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 when I was six years old, a flag football team named the Rams in Dublin, Georgia. I was the quarterback and we had four plays – bootleg left, bootleg right, bootleg reverse and bootleg pass. That was it. I was Cam Newton before Cam Newton (laughs). I absolutely was. I played quarterback until I was about 10 years old. When I got to middle school, they moved me around. I played defensive end, receiver, running back, pretty much everything.”
Q: Were you bigger than the guys you grew up with?
A: “I was always taller than anyone. By ninth grade, I weighed about 180, and I weighed about 210 as a senior. At that point, I was about 6-2. I didn’t grow late, I was always one of the biggest guys at my age.”
Q: To get to this level, it has to be about more than money, or fame – the things a lot of people associate with the NFL. What do you love about the game that has kept you playing?
A: “It’s just the love and respect I have for it. I like going back home and people tell you they’re proud of you and are praying for you. That’s a great feeling. That does more for me than people giving me money, or paying for a meal. To hear someone say, ‘I’m proud of you. We’re behind you,’ that is a miracle. I really appreciate things like that. I also like the brotherhood in the sport. It’s like another family. It’s different than the outside world where you may not know everyone’s intentions. Here, everyone is for the same goal. They don’t want anything else but to succeed and have a good time.”
Q: What was your best sport growing up? It wasn’t football for all NFL players . . .
A: “Baseball was mine. I liked it because of my dad, Gerald, who actually had a couple of tryouts with the Florida Marlins. That’s the sport I first started playing. My dad was a football player at first, but he had a bad shoulder injury. In high school, he was run over by Hershel Walker. He tried an open-field tackle on him and Hershel ran straight through him. He needed pins to hold his shoulder together, and that ended his football career. He was very good at softball, too, and I would go with him for traveling tournaments around Georgia from what I remember about him. When I played, it was first base, centerfield, pitcher. The first time I ever got cut from something was in seventh grade from the baseball team. I went home and cried. I played eighth and ninth grade, then kind of lost passion for it. I stuck with track after that. I ran the 4x100, 4x400 and did the long jump. I played football and basketball, too.”
Q: Were you locked in on one position in football? When did you move to your current position?
A: “No, we pretty much had to play everything. It was not just a primary position. One position I did played well was defensive end. I played that in college. Here (in the NFL) they put me at outside linebacker.”
A: “It did, but what really helped me was I played basketball in high school. I think people who played basketball can make pretty good outside linebackers, especially in the coverage area. Rushing the quarterback, that’s just what you do. The coverage aspect is just like playing basketball. I think a lot of power forwards could make great standup outside linebackers. That lateral movement and start-stop ability lends itself to both positions.”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “It would have to be making Super Bowl XLV against Pittsburgh (2010 season while with Green Bay). That was the best, but I remember that week when I was in my room and on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday I was crying like a big dog. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to play. I was starting to that point, but was hurt with a high ankle sprain and couldn’t play. I knew I was going to be out. We were treating it, but it didn’t work. I remember going to my room alone and trying to psyche myself up, but it wouldn’t work. I was in too much pain. I tried to practice late in the week, but the coaches had to pull the plug when I told them I was only about 60 percent. It was a blessing to get the experience. It’s my main goal to get back to ‘The Show.’ All you have to do is make one big play, and you’ll be remembered forever.”
Q: What about a pleasant best memory?
A: “It was my junior year in college when I received an academic award. Being a Prop 48, you had to sit out a year. Your freshman year, all you could do was work out, go to class – there was no football for a year. I was eligible the next year and my junior I got the John Walker Academic Award. It made my mom, Shirley, very proud. I knew I had to rebound. I got my academics in order and matured during the process. It allowed me to prepare my body and mind.”
A: “The year after I sat out, I was third in the conference in sacks. I was behind DeMarcus Ware and another player, and I wasn’t even starting. My sophomore year, I fell off. My junior year, I led the conference with 11.5 sacks and started thinking, ‘Well, I might really have to take these (dreams) seriously.’ I always used to tell my mom, ‘I’m going to be on TV one day. I don’t know what sport.’ I used to tell her that (laughs). It was like that Travis Tritt song, ‘I’m Going to Be Somebody Someday.’ That song said it for me. She reminds me of that today.”
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: “Not really. I just make sure to get the best meal, take my vitamins. I get a scripture from the Bible that I find, not the same one every week. I just pick a passage, and that’s about it. I do that before every game so I get try to get something to relate to as I head into action. Whatever I open up is fine. It’s a quiet approach, until I get to the locker room. That’s when my personality comes out, the excitement, the nervousness.”
Q: So you still get the nerves after all these years?
