Alex Boone's remarkable journey


Alex Boone's remarkable journey

It felt like the end.

There was Alex Boone, sitting on the couch in his mother's house, on a quiet suburban Cleveland street. In the basement den were the plaques proclaiming him as the best high school football player in the football-crazy state of Ohio and a Parade All-American.

In a closet hung game-worn jerseys from his four seasons at Ohio State, where he was a two-time All-Big Ten selection.Upstairs there was only stunned silence.

Boone, nearly 6-foot-8, all of 328 pounds, never felt smaller.Boone had plenty of baggage that scared off NFL teams. He was cited for a DUI in the spring after his freshman season. Boone routinely downed "30 to 40 beers per day" as a freshman, according to an August 2006 article in the Dayton Daily News. And a well-documented drunken outburst just weeks prior to the draft appeared to make Boone persona non grata among NFL teams.

He followed along as NFL teams chose one player after another. And, finally, the draft came to a conclusion with a place-kicker being selected as the 256th and final player in the 2009 NFL draft.

"My oldest brother, Alex and I were sitting here kind of shell-shocked after the draft and no one had picked him up," said Boone's mother, Amy.

The 49ers had called earlier to inform Boone they were considering taking him with their final draft choice. Instead, at No. 244 overall, the 49ers selected defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.

But the 49ers told Boone they were interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent. The 49ers awarded Boone a $10,000 signing bonus, a fraction of the money he would have received if based solely on his potential as an offensive lineman.

"So we were like, 'Oh, my God, what just happened?'" Amy Boone said.

That's when her brother, Keith Sulzer, a commander in the Cleveland Police Department, snapped everybody out of it.

"What are you crying about?" he said. "He's got a job!"

Instead of the end of everything he ever worked to achieve, Boone's draft-day disappointment served as a much-needed starting point.

Boone spent the 2009 season on the 49ers' practice squad. Today, he is the team's starting right guard. He, defensive tackle Junior Bryant and safety Ronnie Heard are the only 49ers in the past two decades to spend their rookie seasons on the practice squad and eventually work into full-time starting roles.

If that were the whole story, it would be remarkable on its own merit.But Boone's journey to get to this point has been one with many "bumps in the road," as described by Jim Tressel, his former coach at Ohio State. With his life in danger of veering uncontrollably off track, Boone has fought back with a show of resilience to overcome his struggles with unyielding support from family, friends and the 49ers.

"You're rooting for him all the time," Tressel said. "You knew he had it in him. But some times he'd take two steps forward and one back. He learned from everything. He had a mom and grandma who were going to be with him through thick and thin."

And it all began on the painful day in which 32 NFL teams repeatedly bypassed him -- deciding his size, strength and talent did not offset the incalculable risks.

"Everybody was just like, 'You're a liability. You're a problem,'" Boone said. "Going to camp and other guys are saying you're just not worth it for us. 'You're a great player but you're too much of a head case so we don't want to deal with you.' That's what really woke me up."

Nearly three months earlier, Boone was arrested after a drunken outburst in Aliso Viejo following a Super Bowl party. Boone was working out in Southern California to get prepared for the NFL scouting combine. Police said he was jumping up and down on the hood of cars and tried to smash the window of a tow truck. He fled police and was tasered twice to be subdued. His blood alcohol was three times the legal limit.

Just outside of Cleveland, the phone rang early that morning and awakened Amy Boone, the director of surgery at Cleveland Clinic. She immediately feared the worse.

"I remember hearing the sheriff on the phone and thinking something horrible had happened," she said. "I thought he had been in an accident or something. And they said, 'No, he's OK, but he's here in custody.'"

Boone would undergo treatment for alcohol abuse and arrive three months later at the 49ers' post-draft minicamp as a noted "character risk." Then-coach Mike Singletary did not wait long to tell Boone what he expected. Singletary promised Boone, "I'm going to break you like a wild horse."

Said Amy, "That's always the coaching that he's responded well to. Somebody who's in your face and really brutal. For whatever reason, he loved that."

