necessarily good for you. But he tries to make sure the young guys can come to him for advice on how to stay on the right path.”

But she’s quick to point out she’s never seen her husband more confident. She's hoping for a big season for her husband and then - somehow, some way - Paul ending up with the Chicago Bears next year so they can be in the same city as pro athletes.

“I think he was upset that the line wasn’t better as a unit last year,” she said. 

“Now, I don’t want to say he has the authority, but he has a big hand in making sure the line is everything it’s supposed to be this year. 

“So he’s trusting the work he’s putting in now. He knows how good they can be, and he wants to see it come to fruition.”

When I asked Paul if he and DTs Poona Ford and Chris Nelson could hold things down on the D-line until those five freshmen defensive tackles come along, Boyette said:

“The D-line is going to be just fine. Last year, we struggled as a defense, because people didn’t put in the extra work to know their assignments. This year, people are going to know what to do.

“Me coming in early for an hour and a half every day to go over the plays with the young guys is so they know what to do.”

And there’s that other little bit of motivation - becoming the “premier player” in his own marriage.

“Right now, I’m winning the competition,” Imani chuckled. “And every day, he wants to be able to say, ‘Hey, I’m the real premier player in this relationship. It may be you for now, but I’m coming.’”


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