Boley captures Conerly Trophy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 2004

[12/2/04]JACKSON For Michael Boley, getting to Wednesday night’s presentation of the Conerly Trophy at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum was almost as impressive as the victory.

The Southern Miss linebacker, preparing for Saturday’s showdown with No. 4 California, didn’t get out of practice and dressed until almost 6 p.m.

With the presentation being carried live on Mississippi Public Broadcasting, Boley needed a little help.

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletter

Receive daily headlines and obituaries

“We came up with the Mississippi Highway Patrol,” said Boley, who completed the 80-mile trek in about 45 minutes. “I’m glad because I probably would have gotten a ticket.”

The soft-spoken Athens, Ala., native is used to rushing things, but normally it is opposing quarterbacks.

“I know I was going up against two good players and it’s a real shock,” Boley said of being chosen for the award.

Boley leads the team with 112 tackles, 14 tackles for loss and seven sacks in helping the Golden Eagles to a 6-4 record and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl. He beat out Delta State quarterback Scott Eyster and Mississippi State running back Jerious Norwood for the state’s top college football honor.

“He plays with the kind of intensity that makes things happen,” said ESPN football commentator and Conerly Trophy host Ron Franklin. “He’s a playmaker. That’s what coaches say, there are players who make plays and there are playmakers. He creates and I am anxious to see what he does on the next level. He really has a lot of potential.”

Recruited out of the tiny town in extreme North Alabama as a wide receiver, it didn’t take long for Southern Miss coaches to see that he should be somewhere else.

“He started practice half with the offense and half with the defense,” said USM assistant coach Lytrell Pollard, a linebacker in his playing days in Hattiesburg. “I had him on defense and that first coaches’ meeting, I said we have to get him on defense.”

Boley’s career as a wide receiver ended there, while switching to linebacker. He is a finalist this year for the Butkus Award given annually to the best college linebacker in the country, and he came into this year as a preseason All-American.

“Watching the film on him, I’m glad he’s not hitting me like that,” said Eyster, also a finalist last season who has thrown for more than 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in his first two seasons at DSU.

Eyster and Norwood, both underclassmen, have their eyes on next year’s awards presentation. This year marked the first time the awards were carried live via Mississippi Public Broadcasting. A crowd of about 250 were on hand for the presentation.

“The great thing about doing it this way is the focus is all on the kids,” Franklin said. “You get so much more of an insight as to what kind of players they are like and what kind of people they are.”

Since its inception in 1996, the award has grown into a major event. Media from around the state vote on the winner. Eli Manning won last year’s award and the year before that, Southern Miss linebacker Rod Davis took home the honor. The award is named in honor of ex-Ole Miss and New York Giants quarterback Charlie Conerly.

“Before two years ago, I had no idea about the award,” said Boley, a former teammate of Davis, who is now in the NFL. “After Rod won it, we sat down and talked about the experience and how it feels. It feels great.”

Boley headed back to Hattiesburg Wednesday night to finish preparations for Saturday’s ESPN telecast of the game. Normally, Franklin and his crew broadcast the game in that timeslot, but since the game was not originally scheduled for Saturday, Franklin will not be there.

Boley received a congratulatory phone call from Southern Miss head coach Jeff Bower after the ceremony. Now, it’s all business.

“We really wanted to play them early in the year when we were coming off the Nebraska win,” Boley said of the game that was washed out because of Hurricane Ivan. “Being pushed back like it was, the guys are real anxious to play and see what Cal is like.”