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 played on the Bay Area Falcons. It was a flag football team when I was five years old in Clearlake (Houston, Texas). I was a running back. I sported number eight, and my favorite team at the time was the Dallas Cowboys. I loved the trio of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Number eight was the last available number, and I was a quarterback, too. We went like 11-0 that year and won the championship. Also, I was a defensive back. Those were extremely happy times. It was the first time I experienced football. It was like recess every day. Coaches had a loose grip on things. It was more about fun but at the same time, it was competitive. You looked forward to practice, and you had stories on the ride home with your dad. My dad, George, was the coach. It was an exciting time.”
Q: The Cowboys were your favorite team while you grew up in Houston?
A: “We didn’t have the Texans at that time. We had the Oilers around then, but the Cowboys were the powerhouse. They were the ones I gravitated toward.”
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 the opportunity to be great at something. The door’s wide open. If you make it to this level, you’ve shown the potential to be great if you commit yourself to it. You’re at the highest level of the industry, so you see greatness around you in some teammates and opponents. It’s so tangible, so reachable at this point. It’s right there. It’s also the respect of your comrades and players across the league that I seek out in regard to my play – whether it’s getting voted for an elite group like the Pro Bowl, or maybe the Top 100 on the NFL Network. The NFL Network’s Top 100 has really been an inspiration to me. I respect the game of someone who gets voted onto it by his peers. That was one of the more motivational resources I have come across. Being around a team and the guys, seeing what separates good from great and getting people to make that distinction with regard to you is a motivation.”
A: “That may be where it stems from. In the military, that’s all you sought out – the respect of your unit. It is important for your bosses and superiors to know you’re performing well but more than anything, the respect and perception your unit has of you kind of takes precedence over all. Those are the guys you go into the fight with. They expect you to have their back and their best interests in mind, and vice versa. As a lieutenant, if you’re in charge and have responsibility for a unit you’re with, it’s all about earning those guys’ trust. You’re making decisions that they have to execute. If they don’t completely trust you, they can’t carry them out with full fervor.”
Q: What was your best sport growing up? It wasn’t football for all NFL players . . .
A: “Mine was baseball. I played shortstop, third base. At some point I played multiple positions like catcher, first base and centerfield. Primarily, I played shortstop and third base. I hit with power. I was always trying to lead the league in home runs. I led it and can’t remember the home run total, but I was always competitive.
The sports I played ran concurrently at the time. I stopped playing baseball in middle school. It’s a big regret of mine. I think baseball’s super competitive. I have a lot of respect for the guys who make it to the majors because of the ride they have to take. I played basketball until my sophomore year in high school. I also dabbled in track. I was never good at it (laughs), I just did field events like long jump and triple jump. I knew football was my path.”
Q: Did you have a favorite Houston Astros player growing up?
A: “Yeah, it was between Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell. Bagwell had the charisma and the (wide batting) stance. David Justice was another favorite. He had a camp in Houston. Those were my favorites.”
Q: When did you move to your position? Were you always a linebacker?
A: “I was bouncing all over the place. I played around seventh and ninth grade at linebacker, then moved to safety. My senior year, I got moved to defensive tackle somehow. My freshman year at college, I was at defensive end and got moved to linebacker. I started the first few games of my sophomore season at linebacker and got moved to defensive end. I stayed there after that.”
Q: How did you pick Army?
A: “It was an easy decision. They showed interest in me. I had applied to the academies, the Merchant Marine Academy and places like that. West Point sent me information out of the blue. I knew the gravity and privilege of West Point, and I took them up on it immediately. My dad was a Marine officer. He educated me of the prestige of the academies.”
Q: Could you feel the history of West Point when you arrived?
A: “For sure. Entering through the gates and seeing the buildings that were there was impressive. It looks like a castle. It’s the only thing I’ve ever seen like that. We didn’t have anything like that in Texas. You saw buildings that had been around forever and had that regal appearance. There were monuments memorializing old greats. You knew the history before you went there, why it was established, knowing George Washington himself picked that post, plus everything else that followed. It made a huge impact on me just seeing it. It was a privilege to be there, and I’ll remember it forever.”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “It would be the last game I ever played in the Army uniform, the Armed Forces Bowl against SMU. I recovered a fumble and returned it 55 yards for a touchdown. It ended up being one of the game-winning scores. It was a thrill to get in the end zone for the first time in my college career. I’d always dreamed about it because you can’t help but imagine those types of plays. I always thought I could make it happen, but things never rolled in my direction until that game. It was a sack-fumble. I knew I had a chance to score. My eyes got super big, and I got excited. I was right there to get the fumble and knew the receivers were downfield, the quarterback was on the ground and all I had to beat were the linemen. I had blockers, so it worked.”
