Finding his spot
Dolphins hope Boston is missing piece
BY CARL KOTALA
DAVIE -- His brother's an undercover cop. His sister's a lawyer.
Byron Boston will be the first to admit his son, David, is not as outgoing as his two siblings. But that doesn't mean he won't become a chatterbox if the subject is right.
"He's always been real quiet. He's always kind of kept to himself," Byron said from his home in Humble, Texas. "He's really open with people that have the same interests that he has. If he finds somebody that's interested in kinesiology and weightlifting and diets and stuff like that, he'll talk to you all day."
Maybe that's why, after only a few months as a Miami Dolphin, David Boston is starting to look and feel much more at home. In Dolphins strength coach John Gamble, he's found a guy he can talk muscles and nutrition with. And in wide receivers coach Jerry Sullivan, he's been reunited with the man who helped him achieve Pro Bowl status in 2001.
The guy who was reported to be hard to get along with last year in San Diego has yet to be heard from.
"It makes me wonder why people talk about having problems with him because he's been a model guy since he's been here," Dolphins quarterback A.J. Feeley said. "He comes in and works out every day. Doesn't say much. Keeps to himself. But he's in and out, working hard. When you're out on the field, he gives you nothing but his best. I'm impressed. I didn't realize how explosive he was, how fast."
The Dolphins, who sent cornerback Jamar Fletcher and a conditional sixth-round draft choice to the Chargers to acquire Boston, are banking that he can regain that 2001 form, which saw him catch 98 balls for 1,598 yards and eight touchdowns.
They're also hoping they don't get a repeat of last season, when Boston was suspended for one game by San Diego for "conduct detrimental to the team" following a series of incidents that allegedly included an argument with the team's strength coach.
Boston would catch 70 passes for 880 yards and seven touchdowns for San Diego, but one season after signing him to a seven-year, $47.4 million free-agent contract, the Chargers put him on the trading block.
"The dynamic was not what we had expected and it didn't work for us, so we made a change," San Diego coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I think David's a good player and I don't view him as a bad guy. I think he's a good guy. It just never fit with us."
To protect themselves, the Dolphins worked out a contract that reportedly calls for a 2004 base salary of $535,000 with another $2.5 million coming by being on the Dolphins' roster for all 16 games. A similar arrangement would net Boston another $4 million in 2005.
"I predict David Boston will be the comeback player in the league this year," said John Cooper, who coached Boston at Ohio State.
A big man
Cooper, who beat out nearly every major college program in the country to recruit Boston to the Buckeyes, said the wide receiver was never a problem player and in fact, often did even more than he was called on to do.
He was quiet, of course, but set the tempo in the weight room and above all, came out on top at just about everything he did.
"Whether we were running gassers, or whether we were running laps, or whether we were running wind sprints -- or whatever -- David Boston wouldn't let anybody beat him," Cooper said.
Neal Quillin, who coached Boston at Humble High, had similar things to say about the kid who was all-state in both football and basketball as a senior.
In football, he would always make the big catch. In basketball, it was always the big shot. And one time, in track, Boston volunteered to fill in on the mile relay team when one of its members pulled up lame in practice, just before the district championships.
Although he hadn't been running track that season, Boston wound up qualifying for the regionals in both hurdle events and helped his school win the mile relay and district team title.
Being fast was never a problem for Boston. The amazing thing was that he didn't lose that speed when he went through a terrific growth spurt between the eighth grade and his sophomore year, which saw him go from about 5-foot-6 to 6-2. It was also during that time that he became dedicated to the weight room, something that followed him to Ohio State and into the pros.
Dolphins wide receiver Terrence Wilkins said one of the first things he thought of when he saw the muscular Boston take his shirt off was that wide receivers aren't supposed to be that big -- especially when they're that fast.
Tight end Randy McMichael, who is listed at 6-3, 250 pounds, flashed a big grin when told the 6-2 Boston looked to be bigger than he was.
"I'm bigger than him. He's just more . . . he has more girth on him than I do," McMichael said, breaking into an Incredible Hulk pose. "He's a big man."
