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Shifting gears: After football, Boulware makes smooth transition to car business

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Peter Boulware knew his career in the NFL would at some point come to a close. His parents as well as coaches at Florida State encouraged him to have a career plan after football.

“I knew I had to have an exit strategy when football was done,” Boulware said. “I was just looking for a business opportunity. The automobile industry presented itself. I had a couple opportunities and I just got in.”

Boulware jumped in and has been active for about 20 years, first as part owner of Legacy Toyota with Les Akers and now his ownership stake has increased and the name has recently changed to Peter Boulware Toyota. Jumping into the car business may not have been the plan all along but it turned out to be the right path for Boulware.

He was one the FSU’s most successful pass rushers, consistently taking a path to the quarterback and accumulating 34 sacks (including 19 in a record-setting junior season in 1996 in which he was named a consensus All-American. (His 19 sacks are three more than any other Seminole has had in a single season.) And Boulware’s sack total is just shy of his teammate Reinard Wilson (35.5), who wreaked havoc on quarterbacks with their meet-me-there-or-beat-me-there motto.

A first-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens, Boulware had 70 sacks and 401 tackles across his NFL career, from 1997-2005. He had a career-best 15 sacks in 16 regular-season games, helping the Ravens to a Super Bowl title in Jan. 2001.

By that point, Boulware and Akers had former a business partnership. Boulware said the plan all along was for Akers to be owner but eventually knew he wanted to retire from the car business.

“That was always our original plan,” Boulware said. “When I was playing he would obviously be running the store but eventually there would be a transition.”

Boulware’s father, Raleigh, and mother, Melva, encouraged him to pursue business interests outside of football to set up his second career. So too did FSU coach Bobby Bowden and defensive ends coach Jim Gladden. While many athletes are uncertain of what to do once their playing days are over, Boulware retired from the NFL at 31, moved back to Tallahassee and has enjoyed the car business.

“It started off with my parents,” Boulware said. “I thank God for them. They were wise. They said, ‘Sports aren’t going last forever.’ All athletes knew that. The coaching staff here, Bowden and Gladden and all those guys, they would say, ‘Make sure you get your degree. Make sure you have another plan.’ And then when you get to the NFL, there are symposiums and conferences and they talk about post-career planning. All through my career, parents, coaches, and the NFLPA, they try to put tools out there. The hardest thing is just from us athletes, you hear that but you feel invincible. It’s unfortunate sometimes.”

Boulware, 45, said he is driven to provide customers with “an incredible experience.” He wants customers to be treated well, whether it’s buying a car or getting service. And, yes, there is a parallel between athletics and business. It’s competitive.

“Our business is very competitive,” Boulware said. “We have to work daily and train daily on how we can treat people better and how we can give people great experiences.”

Boulware is also a season-ticket holder at FSU, taking in games at Doak Campbell Stadium and observing the program from the stands. He understands the frustration surrounding the start of the Mike Norvell Era, with FSU off to a 1-3 start.

“I want our team to win as much as the next person does but the biggest thing I’m looking for is how is he building for the future and what are some of the foundational things and what are some of the structural things that he’s doing to ensure that we are building a team that’s going to be good for the long haul,” Boulware said. “And so when I go to the games, I’m looking at how do they approach the field, how they warm up, what does the sideline management look like, what does the special teams management look like. I’m looking for the things that I think that make for a successful team. What type of plays are they calling in what situations? All that I have seen in that regard, it looks pretty good.”

Boulware is looking at the big picture with the Seminoles. As important as the play is on the field, and teams are of course judged by wins and losses, it’s also critical what he sees in the way of progress.

“I know it’s not reflecting on the wins and losses but as far as the way the game is managed and how the team looks, the little things, the right calls at the right time, it all looks pretty good,” Boulware said. “To me I’m encouraged by that. If he (Norvell) can continue to do that and continue to add players and add good recruits, I think it’s going to be good for us in the long haul. Unfortunately if you look at our wins and losses, it’s not reflecting there. But right now to me that’s not really what I’m looking at. I’m looking at the fundamental thing that hopefully in the long haul will make us a great program.”

Boulware is also watching the performance of the defensive line. FSU had just one sack in its three FBS games in 2020 and five QB hurries in four games. The line also has just two passes broken up (one apiece by Robert Cooper and Janarius Robinson). Part of the problem: FSU has faced elusive quarterbacks as well as ones who are getting rid of the ball in under three seconds. But beyond the sacks FSU isn’t putting nearly enough pressure on the quarterbacks.

When it comes to mistakes made against Notre Dame, especially the long running plays, Boulware thinks missed assignments have been problematic for the Seminoles but are correctable.

“If you’re missing assignments and you’re just plugging the right gap those things can be fixed,” Boulware said. “To me those are the easiest things to fix. It’s just getting a guy in the right place. The harder thing to fix and the thing that takes you to the next level is the talent gap. Taking individual players and really the thing that makes you good as an offense or a defense is winning your 1-on-1 battles. That’s when your program goes to the next level. If you’re a great coaching staff, especially on defense, you can draw up a defense or a blitz up where a guy comes up free every once in a while. But typically when you draw a defense up someone has to beat a block or a defensive back has to just get an interception. Someone has to make a big play. That’s kind of what I’m seeing right now from our team. I’m not seeing anybody beating a block or someone going out there and just making a big play. Those are the things that made our Florida State program great back in the day, not that we could out-scheme guys but we could just line up in a vanilla formation. We’ll have a defensive back or a linebacker make a huge play.”

Taking a long-term outlook, Boulware feels taking a look at the talent gap is one that will take a few years. Building relationships is harder for Norvell as a new coach in the state without as many ties to high school coaches (and it’s magnified by the challenges of the NCAA dead period).

“The only way you get yourself out of that is you got to recruit your way out of that,” Boulware said. “You have to recruit playmakers. And you have to recruit guys that you can say, ‘I’m going to line my guy up against your guy and he’s going to beat you.’ That’s where we’ve got to get better. And unfortunately that takes two or three years of recruiting to get there.”