Boone spent most of the next two seasons as a spectator during the regular season. He was on the practice squad as a rookie, and he did not suit up for the first 15 games in 2010. Behind the scenes, he worked diligently for the sole purpose of someday earning a starting role. With offseason mentoring from former NFL Pro Bowl lineman LeCharles Bentley, Boone slowly, but noticeably, went through a physical metamorphosis with a healthy diet and structured workout regimen. Bentley helped him fine-tune his technique.

Last year, Boone took over for veteran Barry Sims as the 49ers' backup offensive tackle on both sides of the line. He also entered regularly as an extra blocker.

The 49ers considered Boone one of the team's best five offensive linemen, so the club decided in the offseason to find a starting spot for him at right guard. He also doubles as the top backup at either tackle position.

"I think reality is always a good thing," said Tressel, now the vice president of strategic engagement at the University of Akron.

"In college he knew he could've been better, but he was still better than everybody else. That urgency wasn't there. Then he went to the NFL. Reality and adversity can be a good thing. I felt confident he would handle it right. He is a good man with a good heart."

The 49ers' offensive line has been one of the strengths of the team through seven games, and it's a unit whose nucleus figures to be around for a while together.

"I think potentially we can be the best in the NFL," Boone said. "When we stick together collectively, we are on the same page, I think were hard to beat and we've seen a lot of things thrown at us this year.

"We just got to stay focused and together and we can be the best."

Boone is one of the major reasons for a vastly improved offensive line. The 49ers did not offer Adam Snyder a contract, preferring to take their chances by moving Boone to guard. Snyder is a starter for a struggling Arizona Cardinals offensive line. Meanwhile, Boone has thrived in his starting role. According to Pro Football Focus, Boone has graded out as the second-best guard in the NFL.

"So it's wonderful to see the success that he's been able to achieve as a result of his hard work, because you don't always see that," Amy Boone said. "In the first couple years it was hard. I'm proud of him. But the hard work he was putting in, he was kind of only growing in little steps. And to now have this huge step of starting, it's just been really gratifying. For all of us to watch for him."

It was not long ago that Boone's future was in doubt. Now, he's married with son Jonathan, who turns 1 next week. Boone is signed with the 49ers through 2015. The character risk who no team wanted just 3 12/ years ago has seemingly found stability on and off the field.

"To his credit, he's taken his opportunity, his talent, his work ethic, and also a great attitude," 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh said. "And I think it's a great lesson for all the young players, individual players, that working hard, doing it with a great attitude, a team attitude, you figure it out. You get it. And he's a wonderful example of that."

49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles


49ers veteran expected to play in Pro Bowl thanks to Eagles

UPDATED: The 49ers announced Monday morning that Joe Staley has accepted a spot on the NFC Pro Bowl team. He will replace Dallas offensive tackle Tyron Smith.

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Veteran 49ers left tackle Joe Staley is expected to benefit from the Philadelphia Eagles’ trip to the Super Bowl.

Staley, originally chosen as an alternate, is expected to be named to his sixth Pro Bowl to take the place of Eagles Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson.

The Pro Bowl will be played Sunday, Jan. 28, in Orlando, Florida. Members of the Super Bowl participant Eagles and New England Patriots will not play in the all-star game. The Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl on Sunday with a 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

The other Pro Bowl offensive tackles representing the NFC are Dallas’ Tyron Smith and Los Angeles’ Andrew Whitworth, who replaced Washington’s Trent Williams.

Staley got off to a rough start last season as the 49ers opened on a nine-game losing streak. The idea of his career coming to an end began to creep into his mind, he said recently on the 49ers Insider Podcast.

But Staley said he had a talk with coach Kyle Shanahan that got him refocused for the remainder of the season. The 49ers finished with a five-game win streak to finish with a 6-10 record, and Staley played well down the stretch.

“I’m so far gone from where I was in that moment early in the year that I’m just focused on next year and, hopefully, years after that,” said Staley, 33, an 11-year NFL veteran. “I feel like I can still play.

