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 tackle football in fourth grade. I think I played flag football when I was in kindergarten, or something. I’ve been playing for a long time. My love of the game has grown over the years as it’s gotten more serious and more opportunities have arisen. I think I fell in love with it deeper and deeper. I’m at the point now where I couldn’t imagine my life without football. Obviously, I have a plan for when I’m done playing, but I enjoy it so much. It’s what I’ve kind of dedicated my life to up to this point. To be in a position and opportunity like this is unbelievable. I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
Q: What do you remember about your first team?
A: “I actually played center on my first flag football team. We ran a center-eligible pass, which I thought was pretty cool. There weren’t many rules. You could snap the ball and go out for a pass. I’m not sure I scored any touchdowns, but that was one of my first memories. It was a Sylvania (Ohio) recreation team that I played for. I don’t remember the team’s nickname.”
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: “The great thing about football is the day you think you’ve made it or you’re a finished product, it will chew you up and spit you out. Complacency always has been a monster, not for me, but going to the next level in this game, you can never be complacent. There’s always something to work on. There’s always something to get better on. There’s always something you know you can improve on. That kind of keeps everything fresh – knowing that there never is a finished product. You can come to football every day knowing there is something you can get better at. It’s pretty exciting.”
A: “Football was always my best sport. I played basketball and baseball, but I wasn’t great at either. Football always was my thing. I played center in basketball and first base in baseball. Baseball I gave up in eighth grade. I played basketball until my sophomore year in high school. My dad really wanted me to play basketball, so I did for a long time. Opportunities started coming in on the football side of things, so I decided that’s where my focus was supposed to be at the time. I gave up basketball and trained all year round for football.”
Q: Your dad played college basketball, so did it bum him out that you stopped playing it?
A: “I’m sure it did, but he was aware of the opportunities that were coming in football. He wasn’t completely (hurt). If I had been done playing sports completely, I think he would have been more distraught about it. I was the first football player in the family, so it was a new adventure for us.”
Q: A lot of players move around to different positions before locking into one position. You have a wide range of experience on the line, but not at one position full-time, right?
A: “I’ve never actually had a defined position in football, which has been another cool thing. I think it’s kind of kept me going. Having the ability to play multiple positions gives you something to work on every day. You’re always learning something new about a new position. I’ve played a lot of center, guard and tackle in my career. I honestly couldn’t pick a position I like the most, because I’ve spent a lot of time at all of them.”
A: “No. Toledo is kind of an anomaly. It’s a split city. Ann Arbor (Michigan) is about 45 minutes up the road, so the University of Michigan had a big influence in Toledo. College football wasn’t always huge in my house, but I have pictures of myself at Halloween dressed up as a Michigan football player when I was probably about five years old. I took a lot of visits to Michigan. It was kind of the era when Lloyd Carr was on his way out and Rich Rodriguez was on his way in. It was a transition time in their program. Jim Tressel came in (at Ohio State) when I was very young, and I kind of fell in love with that staff, program and Columbus (Ohio). I went down there and took a visit with my mom. I remember falling in love with the whole atmosphere. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a Buckeye.”
Q: Other than those two schools – two of the most prominent – were there any others in play in your mind?
A: “I really liked Coach (Mark) Dantonio at Michigan State as well. They’re doing great things there now. There were a few other schools. Being a Toledo kid specifically, it was always Ohio State or Michigan.”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “My best memory would be my redshirt junior year. We were not eligible for a bowl game because some things that happened in years prior. It was Coach (Urban) Meyer’s first year. We went 12-0. Beating Michigan at home and sending the senior class out the right way and capping an undefeated season is something that I’ll never forget.”
Q: When did you first think this was real? When did you first think, ‘I have a chance to play in the NFL?’
A: “I’ve always been one to keep my head in the present. I never look too far ahead, but people started talking after my redshirt junior year. I thought I may have an opportunity. It was my goal my whole senior year just to grind, continually get better and show that I had the ability to play at the next level. Luckily, I’ve been given the opportunity to come here and be an Indianapolis Colt. I plan on making the most of it.”
