SPARTANBURG, S.C. – For three years at Clemson, as leaders on their respective sides of the football, quarterback Deshaun Watson and linebacker Ben Boulware battled in practice but did so with a barrier between them.
Wednesday in the preseason opener for the Panthers and Texans and the pro debuts for Watson and Boulware, that barrier will be lifted. Still, something else could stand in the way of Boulware – the Panthers' undrafted rookie – finally getting a chance to hit Watson, the Texans' first-round draft choice.
"I probably won't be in the game while he's in there," Boulware predicted. "He'll probably be in the first or second quarter, and I'm at the bottom of the totem pole so I'll probably be in later in the game."
Boulware joked that he probably would have lost his scholarship had he hit Watson at a Clemson practice but said he'd give it his best shot if the opportunity does arise Wednesday.
"That's three-and-a-half years waiting to hit somebody, and I'll put all three years into one hit," Boulware said. "So hopefully he'd feel it.
"But," Boulware added, "he'd probably juke me, honestly."
It should be a special night for Boulware, who capped his career at Clemson by celebrating a national championship with Watson -- one of five former Tigers on the Houston roster. Boulware's family and family members for several of the Texans who played at Clemson will share a suite at Bank of America Stadium provided by the school's athletic booster club.
But as neat as all that might be, playing in an NFL game for the first time – albeit a preseason game – will trump that. Then that initial excitement will give way to Boulware focusing on finding ways to earn more game days in the NFL, to figuring out how he can beat the odds as an undrafted rookie and stick around for the regular season.
"I'm super pumped for it. I'm ready for the opportunity," Boulware said. "It's an opportunity that I've been waiting for my entire life. I feel like I have proved to the coaches day in and day out that I know what I'm doing, that I know ball, that they can trust me out there.
"I'm looking forward to proving that in these preseason games."