As someone who was raised in the Bay Area and who went to high school in Marin County, all he wanted six years ago as an up-and-coming defensive end prospect out of the University of Hawaii was for his hometown team to select him in the first or second round of the draft so he could play near family and friends. Instead, he was chosen 42nd overall by the Tennessee Titans. The 49ers, meanwhile, chose receiver Rashaun Woods from Oklahoma State with the 31st pick in the first round and guard Justin Smiley out of Alabama four picks after LaBoy in Round 2. Neither had much of a career in San Francisco.
"Not getting drafted by the 49ers in '04 - I was kind of mad," LaBoy said. "So every time I played the 49ers, I tried to really, like, destroy them."
Unfortunately, LaBoy couldn’t destroy anyone in 2009, as he spent the whole season out of the league, rehabilitating his foot after major reconstructive surgery. He also suffered a torn bicep in the NFC Championship game two years ago, in his only season for the Cardinals. Arizona had signed him the off-season prior to a five year, $22 million contract with a $7.5 million signing bonus after LaBoy showed considerable promise as a part-time pass rusher during his four seasons with the Titans, but released him after he produced just four sacks in 13 games for them in 2008; not wanting to pay big dollars to a player they reasoned wouldn’t be healthy for all or most of the next season.
The Niners showed interest in LaBoy last season too and had him over for a visit to their Santa Clara headquarters, but their doctors quickly determined he wasn’t ready to go last year. The veteran insists he’s been healthy for the past four months however, and that he’s been able to run full speed during his training to get back into the game.
LaBoy is three years removed from his best season, where he had six sacks and four forced fumbles for the Titans in 2007. He had a career-high 6.5 sacks in 2005. Even though he’s been a defensive end throughout his career, at 6’3” and 261 pounds, he’s a bit too small and not quite stout enough against the run to play that position for a 3-4 defense such as the Niners’. Instead, he’ll have to make the transition to outside linebacker, where he can use his speed off the edge to get after the quarterback. Of course the 49ers are already well stocked here and LaBoy will be fighting for playing time with Manny Lawson, Parys Haralson and Ahmad Brooks.
While he surely respects all those guys, LaBoy remains undaunted by the challenge for meaningful snaps come September and beyond. He made it clear that who the players in front of him on the depth chart would be was not a factor when deciding between the 49ers and other teams interested in him such as the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins. "Competition isn't an issue. I enjoy competition," he said. "I don't see a first-round draft pick or whoever it may be as someone who affects my decision."
LaBoy feels the 49ers made the wrong decision by no picking him when they had the chance. Now he has a chance to prove time heals all wounds, both to his feet and ego.