Question: You’re in the NFL now, the latest step in a lifelong dream. But when did it begin? When did you first start playing football?
Answer: “I started playing when I was seven years old, and I turned eight during the season. The youth team I played for was the Largo (Florida) Junior Packers. All my area neighbors, we played together, went to school together, we played football together. We were terrible. We didn’t win a game. I went two seasons where we may have won two or three games. To us, it was not about keeping score. We hated that we lost, but it was more so having fun. That’s what I remember about my first years playing football. I don’t remember the losses or wins. I had fun doing it. I was the guy who slept in his uniform the night before the game. I was dressed in my uniform when I left practice. My mom had to make sure I got out of the gear because I loved football so much. That’s what I remember about those early days. It was a ton of fun.”
Q: It had to be hot growing up and playing it.
A: “When you’re that age, all you know is one speed – ‘Go, go, go.’ You don’t remember getting tired. You remember loving to play. I played quarterback and linebacker. I never came off the field. We had pass plays called, but I would turn it into a bootleg (laughs). I would always run. It was fun.”
Q: Were you Vince Young, Steve McNair, Cam Newton?
A: “I was a guy who didn’t have a name. One guy I did idolize was Joe Montana, but I was nowhere near him. I was a running quarterback before that era. We probably threw it two or three times a game.”
A: “It’s the challenge, the informational and physical challenge. It’s the challenge of knowing more. You have to have a special kind of competitive blood and be wired differently. To be able to go through the grind and when you’re going through it, it’s not a grind. You think about it being a grind when everything is over. As I look back at a previous season, I say, ‘Man, that was a grind.’ When you’re in the moment, it’s a challenge. That’s why I love the game. I love it because you always can get better mentally, physically, with studying body language of your opponent. There are so many different levels to this game that if you don’t play it, it’s hard to fully understand it. When you have that experience on defense, you call out plays and recognize formations and play the game much faster. That’s the beauty of it. With the guys doing it with you, it’s a lot of fun.”
Q: Is this your perfect profession, or would there be a different one for you?
A: “I would say basketball. If you asked growing up if I would be in the NBA or NFL, I’d say the NBA. I loved basketball, but I was always better at tackling people. I stopped growing, so that was one reason I didn’t follow up on basketball. Things kind of hit home in college. I had no idea I was going to play in the NFL or how long. I just wanted the chance to play D-I football and experience that whole deal.”
Q: When did you first think this was real? When did you first think, ‘I have a chance to play in the NFL?’
A: “Being a Florida guy, it was a sin not to go to Florida State or Florida. If you didn’t go to those two schools, you were considered not as good as the rest of the crop. In my area (around Tampa), everyone went to FSU or Florida. There were not a lot of Miami fans. When I decided to go to Maryland, for an 18-year old it was the best thing I could have done. Florida State never offered me a scholarship. I had a chance to go to Florida. My sophomore year, the first time I was playing at Doak Walker against Florida State, I had a big chip on my shoulder. They had all these studs I had followed in high school. On the first play, I intercepted the ball and returned it 58 yards. All of my former classmates and family were there, maybe 50 people, and when that happened, my confidence went to where there was no limit. That’s when I realized I could play at the next level.”
A: “It was basketball. I was a point and shooting guard. I always played AAU. I played in the ‘Hoop-it-Up Tournament,’ and every year the guys I played with, we won. Basketball was my number one sport. I couldn’t shoot much, but there was something about setting guys up and getting points here and there. I liked to set guys up. There are parallels to that and what I’m doing now. My responsibility each play is to line guys up and direct traffic. Just to be the last voice of, ‘Here’s how we’re going to do it,’ and have the trust of the guys knowing I’m going to do it right. That’s why I love it so much.”
Q: When did you move to your position?
A: “In college. In high school, I was the punter, kicker, quarterback and linebacker. My senior year, I was the fullback. I got offers to play fullback for some schools. In college, I was a linebacker and stuck with it. It was a good fit. I didn’t want to play quarterback. I wanted to tackle people. I had a drive and motor about that.”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “I was 10 years old. We had a youth team that had won every game. We were 8-0 and were playing our rivals, the Greenwood Panthers. It was the last play of the game, fourth down, down by six points – we needed a touchdown. I was the quarterback and my buddy was the receiver. We’d call a hitch-and-go if the corner was tight. I gave him that signal. If we don’t score, we lose. If we score, it’s the greatest story ever. He ran it perfectly. I got hit when I threw the ball. I didn’t see the play, but I heard the crowd. I didn’t know if it was a touchdown or interception because I was hit hard to the ground. I remember my uncle, who was my coach, running onto the field and saying, ‘You made a heck of a play. You’re never going to forget this.’ I realized we scored, and it’s my favorite memory. My uncle has the picture of me throwing as I got hit. That’s my favorite picture and story, hands down. Those memories last a lifetime. They never fade. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
A: “It’s kind of embarrassing. My nerves get going and my anxiety’s flowing and I try to be as calm as possible, but I can’t hold it (food) down. I can’t eat the day of the game. Anything I eat, it comes out. Whether it’s before the game, during the game, during the coin toss – it’s happened before. It’s not a pretty sight. You don’t want to be anywhere near me because I’ll probably throw up. I’ve been doing that since I’ve been playing. I can’t kick it. The trainers make sure they put some electrolytes back into my system. I can eat a (power) bar, but no heavy food, nothing. After the game, it’s Man vs. Food. The minute I’m done, I’m going right to the steakhouse. I knew exactly where I was going every game for the last eight years. I got the biggest ribeye, cowboy 22-ounce steak I could find. There was no talking, just Man vs. Food (laughs). I’ll have to find a new place here with the Colts.”
