Ex-NFL player Stephen Boyd finds new meaning as HS coach

Stephen Boyd, former NFL three-time Pro Bowler middle Stephen Boyd, former NFL three-time Pro Bowler middle linebacker, talks to students at Chaminade High School during their Phys-Ed class in the school's physical fitness center. (Dec. 11, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

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When students at Chaminade High School report for physical education class, they are met by a 6-foot-1, 240-pound former middle linebacker for the Detroit Lions.

Stephen Boyd was selected for the NFL's Pro Bowl three times and was known for his sledgehammer-style tackling.

But these days, he doesn't spend much time even watching NFL games. He is busy teaching Chaminade students how to increase their strength and agility, and coaching the varsity football team -- with proven results.

Last year, the Flyers won the Catholic High School Football League AAA championship. This season, they lost only one game, to St. Anthony's of South Huntington, before falling to St. Anthony's in the finals last month.

Boyd, 41, said the transition from pro sports to the halls of the elite all-boys Catholic high school in Mineola has been seamless and has given new meaning to his post-NFL life.

Working at a Catholic high school "grounds you and brings back into your life a lot of morals. You can lose sight of what's really important" playing pro sports, he said. At Chaminade, "Faith comes first, then academics, then athletics. It gets you back in touch with your spirituality and faith."

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While he admires the Detroit Lions organization, Boyd said he doesn't miss the NFL and hasn't watched a full professional game in years.

On a Sunday afternoon, "I could chop down a tree in the backyard and be just as happy," he said.

For students and players at Chaminade, it is nothing short of a thrill to have Boyd giving them instruction. When some first enter the school as freshmen, they don't know who he is, but they soon find out -- though Boyd would be the last to tell them about his background, students and colleagues said.

"He's one of the biggest role models in my life," said Jack Graffagnino, 17, a senior from Lynbrook who played tight end on the football team. "He teaches life before he teaches football."

Dan Fowler, 18, a football player who graduated from Chaminade in June and now attends Duke University, said, "To have a guy who has accomplished so much as an athlete, it's pretty cool."

Boyd was a standout football player from the time he signed up to play in a local league as a boy in his native Valley Stream. He went on to star at Valley Stream Central High School, and in 1989 won Newsday's Thorp Award, given annually to the best high school football player in Nassau County.

He was recruited by more than two dozen colleges and settled on Boston College, where he was named an All-American and captain of the team.

He played for Detroit for seven years before a back injury ended his career in 2001.

Like many former pro athletes, Boyd said he wasn't sure what his next move would be after being the spotlight. But something one of his coaches at Detroit told him stuck in the back of his mind: If you are going to coach, coach high school first so you can learn how to teach the game.

He took a part-time job at Chaminade as assistant junior varsity football coach in 2003. He moved up as assistant to the varsity team two years later, and by 2006 became a full-time employee also teaching physical education. In 2009, he was named head coach.

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Boyd, who considers himself a devout Catholic, said coming to Chaminade put him back in touch with the values his churchgoing family instilled in him.

Sometimes, in the world of the NFL, "it is easy to get distracted and get away from your core values," said Boyd, who now is married and has an infant daughter. "I realized I was surrounded by a lot of phony people. People want to associate with you because you are a professional athlete, not because of who you are."

Joseph Horan, an assistant football coach, said Boyd, with his credentials, "could be at a higher level doing what he's doing."

At Chaminade, "because of his dedication to the school and the value system, he's a perfect fit," he said.

Boyd rarely talks about his glory in the NFL, Horan said. "He's extremely humble about his accomplishments. He's not walking around handing out photographs and signing autographs."

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Boyd, who said he is "having a blast," plans to stick around Chaminade for a while.

Chaminade "is a special place," he said. "It's a labor of love."

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