And despite some early struggles, McMichael said Boston is settling in to the Dolphin offense just fine, even offering his teammates pointers on how Sullivan wants things done.
"I think DB's going to be a great addition because of his speed and size," McMichael said. "He's still learning, but he's learned a whole lot so far. I've been looking at him and I can really tell he's continually getting better every practice -- not every week, but every practice. By the time training camp gets around, he's going to be a well-oiled machine."
Much has been made about Boston's weight, which has been as high as 245 pounds.
Quillin said Boston was about 200 pounds as a senior in high school. By the time he was a junior at Ohio State, he was in the low 220s. The Dolphins would like to see Boston at around 228 pounds, which is closer to what he weighed during his breakout season with Arizona.
To that end, the team sent him to Sari Mellman, a Miami-based nutritionist who has helped Ricky Williams and several other Dolphins watch their diets more closely with a program that uses blood work to determine which foods work best in a player's body.
For Boston, who has always followed a strict diet on his own, that meant cutting out diet sodas and condiments like ketchup and mustard.
"I've felt like my diet is important to be the best athlete you can be, the best shape you can be," he said. "So I've always eaten pretty good. It's just a different philosophy she uses."
Boston said he weighs about 235 pounds, down from the roughly 245 he was at when he first arrived in camp and drew a little criticism from coach Dave Wannstedt. All that talk has died down since, and Sullivan said Boston is "getting there."
Just to emphasize his point, Sullivan had Boston watch film of himself from that 2001 season, just to see what he looked like and what he can do when he's closer to 225-230. Boston has seemingly bought into Sullivan's plan, just like he did in Arizona.
Only don't think the coach has some kind of Svengali-like hold over the receiver. To Sullivan, it's simple.
"If you trust the guy, you listen and have respect for what he says. If you don't, you don't," Sullivan said. "I think he trusts me."
So much so that when Sullivan was let go by the Arizona Cardinals after coach Dave McGinnis was fired, Boston was planning to hire him as his personal coach. And when Sullivan was hired by the Dolphins, that made South Florida all the more appealing for Boston when the situation in San Diego didn't work out.
"If anybody can handle him, it's Jerry Sullivan," Cooper said.
Connection with coach
When Boston talks about Sullivan, he mentions that he's a great person and a great coach twice in the same answer. And the trust that Sullivan mentions is clearly there.
"It is, because a lot of times, the more success you have on the field, the more you kind of get used to doing what you want to do and not listen to what he taught you. It's easy to stray away from that," Boston said. "Jerry's taught me a lot. I trust everything he tells me to do, and I try to do everything he says. It's worked out for me when I did."
Byron Boston, who is about to enter his 10th year as an NFL official, is excited about his son coming to Miami because of the chance to play for Sullivan again.
"I think he'll really do well down there. He's at a good age now," Byron Boston said. "As I tell people, he's a six-year veteran, but he's only 25 years old. People seem to think he's been around forever. He's always been a younger kid. When he was a senior in high school, he was only 17. He was a 17-year-old freshman at Ohio State.
"He's always been the youngest. That tends to even out when you get in your early-to-mid 20s. He's settled down. He done everything he wants to do. He's already bought the Hummers and all that kind of (stuff). Now, he's just driving regular cars and going home and going to bed."
What kind of person is David Boston?
His father said that shortly after signing his first professional contract, David not only bought his best friend a new car, but put him through college.
Boston gave his friend a chance to be successful in life, and now he's getting another one himself.
With Williams, McMichael and wide receiver Chris Chambers already on board, he doesn't have to carry the offense. But he could be the missing piece.
"I'm just excited about this opportunity here to try and win a championship," Boston said. "I've had a lot of success throughout my career. I'm not a selfish guy. At this point in my career, I'm trying to win games and I'm trying to win a championship. That's something I have not done in my whole career. I've always had losing seasons.
". . . It's definitely a fresh start for me. I'm around a lot of great athletes in a new situation and I'm gong to try to make the most of it."