This article appears in the September 2004 edition of SchoolSports magazine.
At the U.S. Army All-American Bowl scouting combine this past January, Lincoln wide receiver Nyan Boateng saw a lot of quizzical faces whenever he mentioned he was from Brooklyn. A couple country boys even asked if there was grass where Boateng (pronounced Bo-ten) was from.
Ever patient, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound SchoolSports All-American assured them there was still some green space around Coney Island. He humbly neglected to add that precious few country boys could ever hope to cover him if he were running pass patterns across it.
Boateng, who is rated the nation's No. 3 receiver and No. 35 overall recruit in the Class of 2005 by SchoolSports.com, draws inspiration from his hometown and all the misconceptions that go along with such an address. Because there is no lying about the hard truths of New York's oldest borough.
"I live in Coney Island, and that's a hard world," says Boateng, 17, whose parents are from Ghana in West Africa. "All that stuff in that world motivates me. Part of that motivation is to get my family out. Wanting to take care of everyone in my family really pushes me."
It's no wonder Boateng fielded a potentially insulting question from uninformed peers with such diplomacy. He is utterly at ease with himself. Calm. Confident. Along with being exceedingly polite and savvy. And he seems to answer from the heart.
In a way, that mirrors his football ability. He possesses the quickness to get loose, the speed to get deep, the leaping ability to go up and get the ball, the body control to make plays and the concentration to hold on.
"He's the whole package," says Lincoln fifth-year head football coach Shawn O'Connor, 33.
And then some. Boateng earned Daily News first team All-NYC honors as a junior after catching 44 passes for 940 yards and 14 touchdowns. His career totals of 1,677 yards and 20.5 yards per catch entering this season give him a shot to finish high school with 3,000 receiving yards (if he can get free for about 20 more receptions than last year).
Those numbers become even more astonishing when you consider his last game of organized football before his sophomore year came as a member of the Coney Island Sharks Pop Warner squad in seventh grade.
Yes, Boateng is a legitimate blue-chip receiving recruit and a possible 2005 All-American Bowl selection. And he can elude defensive backs with the best of them. But he still can't dodge a single, nagging question.
Will Boateng — an integral part of Lincoln's three-peat as PSAL basketball champions as a backcourt mate to Portland Trail Blazers first-round NBA draft pick Sebastian Telfair — actually try to play basketball in college?
"It's kinda tiring getting that everywhere I go," says Boateng, who averaged 16 points and 6.5 rebounds per game on the hardwood last winter. "They say, ‘What are you going to do?' I tell 'em I'm going to play both, but soon I'll have to make a choice. Basketball is my passion, but football is my future."
Still, Boateng doesn't exactly slam the door shut on a future in hoops. And why should he? He's also a Top 100 player in basketball, rated the nation's No. 64 overall hoop recruit by SchoolSports.com.
"At the next level, it's going to be even harder to be a two-sport athlete," says Boateng, who lists Maryland, USC, Miami, Pittsburgh, West Virginia, Nebraska, Michigan State, Virginia, Syracuse and Penn State as his collegiate favorites. "I'm going to play football, get my academics together, and if I can handle it, I'll do both. One big thing is that I have the option to play (basketball). Michigan is not on my list because they said ‘No way' to basketball. And if a program went back on its word, I'd transfer."
No matter how much longer he plays hoops, one thing his basketball career has left with him forever is his experience playing alongside Telfair.
"Just being around Sebastian and seeing all that comes with being a big-time player has helped me mentally get ready," says Boateng, whose 19-year-old brother, Dominic Osei (Boateng's father gave Dominic a different last name in honor of a friend), is a Lincoln grad and a sophomore basketball player at Fordham. "I know what to prepare myself for. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it's bad."
Physical preparation is another top priority.
Boateng's gridiron dedication extended through basketball season last winter, as he'd spend an hour or two in the weight room lifting for football after hoop practice. He spent this summer with a private trainer, shaving his 40-yard dash time to a blazing 4.41 seconds and boosting his vertical leap to a stunning 43 inches.
And the news gets better this fall. O'Connor will employ a four-wide offensive scheme to reduce the number of double teams Boateng faces. What's more, senior running back Neil Lewis, who rushed for 1,152 yards and 13 touchdowns during Lincoln's 10-1 campaign last year, should keep opponents from putting six defensive backs on the field every down.
Fact is, college football could be a reprieve for Boateng. In addition to wideout, he's a cornerback, punter and kicker for Lincoln.
"He's usually locked up on the opposing team's best receiver," says O'Connor. "The other stuff we ask him to do has definitely hurt him offensively. But just watching him progress from his sophomore year, where he was only lining up on offense and learning on the job, and now he's just a great football athlete and a special teams asset and a defensive asset. It's incredible."
Boateng doesn't sweat the pressure of being asked to perform so many game-day duties. To him, everything that takes place prior to game time is what truly tests a guy.
"I think there's more pressure in doing what I gotta do as far as workouts go," says Boateng. "When game time comes, I just gotta go out and perform. That's not the hard part. Plus, I play better in what most people would call pressure situations."
"Nyan's mentality makes him special," adds O'Connor. "You don't run into individuals like this who see things so differently. So clearly. He's always pushing to become a different player. He wants to be better than everybody else."
As you might expect, the grass is always greener for Nyan Boateng.