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: “No, I’m not a big ritual guy. I try to do my preparation the week before so I don’t have to depend on little stuff before the game. I just get ready and think. I like to be around the other guys. I don’t like going within myself and over-thinking. I like being with my teammates because they’re the ones who have put in the work with you. Those are guys you really appreciate doing it with. I’m not a big ritual guy.”
Q: Some players pick solitude in those pre-game moments. It’s interesting that you don’t.
A: “I’m a pretty introverted guy to start with, but when I’m a part of a team (I’m not). When you go out there and grind with those guys every day and they’re the guys who are pushing you and making you better, the ones you trust and are helping you along the way, obviously I haven’t been here long enough yet to develop that with my teammates here but at Ohio State, that’s how we were as a unit. It’s a team sport, and I think you should be with your teammates.”
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: “I may want to go back and get an MBA from Ohio State. I want to be an entrepreneur. I want to be my own boss. I want to invent something, make something or do something that somebody hasn’t done and be able to market it in the right way. I think getting an MBA from Ohio State would be a good way to start.”
Q: Do you think people miss the boat when they don’t dream big?
A: “Dreaming big is not a term I’ve always used. I think believing in yourself, having confidence and putting the work in is more of a tangible way to put it than ‘dreaming.’ You have to have aspirations but when it comes down to it, it’s always about the hard work. If you go out every day and push yourself to get better, I’m a firm believer you can go wherever you want to go. That’s kind of the way I’ve lived my life up to this point.”
Q: Who’s the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: “There have been a lot of people. I couldn’t pick just one. Obviously, my two sisters and my mom and dad have been a huge influence on me, but I’ve had a lot of coaches and strength coaches along the way that have put me in positions and given me opportunities to succeed. There are too many people to name just one. There are a lot of people responsible.”
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “Believe it or not, I really liked Marshall Faulk. I collected football cards when I was younger. I was just enthralled with him and the way he played the game. It’s weird now because he started as a Colt. You can go back through my football card collection, and that was the guy I was enamored with. I think I have all his football cards. I really respected the way he approached it and the way he went out on Sundays and played. I’ve never met him.”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “Football was never huge in our house. My dad is a Detroit sports fan. By default, that’s the biggest sports city near Toledo. If I had to say, it would probably the Lions. I never was a guy that really liked to sit down and watch a whole game. Growing up, I wasn’t a fan of teams, I was a fan of players. There were specific guys every Sunday I’d like to watch to see how they were approaching the game and how they were doing things. I wouldn’t say I liked a team as much as I had my eyes on different guys and the way they played.”
Q: If your dad had to pick his favorite teams, what would they be? If he played one sport, what would it be?
A: “He’d pick the Red Wings, the Pistons, the Lions, the Tigers. He’s a huge Detroit guy. He would pick basketball. He had the hoop dream. He loved basketball and was good until a certain point. Basketball is not a game for big guys who can’t jump. It eventually caught up with him. He was a guy with a good work ethic and was very successful after basketball. Looking back, he wishes, and I wish, he would have tried football to see where it would have taken him with his tools.”
Q: He couldn’t have been a Bill Laimbeer?
A: “Ironically, my grandparents grew up like two houses down from Laimbeer’s parents. They had that connection, which I thought was pretty cool.”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “It was an old Dodge truck. I don’t remember what year it was, but I got it right when I got my driver’s license. It was cool for my parents to hook me up with a car. It was two-wheel drive. It was just a two-door, so it was pretty dangerous in the snow. I don’t know where it is now. It was a good car, except when it started snowing. It would be flying all over the road. I was lucky to have it when I was that young. I ran it hard. There are definitely some scrapes on the front of it.”
Q: What was your first job and what was your toughest job?
A: “The only summer job I worked was for my dad’s friend’s landscaping business. I put logs on a big wedge-splitter. That was it. It was a pretty tough job. I’ve been fortunate enough to have parents that provided for me and let me focus on playing sports, going to school and do a bunch of things.”
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’m not a big quote guy. If I picked one, when I used to play baseball and got hit by a pitch, my dad would say, ‘Don’t rub it. You don’t want the other team to know you’re in pain.’ It was simple. He’d say, ‘Don’t rub it when you get hit by a pitch.’ It was kind of the whole toughness thing. Not showing your hand to the other team and just being a grinder. That goes along with the way I’ve approached football.”