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: “My first team ever was Myrtle Grove in Pensacola, Florida, and I was six years old when I started playing. I played offensive line. We had so many good players that I didn’t start running the ball until my third year. They were like, ‘We’re going to stick him there. We’re going to stick him there.’ I was number 81. I played guard and tackle. The reason I then played running back was they saw me in sandlot ball running people over. Since then, I’ve never left the backfield. It felt like the big-time playing then. The guys I looked up to were older, but they were on my team. They played years before I did, so I felt big-time blocking for them. I went to running back when they moved to another level. It was a great feeling. I felt everyone knew me around Pensacola.”
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: “Just my basic love for it. Each time I step on the field, it’s more excitement because it brings me back to my childhood days. The real reason I started playing was because my mom, Katrina, stuck me into sports to keep me out of trouble. I had that mindset that my mom did something to keep me out of the streets, especially in the area I was raised in. My love for it now is because my mom and my grandmother (Gloria) don’t have to work again and my kids don’t have to worry about anything. To set and break records and have your name remembered in the record books was always a goal for me. I set my standards high. That’s why I was down on myself last year. That’s the kind of person I am. I set my goals high and my standards higher. That’s me but when I started, it was the pure love of the sport. I still wouldn’t be out here if I didn’t love the sport.”
Q: What are the things the sport has taught you?
A: “With this game, you learn how to be a fan, to be disciplined, to learn how to be responsible, how to earn respect. I remember in elementary school my quarterback and I were best friends, but we were fighting in practice. The coach made us hold hands and run around the ballpark. People were laughing, but it was a discipline thing for me. That’s how he disciplined us. If you didn’t have the grades, you didn’t play. If you weren’t minding your parents, you were doing something extra, or you weren’t practicing or playing in the games. It was things like that that made me who I am. I take everything I learned back then and use it today with my family matters, the way I handle my business and how I talk to people. It humbles you so much.”
Q: What was your best sport growing up? It wasn’t football for all NFL players . . .
A: “I played a lot of sports. I played baseball and basketball. I ran track. I was on Florida’s weight-lifting team. I was good in baseball and track. I won state in weight-lifting. I think I bench pressed 375, cleaned and jerked 365, something crazy. When I left high school, I was pressing about 420 and was jerking 390. I played point and shooting guard in basketball. Depending on who we played, that’s where I played. If we played a team with a big man in the middle, they put me there to throw my body on him. If the opponent had a good offensive player, they put me on him defensively. I played every position. In baseball, I played catcher, shortstop. I played in the outfield and pitched some games. I ran the 100-meter in track. I ran the anchor in the 4x100. I did the long jump. Was football my best? I don’t know. It was between that and track. I was pretty dominant. Football was always my first love. It was one thing my brothers and mother raised me with. That’s how my brothers showed they were my father figures. They taught me football and things around the house, or making me rough. My brothers used to jump on my back or lay on my shoulders and I had to lift them up. It’s something they used to do that made me stronger. I was the only kid around who could carry his big brother around on his shoulders. He was 180 and I was like six years old.”
Q: When you went to college, was it only for football?
A: “I wanted to run track. But for Alabama, it was more about the degree. I made my decision to go there because of the long-term distinction of the school. I knew there would be people around who respected that degree. It could help me get a job or a career when I earned it.”
Q: When did you move to your position? Were you always a running back?
A: “In high school, I played safety and cornerback, but mostly it was just running back. I always wanted to be a running back because of growing up in the same town as Emmitt Smith. Having a guy like Derrick Brooks made an impact. I wanted to box at one time because Roy Jones was boxing. I ran track because Justin Gatlin was running. Those were guys I looked up to who made me want to do those sports, ‘I want to be better than that guy. I want to be just like that guy.’ ”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “There were so many. I remember my first year being a star running back in a championship game in mini-mites when I scored four TDs and had like 300 yards. I was the MVP. My freshman year at Alabama, I broke six tackles against Arkansas and scored like a 60-yard touchdown down the sideline. I scored two touchdowns in the national championship game (against Texas) and the first one was like 50-yard touchdown. My last game at Alabama, I scored the only touchdown against LSU from about 30 yards out in the title game. Even my first NFL game, I ran over someone and made their helmet come off. When I scored my first touchdown, I jumped in the end zone and did a tumble. There are different things. I’ve been very fortunate to have great moments, even going to the Heisman Trophy ceremony as a top three candidate. I don’t have just one moment. I’ve been lucky, and I want to create some here.”
