May 03, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Most of the media attention at Giants rookie minicamp centered on first-round pick Jason Pierre-Paul, a million-dollar man with bulging muscles, a trademark smile and a bright future. Last weekend, Pierre-Paul was among the 255 players who realized their dreams upon being drafted into the NFL.

Nyan Boateng was not among them. Nor was he among the dozens of undrafted free agents who signed contracts with teams in the week leading up to the first round of rookie minicamps. Instead, Boateng, like hundreds of others around the league, played for free this weekend as a tryout player for the Giants, guaranteed nothing save for a handful of reps and a makeshift locker. But if he somehow finds his way onto New York's roster, it would be a homecoming long overdue, and the culmination of a turbulent odyssey to the pros.

Born in Ghana and raised in Brooklyn, Boateng was an All-American and top-20 wide receiver prospect when he committed to Florida in 2005, despite missing his senior season due to an ankle injury. Boateng showed promise in his freshman season, but it was his only one in Gainesville after a run-in with the law and differences with coach Urban Meyer sparked his transfer to California. Before arriving in Berkeley, Boateng was arrested for burglary, and while the charges were dropped, his reputation as a player with the dreaded "character issues" was set in stone.

He missed time in 2009 with a broken foot, and finished his career at Cal with 42 receptions, 630 receiving yards and seven touchdowns, well below the production expected from a blue-chip recruit. Boateng refused to blame injury, but admitted he underachieved in college.

"With all the things that happened to me, a lot of teams were scared to take a chance on me," Boateng said Saturday.

Boateng, 23, insists he's fully healthy now and "just happy to put on the chinstrap." But life on the NFL fringe is never certain, as he has learned quickly. After earning an invite to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in February, Boateng failed to impress a team enough to invest in him with a draft pick. Undrafted and unable to secure a free-agent contract, he settled for a tryout offer from the 49ers">49ers. That is, until San Francisco decided their camp was full Friday, and Boateng returned home for a tryout with the Giants.

It seems fitting that the kid from Coney Island would get his first NFL chance with the Giants, a team he grew up watching.

"Being from New York, if I get a spot on that roster, it would be a dream come true for me," Boateng said. "For the first time, I'd be home, close to my family. I'm always away. I was at Florida, and then I was at California, so if I could stay here it would be a blessing."

That he carries the torch for New York City football players is not lost on Boateng, who takes pride in opening the door for prospects from a city known primarily for basketball talent.

"Even though things didn't work out the way I wanted it to work out in college, I feel like I did something good back home," he said. "Now kids from New York can believe that they can go to the NFL, go to a big-time college."

But Boateng is no stranger to the big city hardwood, either. Six years ago, he, alongside future NBA lottery pick Sebastian Telfair, helped Brooklyn's Lincoln High to three straight city titles, a feat chronicled in the 2005 film Through the Fire. At the time, the duo seemed destined for success, but injuries have derailed each of their pro careers. Boateng said he and Telfair have spoken about their misfortunes, but the two never dwell on the past.

For Boateng, looking forward means hoping a team can overlook his checkered past and see potential. And while he's optimistic that team is his hometown Giants, he knows he may have to be patient.

"The season is a long way from here."

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