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: “I want to get into advanced scouting. I take a lot of pleasure in watching film. I’m intrigued by it. It’s one of my strengths. I watch it and break it down. If I can get with a good group of people who will hire me and let me work for free, I definitely will. I see myself one day in a front office, being a GM or an advance scout, something like that. It’s what I’ve been doing. It’s a passion. I want to show up for work, put on a suit and tie and trade a locker for a desk. I won’t be able to put my helmet on forever.”
Q: Who’s the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: “It’s my Uncle Charles. He’s a military guy. He was tough on me growing up. With all the craziness going on around you and even though I loved football, it was a way to give direction. I never had a problem with grades but if I did, he would take football away – he and my mom. That’s all I needed. I had to take care of X, Y and Z. That was school and chores. If I didn’t do what I was told, he wouldn’t put his hands on me. He’d take me outside and, ‘We’ll run laps.’ At every corner of the block, I’d have to do pushups or situps. I didn’t want to do that every day. Uncle Charles, if he didn’t do what he did, I wouldn’t be here.”
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “I had a bunch. One was Derrick Brooks. When I was six, they used to sell these full-gear Tampa Bay Bucs uniforms – the plastic helmet, jersey, everything. I’d wear that and cleats to the Bucs’ games. It was named Houlihan’s Stadium at the time. I’d watch Derrick, but I wasn’t going unless I wore my gear. Other favorites were Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Roger Craig. The entire San Francisco roster and Derrick Brooks, I watched them to a ‘T.’ ”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “It was Tampa Bay and San Francisco. Tampa, they didn’t win many games. Vinny Testaverde was there, and he ended up having a great career. Anyone at that point who left the Bucs had a great career. When they won the Super Bowl in 2003, the town went crazy. I was always a fan, especially of the defense. When Tony Dungy came in, he turned it around and set the bar high. Then Jon Gruden took over after that.”
Q: Did you like when the Bucs changed from orange to pewter?
A: “(Whew), that’s all that team needed. As I got older, I hated those (orange) uniforms. You can’t win with that uniform, and I wore it when I was younger. My mom probably still has that outfit. When they changed colors, it was a different perception. It was great for them. They started winning instantly.”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “It was a 1992 Camry, a manual. I got it my junior year in high school, 2001. It had over 100,000 miles when I got it. It got me from Point A to Point B. It was white, with a purple tint that was peeling off. I didn’t care about any of that. I had a car. I didn’t have to walk. I was all set. When I got to college, it was done. I sold it for like $1,100. I wonder where it is.”
Q: What was your first job? What was your toughest job?
A: “My first job was a grocery bagger at Publix. I did that for about two months. When it was time for my break, I’d go to the restroom an hour before and read a magazine. It was not the fit for me. The hardest was when I’d visit my aunt in Jacksonville. Her husband did drywall. He’d go in and drywall entire houses. He’d use mud, and you’d have to stir it so it didn’t get hard. I was 12 years old. We’d get there at 6:00 a.m. and wouldn’t leave until 6:00 p.m. I got $10 a day. At that time, that was money in my pocket and I was happy. It was the hardest job I ever had, and I did it all summer. I got in good shape.”
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that has inspired you in football or life? If so, what is it and why does it mean something to you?
A: “My favorite quote is from Edmund Burke, ‘The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ If you’re in a position to help someone and you’re consistently not doing it, you’re doing yourself and this world a disservice. If everyone in this world did nothing to help anyone, it would be an evil place. That’s always stood out to me.”
Q: At this point of your career, how important is it to you to win?
A: “I’ve saved my money and done things the right way. I don’t regret anything that’s happened in the past. It’s to the point where you want to see results. You’ve put in so much time. I think it’s the fear of losing that edge, that drive. If I still were in Cleveland, I’d still have the hardhat on and have the tunnel vision. I was afraid because I wanted to know what (winning) was about before I left the game. You want to enjoy it. This couldn’t be a better place. There’s no guarantee, but you see how we practice, what we talk about and it’s hard to put in words. It’s a sense of knowing, ‘We’re going to get it done. We have to take care of little things so we don’t mess it up.’ It was important to me. I’ve never been to the playoffs. You look at some guys who have played many years and never went to the playoffs. I’m aware of that. Getting to the playoffs is important to me. I’m not getting any younger.”