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 felt dominant in my junior year at college. I was competing nationwide in sack and tackles-for-loss totals. I felt I could play at the NFL level. My confidence was high. At the same time, I knew of my military commitment. I knew 100 percent I would honor that commitment. And a lot could happen in those last two years to include my stock as a player dropping considerably.”
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: “If I have any superstition, it’s to avoid all superstitions. It’s kind of hypocritical. I try to create a relaxed environment around myself. I tend to get focused in the days leading up to the game. I prepare the best I can. My main thing when entering the locker room is to be as relaxed as possible, just let it flow.”
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: “I have an engineering management degree with an environmental focus. I could probably do something like environmental engineering. I haven’t closed the door on the military. Active duty would be a great career option if available. I don’t have anything specific at the moment, but I’d like to have influence in something I believe in.”
Q: Who’s the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: “It’s my family, and my dad played a pretty strong role. I remember the Thanksgiving prior to my two-year mark at Army, my dad and brother, George, asked me if I were considering the NFL. They casually asked, and it took me by surprise. My dad always had emphasized the military. My academics and the military were always the most important thing to him. In my time at West Point, I had accolades on football field; yet normally when he called he asked me about classes and my service. But that time, he asked me about my football career. It reignited my football dream. Later on after I had exhausted my options for pro days and workouts, he contacted the people at the Super Regional Combine and set things up singlehandedly. He set everything up for me, and all I had to do was prepare. I’d say my dad was the biggest force.”
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “My favorite players were Randy Moss and Roy Williams, the Dallas safety. Moss brought passion. Say what you want about his off-field quirks but on the field, he was as passionate as anybody. He used every bit of his talent to make big plays. It was fun to watch him. Randy was entertaining. Williams was always laying a lick on somebody. He loved to hit people. He was fun to watch, too.”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “The Dallas Cowboys. They had the star-studded cast throughout the mid-1990s. I liked Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Troy Aikman. The Dallas uniforms were cool. My whole room when I was a kid was painted navy blue, and I had Cowboy banners. I thought it was really cool.”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “It was a 1972 Oldsmobile Cutlass, and I got it when I was 16 (2005). It was in very good shape. I had worked my tail off in summer jobs, and I kind of got obsessive in finding that particular car. I’d be on the internet all day and night searching for classic cars. I’d be trying to find a particular model and engine, things like that. I wanted something that would last and be shiny, not an old beater. We found it in San Antonio, Texas. It was about the sixth place we’d visited, and it was a fun period looking for those cars.”
Q: Did you and your dad drive out to get it?
A: “I brought it to his attention and told him I wanted to go check it out. I went to work and my parents picked me up and on our way back home, they took a different route than usual. They went by the neighborhood park, and I wasn’t thinking anything of it. I looked up, and there was the car I saw in the catalogue. They went out and bought it. I guess my dad inspected it in detail. He knew what to look for. They put my money down, $6,000. My mind was blown when I saw the car. I think I stayed in the car a while and couldn’t believe it. I wanted to soak it all in. I spent a lot of time with that car that night. I just sold it at the end of May. It was garage-kept. I was in New York (in college) and didn’t get to drive it.”
Q: What was your first job? What was your toughest job?
A: “When I was around 15, my brother had a job with a landscaping company. I’d go out and help. It was my first job, and it was hard labor – whether it was putting out grass pallets or other things. My brother would take jobs where people needed grass laid in their backyards. We’d lay it out strip-by-strip, or we’d fill in flower beds with mulch. It was in hot, humid Texas, so there was not a dry day out there. We’d be drenched in sweat after jobs. Dirt would just stick to your skin. It was a mess. I would consider that a physically tough and demanding job, but it was compatible with me. As long as I’m moving around, I’m good. I had a job at a mini-golf course. It was an eight-hour job, and we’d stand around pretty much the entire day. Days would get monotonous sometimes. It would be slow with nothing much to do. The inactivity made that tough.”
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: ‘If you want to be happy, set a goal that commands your thoughts, liberates your energy and inspires your thoughts.’ – Andrew Carnegie.