By Chris McCarthy/Editor
After accepting a full academic scholarship to Mississippi State University this past February along with the opportunity to be a walk-on for the Bulldog football team, Nolan Boatner discovered that his heart resided approximately 90 minutes northeast of Starkville.
The 2015 Gadsden City High School graduate recently accepted a similar offer from the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. In addition to MSU and Alabama, Boatner was offered a full academic scholarship to the University of Kentucky. He plans on majoring in economics with a concentration in accounting.
Nolan’s path to the Capstone began shortly before he graduated in mid-May, when UA football recruiter Bobby Williams informed GCHS assistant football coach and recruiting coordinator Ali Smith that the Crimson Tide would give Nolan preferred walk-on status. Soon after, Nolan went to Tuscaloosa and toured the campus and athletic facilities. He also visited with several UA football coaches, including head coach Nick Saban.
“It was amazing just getting to talk to [Saban],” said Nolan. “I’ve always liked Alabama because both my mom and dad went there. But we’ve had a lot of guys at Gadsden City play [football] at the next level, including Alabama, so it’s nice to be a part of that tradition.”
Nolan’s parents accompanied him on his visit. His mom and dad, Roger and Beth Boatner, admitted that Saban “had them at ‘Hello.’
“We talked for about 20 minutes and [Saban] never said the word football,” said Roger. “He spoke of life, decisions, opportunities and how the university was going to prepare Nolan for the future and how [Saban’s] program would make a difference in Nolan’s life. Like Bear Bryant said, ‘Momma called.’ Nolan realizes that this is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
According to Roger, Saban explained that a preferred walk-on is an official member of the football team and is treated exactly like a player on an athletic scholarship.”
“Nolan’s academic scholarships only cover the tuition, so we’ll have to pay for room and board,” said Roger.
Nolan’s change of heart caused a change of direction for a representative from MSU, who was driving to Gadsden to present Nolan his scholarships on the GCHS Awards Day. Early that afternoon, Nolan decided to accept Alabama’s offer, necessitating that his dad Roger beat the clock in terms of paperwork deadlines.
“I had to call the MSU offices and stop the rep from coming, but that was the easy part,” said Roger. “But because it was after May 1, the deadline for accepting academic scholarships had passed. I quickly called and e-mailed the admissions office at Alabama to try to reclaim Nolan’s academic scholarships. I was told not to worry in that they had a built-in extension.”
Nolan hasn’t had much down time lately. Since arriving in Tuscaloosa on July 1, he has been participating in football workouts while taking a summer class. His daily schedule isn’t for the faint of heart.
“We have a run every morning at 6:30, then we have workouts until 10:15. I have my class at 12 p.m. then we either have meeting or drills later in the afternoon. I have to study after dinner, so it’s definitely a full day.”
Nolan acknowledged that the workouts for an SEC team are a bit more intense than they were in high school.
“The guys here are a step above anybody I played with in high school. There’s a lot more running.”
A three-year starter at center for the GCHS football team, Nolan was named to the 2014 Alabama Sports Writers Association’s Class 7A All-State first team and was first team on 2014 All-Messenger football team. He helped the Titans post a 10-3 record, win the region title and make it to the semifinal round of the state playoffs.
Nolan hit the books as hard as he did to opposing football players this past school year, graduating with an overall grade point average of 3.8 while scoring a 31 on the ACT. He was a member of the National Honor Society and service-oriented Key Club. He also served as junior class president last year.
“Nolan has represented us very well for four years,” said former GCHS principal Keith Blackwell. “He is a very well-rounded young man.”
Nolan credited former GCHS head football coach Joe Billingsley, who moved him to the starting center position as a sophomore, and offensive line coach Zac Glaze.
Nolan also wished to thanks to local firefighter and strongman champion Matt Blom, who guided Nolan through about four weeks of training to prepare for the University of Alabama football workouts.
News Editor Sarrah Peters contributed to this article.