A: “Yes. On the ride from the hotel to the stadium, my stomach is bubbling. Once I get to the stadium, it’s like Mike Tyson says, ‘I get more courage, more excited.’ I get way more confident the closer I get to the stadium. I still get the juice and buzz. I appreciate it even more than when I was younger. I can see why guys like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady still get that way. The older you get, you appreciate everything – workouts, meetings, meals. When you’re young you don’t pay attention or care that much. You think you’ll be able to do this a long time, but you don’t know that. As you get older, you appreciate everything. You only have so much time. You’d better take advantage of it now. There’s no re-start button.”
Q: How special are game days?
A: “There is nothing else like it. I go home and talk to guys I played high school and college ball with. They remember it, too – the Friday nights, Saturday nights. I was able to get to play on Sundays. There’s nothing like it.”
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: “I’m probably going to coach in high school or a rec league. I love all sports, and I hope to give back with things I learned. I want to give it to someone else like it was given to me. It’ll probably be home in Georgia some place.”
Q: Who’s the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: “I’d say my mom first of all for all her support, love and sacrifice. Also, the summer before my senior year in high school, we got a new coach when our old coach got fired. The new coach came in for eight weeks and left. We only had 12 players for practice. They said it was for family issues, but we said he thought, ‘I didn’t know what I was getting myself into.’ We got another new coach. I’d been playing safety. He came in and said, ‘You’re playing defensive end.’ That was the moment I was about to quit. I’m like, ‘I don’t even know you. How am I supposed to trust you when you’re telling me I’m playing there?’ He (Roger Holmes) and I laugh about it to this day. He changed my position. It worked out. It gave me an opportunity to get to college, and I was the all-time sack leader at Middle Tennessee State. I got drafted in the sixth round, and I’m still playing. He saw something. I had to trust and believe. Last year, they started a Hall of Fame at my high school, and I was inducted. They retired my jersey – number 2.”
Q: A defensive end wearing number 2?
A: “Yeah, I was a safety for three years (laughs). I was used to it.”
Q: What about your jersey numbers in college and the NFL, did they change and did any mean anything to you?
A: “I was 43 in college. In the NFL, I’ve bounced around with so many teams (Kansas City, Miami, Green Bay, Colts). I wore 52, 53, 50 and 93. My brother (Gary) used to say, ‘Don’t fall in love with the uniform. Fall in love with the game.’ That helped me, and it can help others who aren’t able to just play on one team a whole career. It was great advice from an older brother.”
Q: Do you have a particular high school teacher who means a great deal to you? If so, why?
A: “I had two math teachers, Miss Walker and Miss Newton. That was about the only subject I was good at in high school, the only one I put effort into. Everything else, I was, ‘Whatever.’ I don’t know why, but I liked math. Miss Walker actually failed me in geometry one time, and I learned a lesson from it. She gave me a 68 on one test. She was always cool with me and stayed on me except for that one time. I told her, ‘I thought we were cool.’ The lesson worked. I came back and passed it the next time, but it was a life lesson. It was some tough love from her.”
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “I didn’t really have a favorite in the NFL. In basketball, it was when Kobe Bryant got in the NBA. I didn’t really get to see a lot of Michael Jordan. I saw him some, but not a lot. It was more Kobe. I didn’t watch much football. I thought guys didn’t play hard until the playoffs. I felt that way about basketball, too. On TV it looked at way, until the playoffs started. I felt that way until I got to the NFL, then I realized how fast the game is. Guys play hard all the time. I guess they do in basketball, too.”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “Not really. People at home are going to get on me. I didn’t like the Atlanta Falcons or Georgia Bulldogs. I used to like Florida State because my brother was a die-hard FSU fan. I loved them – Bobby Bowden. I’d get a lot of heck at home because I didn’t like the Bulldogs. I was a Seminole fan.”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “I had a 1984 Chevy Impala. My sister bought it for me in 2001 for $500 when I was a junior in high school. Instead of doing anything to the engine, I bought some dual pipes. I was riding around in it for two weeks, and it broke down (laughs). I got two weeks out of it. You’d get to a red light and have to hurry to crank it back up. I should have done something to the engine. I still have that car. It’s sitting at home. People have tried to buy it. They think it’s a classic. I’m going to fix it.”
Q: What was your first job? What was your toughest job?
A: “It was a painting job with my high school track coach. We used to paint all the local schools. It got pretty hot. The only other job I had was a grocery bagger at Kroger. It could get rough on hot days when people came in and got $200 worth of groceries and didn’t give you a tip when they’re done (laughs). I’d be like, ‘C’mon a dollar. Buy me a cola.’ I learned life lessons – how to treat people, how to greet them. I definitely learned something. I’m the kind of guy who tries to learn something from every experience.”
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: “I like Frederick Douglas, ‘Without a struggle, there is no progress.’ I feel you have to go through something to get something. Some guys have been blessed with family members who played and they gave you the recipe to be successful. For guys like me, James Harris, Rob (Mathis), who had to fight adversity – with people telling you what you can’t do, then you overcame those obstacles – those are the guys I really admire. Those are guys who are counted out and are still here. There’s another quote, ‘You get out of it what you put in.’ I learned that early on. I had to.”