Just one minute into my interview with Alex Boone, and I can easily see why he is popular with his new 49ers teammates.
We are sitting on a bench outside the team's practice facility. And as Boone's fellow offensive linemen keep walking past us on the way to lunch, they exchange wicked and funny verbal jabs. Boone is a rookie. But he cheerfully gives as well as takes, even to veterans. Already this summer, he has earned some respect.
Now, if Boone can just figure out how to stay around beyond this summer — and to stay away from doing something stupid after drinking too much.
That's not what I say.
That's what Boone says.
Ever since he arrived in Santa Clara for the latest minicamp and organized team activity (OTA) sessions, Boone has bunked out at a nearby hotel. And followed one rule.
"I just don't go out," Boone says. "That limits the opportunity to be around alcohol. When I met with somebody about all this, they were like, 'You're a smart kid. So you know what to do.' "
Every NFL team has little dramas going on within its locker room walls, dramas that involve risk and inspiration and the unknown. Boone, an undrafted free agent out of Ohio State, falls in all of those categories for the 49ers.
With the Buckeyes, Boone was an all-conference tackle who before his senior season was projected to go in the top three rounds of the draft. And then, four months ago after attending a Super Bowl party, Boone got very drunk and went haywire.
How haywire? Boone, at the behest of his agent, was living in Southern California to work out and prepare for the NFL scouting combine. But on Feb. 1, he was arrested by Aliso Viejo police after they answered a disturbance call at an apartment complex. They discovered a 6-foot-8, 318-pound man jumping up and down on the hoods of cars and attempting to smash the window of a tow truck.
After being tasered twice, Boone was finally subdued. His blood alcohol level was found to be .24, three times the California legal limit if he had been driving. Boone issued a statement in which he called his behavior "inexcusable" and said he was going "to seek professional treatment." The incident, however, was preceded by an earlier DUI arrest during his college years.
To no one's surprise, Boone's draft prospects totally tanked. He sat home draft weekend and watched humbly as his name was not called. The 49ers took a chance and signed him. The move seemed slightly out of character for a team coached by Mike Singletary, who says he doesn't like to mess around with players of questionable dedication.
But that, says Boone, is exactly why he is here. He knows this could be his only chance to make an NFL team. He doesn't want to blow it.
"The 49ers were really the first team that approached us after the draft was over," Boone says. "My agent told me, 'Coach Singletary will be the best fit for you. He will keep you in line — all the time. He's a no-nonsense kind of guy.' "
Scot McCloughan, the 49ers general manager, is also in on the project. He has asked Boone to stay in Santa Clara all summer, even when OTAs are not in session. That will allow the team to more closely monitor him. Boone has agreed, except for a trip to Ohio for his brother's wedding. Other than that, the hotel room is Boone's hangout every night. Which, as he readily admits, is not the most fun life in the free world.
"I'm 22 years old," Boone says. "All you want to do after practice is go out and have fun and relax and stuff like that. But the truth is, I am really just not into it anymore. ... This is a job for me right now, and I have to what's best. I like to go home, lay down, watch some TV and go to bed. That's my daily plan. That's easy."
Except it can't be that easy. Can it? A person can only watch so many episodes of "House," which is Boone's favorite show. He also likes going to the movies. But he has no car. His girlfriend is back home, preparing for her senior year at Ohio State.
"Right now," Boone tells me, "I'm just worried about practicing and getting on the team. You're right. It is hard. But the truth is, most of life is hard. You just think positively and get through it and things get better."
Every person on the premises is rooting for him. If Boone makes the roster, it will be a bonus for the 49ers offense. More significantly, it will be a happy comeback tale for a young person with an affable personality who has obvious demons to conquer.
I know as an objective journalist, at the end of an interview, I am not supposed to care. But I won't lie. I wished him luck.
Contact Mark Purdy at firstname.lastname@example.org.