“I think this last half of the season I played some of the best football of my career. I feel very confident in what we’re doing schematically with the people surrounding us, and it shows in my own play.”

Staley would join fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who was the only 49ers player named to the Pro Bowl when the teams were announced last month.

Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII


Foles frenzy: Eagles fly over Vikings to meet Patriots in Super Bowl LII


PHILADELPHIA -- Hey Philly, maybe it's time to forget Carson Wentz. Nick Foles might be good enough to win the Eagles their first Super Bowl.

Foles was on fire Sunday night against the stingiest scoring defense in the NFL. Philly made big play after big play on both sides of the ball in a stunning 38-7 rout of the Minnesota Vikings for the NFC championship.

Next up after their most-lopsided playoff victory: the Eagles' first Super Bowl appearance since 2005, against the team that beat them then, AFC champion New England.

Foles replaced the injured Wentz in Game 13 and finished off a rise from last place to first in the NFC East. There were plenty of doubters entering the playoffs, but the former starter in Philadelphia (15-3) under another regime has been brilliant.

His best work might have come against Minnesota (14-4) and its vaunted defense that was torn apart in every manner. Foles threw for 352 yards and three touchdowns, showing poise, escapability and moxie in going 26 for 33.

In doing so - helped greatly by the Eagles' domination on defense and a spectacular weaving 50-yard interception return TD by Patrick Robinson - Foles ruined the Vikings' hopes of being the first team to play in a Super Bowl in its own stadium

Instead, the Eagles will seek their first Super Bowl crown in Minnesota on Feb. 4; their last championship came in 1960.

OVER AT HALFTIME: Minnesota made it look easy at the outset, driving 75 yards on nine plays, each of which gained yardage. The payoff was a 25-yard throw from Case Keenum to Kyle Rudolph well behind linebacker Najee Goode as Philadelphia's defense looked confused on the play.

That didn't happen again for Philly.

Defensive end Chris Long had a huge hand in Robinson's 50-yard interception return. Long burst in from the left side and got his arm on Keenum to disrupt the throw for Adam Thielen. The ball went directly to Robinson, who sped down the left side, then made a sharp cut to the right and got a superb block from Ronald Darby to reach the end zone.

Inspired, Philly's D forced a three-and-out, the Foles led the Eagles on a 12-play, 75-yard masterpiece of a drive. LeGarrette Blount showed all his power and escapability on an 11-yard surge up the middle for a 14-7 lead.

Turnovers, something Minnesota rarely committed with an NFC-low 14 during the season, hurt again and not only ended a solid drive, but set up more Philly points. On third down from the Eagles 15, Keenum was blindsided by rookie Derek Barnett, and the ball bounced directly to Long.

It was only the second strip-sack the Vikings have been victimized by all season.

A blown coverage - another rarity for Minnesota - on third-and-10 allowed Alshon Jeffery to get wide open for a 53-yard TD, and Philadelphia tacked on Elliott's 38-yard field goal to make it 24-3 at halftime.

DANCING IN THE LINC: Fifty seconds into the final quarter, with the score 38-7, Eagles players on the sideline and waiting to kick off on the field were dancing up a storm and fans were chanting "We want Brady."

They get Tom Brady and company in two weeks.

BACK TO THE BIG GAME: Long won the Super Bowl last year with the Patriots, as did Blount. Now they return on the other side.

QUICK DRIVE: Philadelphia got the ball with 29 seconds remaining in the first half at its 20. Foles hit passes of 11 yards to Jay Ajayi, 36 to Ertz and 13 to Ajayi before Elliott's field goal to end the half.

THIRD DOWNS: Minnesota was the league's best team defending third downs and was third in converting them. Yet Philadelphia went 10 for 14.

NEXT UP: Minnesota returns home to watch two other teams play at its stadium for the Lombardi Trophy.

With the entire stadium singing "Fly Eagles Fly" during the NFC trophy ceremony, Philadelphia can look forward to facing New England in Super Bowl 52 on Feb. 4