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 like I would play when I was a young kid. I felt like I was going to be Emmitt Smith or Derrick Brooks. I felt like I was going to be me. I used to wear jersey numbers 22 or 55 (for them). That was me. I was that guy. I had those feelings early in my career.”
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: “I’ll call my uncle (Willie Richardson, a Baptist minister in Pensacola) and we’ll pray before the game. When I wake up, I call my kids. They’ll send me a picture. They’re in their jersey and getting ready for the game. After that, I start listening to my church music. I have to listen to that because that’s when I feel most comfortable. A lot of people listen to hard music. I like to listen to my church music. Right before I go out, that’s when I listen to my rap music to get me pumped up. Then, I call my uncle and we pray. If I don’t pray, I feel like my whole game is going to be off. The games I haven’t prayed, it’s been like that.”
A: “I want to be that guy people look back at say, ‘This guy here is what everybody needs to look at.’ I want to be a complete football player – one of the best. Everyone can look at Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith. I want to be one of those types of guys. Adrian Peterson, LaDainian Tomlinson and Jerome Bettis are those types of guys who were running for records. I want to be in that category.”
Q: Do you have a particular high school coach or teacher who means a great deal to you? If so, why?
A: “Derrick Boyd, he was my receiver coach and head track coach in high school, and I still do things with him. He was like a father to me. I never had a father. My first two years of high school, we really bumped heads. I never had that authority figure. I didn’t get that. He’d talk to me and I’d think, ‘Who are you talking to? I’m not your son.’ I never said that out loud in disrespect, but I wondered why he talked like that. It took me a while to understand he really cared for me. There’s so much he’s done for my family and me. There’s not one person I can call and get better direction or tell me the truth than him. When he feels like I’m doing bad or could do something better, he’ll tell me. He’s not going to mislead me at all. I’ve always respected him for that. He’s always straight-forward. I picked my school (Alabama) with him. That man has meant a lot to me. He’s been a big influence. I’ll give him a hug and tell him I love him. There’s not too many guys that you can do that to.”
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “Most definitely, Emmitt Smith. There are others – Barry Sanders, Jamal Anderson, Derrick Brooks. Around Pensacola, we have so many guys – Roy Jones, Justin Gatlin, Courtland Finnegan, and there are guys in the league right now. My guy, though, is Emmitt. He’s always been an inspiration to me, one guy I’ve always set my goals to. As far as other pure athletes – LeBron James or Floyd Mayweather. There’s no one doing it like Floyd’s been doing it.”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “I’d have to go with Dallas. Watching Emmitt Smith do what he did, that was the only thing we watched until Derrick Brooks got to Tampa, then we watched them. It’s been Dallas for a long time, just to support Emmitt. The Cowboys always seemed to play on TV in Pensacola, so we watched him. Later, we watched Derrick.”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “When I was getting into college, I had a Dodge Ram Durango. It was my mom’s, but it was passed down to me. I think it got repossessed or something. I came home one weekend and I guess my mom forgot a payment. I was heading back to college and could have been late for a meeting. It got repossessed for a day. My mom said not to worry and she drove me back to school. It all worked out fine, but it’s stuff like that that makes me fight and be who I am. Now, my mom doesn’t have to worry about things like that. Stuff like that now makes me smile. The first car I purchased on my own was a 2012 Challenger.”
Q: What was your first job? What was your toughest job?
A: “The first job I had was with my uncle, who had a car detailing shop. I was like eight years old and was washing cars. We’d wash the big trucks of a couple of companies and do it at night. I used to wash the rims. When I was 16, I took a job at a seafood restaurant, Hazel’s, in Gulf Shores, Alabama, right over the bridge from Pensacola. I was the guy who took the orders online. Sometimes, I cooked the food. I had no choice. I had two kids when I was in high school. I was a kid raising kids. I had to be a man at an early age. That was a tough job, being a father in high school. Today, kids think it’s easy or cute. That’s what pushed me, and there was nothing easy about it. It was the real world, and that made it tough sometimes.”
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 high school coaches always told me, ‘Stay prayed up and stay humble.’ I also follow Philippians 4:13, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ That’s something my uncle and high school coach always told me. I always keep that and have it tattooed on me (his left arm). It’s with me all the time.”