ALBANY, NY—Tight end Kevin Boss was getting ready to board a plane from Oregon to Albany last summer when he heard the career-altering news: Jeremy Shockey had been traded to New Orleans.
Literally days before Boss began his second season as a pro, the former scout team member at Division II Western Oregon became the starting tight end for the New York Giants.
With that promotion came an increase in pressure. Comparisons to Shockey, a four-time Pro Bowler, were endless. They portrayed Boss as a inadequate starter.
Now going into his second season as a starter—third year as an NFL player—the humble Boss is looser, more confident, and aware of what his job is.
"This year is a lot more relaxed, a lot more calm," Boss said on Tuesday. "Having that year under my belt as a starter has given me a lot of confidence."
Boss will be asked to help offset the losses of wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer. A year after grabbing 33 receptions for 384 years and a team-high six touchdown grabs, Boss is expected to make a big leap in production.
Critics remain, but Boss has maintained composure.
Maybe it's because Boss was in unfavorable positions during each of his two previous training camps; the task at hand may seem pedestrian.
He came into the '07 training camp as a no-name fifth round draft pick from a small-time football school.The difference between Division II competition and the NFL was immense.
"Coming from a small school, I didn't know a whole lot in terms of the game of football," he said.
Boss, an All-ValCo league tight end in Corvallis who played his college ball 20-miles north at Western Oregon University, had spent all of his life within a 20-minute radius in Oregon. All of the sudden, he was in a city whose influence reached around the globe. He was playing in what seemed like an entirely different world.
It showed. Contrary to Shockey, who had a nack for attracting attention and cameras, Boss was quiet and kept to himself. He rarely spoke more than a few words when interviewed.
But he worked on adjusting to the speed and intricacies of the pro game. When Shockey got hurt during week 15, Boss came in as a replacement and helped the Giants move forward during a run to the Super Bowl. He proved to be a valuable asset to the team, and in return the organization showed him its trust with the Shockey trade.
Boss was thrown into another seemingly difficult situation. He was to replace Eli Manning's favorite target, a dynamic receiver who was still popular with New York fans.
He didn't put up eye-expanding numbers in '08, but Boss produced when needed. Whether it was leaping over defensive backs or scoring when the offense was in the red zone, Boss provided the team with timely production. This, a team-first attitude, and reliable hands gained him fans.
One being head coach Tom Coughlin.
"Kevin has improved every year," he said. "His blocking has improved, he's an outstanding receiver, and he gets elevated so you can throw the ball up high to him in the green zone. We're obviously going to try and take advantage of that."
Now acclimated with the team and his role within the offense, Boss is focused on getting better.
"I just want to continue to develop into being a well-rounded tight end. I don't want to be known as just a pass-catching tight end or a blocking tight end. I want to develop to be great at both," Boss said.
He also welcomes the challenge of being a veteran. Though only 25-year-old, Boss is one of the more seasoned pass-catching options on the roster.
It'll be up to him to produce more and help the younger receivers and tight ends take in the system.
"When you come into the league, (being a leader) is where you eventually want to get to, the role you want to have someday," he said. "I'm really excited to have this opportunity."
(Photo credit: Pinkus/Giants.com)