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: "It was actually in my sophomore year at Boston College when I was asked to step up to the plate and play, and I did, and I played well. I went against one of my idols at the time, Mathias Kiwanuka. He was pretty good, an All-American. Sometimes when I went one-on-one against him I did pretty well. I started thinking, 'Hmmm, maybe I can do this whole NFL thing.' "
Q: What do you remember about your first team?
A: "I started playing during my freshman year in high school. Until that time, I thought I was going to be the next Michael Jordan. Basketball was my passion. I used to play a lot of basketball until the football coach asked me to come to camp. I went to camp and was doing so well and got comfortable with the sport. I realized it was the right sport for me. I started playing at tight end. Then I was moved to defensive end, then to defensive tackle, then to offensive tackle. There were certain games I played tight end and defensive end. After my sophomore year, they moved me to defensive and offensive tackle. I played both ways, 60 minutes. Sometimes, I never came out of the game. The school had about 250-260 students."
Q: How big were you if you were playing football and wanted to play like Michael Jordan? When did you get to your size?*
A: "I played so much basketball I couldn't keep my weight on. It kept me slim with all the running you had to do. When I got to college I was about 265 and by the end of my freshman year, I was 285. My offensive line coach said if I wanted to play for him, I had to be at least 305. I had a meal card and they fed us real well and by spring I got to 305."
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: "I love this game. You can't put me behind a desk. Even though I may know the job, I'm still going to have a hard time doing certain things. Once you put me on the football field, I feel so comfortable. I feel it's where I can get my peace of mind. I'm extremely comfortable on the field. It's one thing that we're all on the field together but the fact that we're working toward one goal and doing the same thing for one purpose, that's what I like. We find the same stupid jokes funny with each other. That's why I feel comfortable. I'm driven by competition, but really I want to be the best I can be at what I do. I know if I show up, do exactly what I'm supposed to do and have my hands and body placement in the right position, I don't care what the person across from me does. I want to be at my best."
Q: What was your best sport growing up? It wasn't football for all NFL players . . .
A: "Basketball was my love. It was my favorite sport growing up. I was a center, but I loved Michael Jordan. That was my idol, my guy. You're talking about the 1996-97 Chicago Bulls, and I watched all the games. I used to go on the court in the park and I'd play until two or three in the morning with my buddies. Each of us had to be somebody. I started with Michael Jordan. As I got bigger, I went to Dikembe Mutombo, then Shaquille O'Neal. That was my passion. I didn't have the moves like Michael. I was nowhere near that. I would not give myself that much credit. I'd say I was probably closer to Shaq. I was bigger than anybody else, and I would haul them down and try and score the basket."
Q: Sounds like instead of being Michael Jordan, you should have picked Bill Cartwright.
A: "(Laughs). Yeah, that would have been a lot better."
Q: When did you move to your position? Were you always an offensive lineman?
A: "That's all I played. I played right tackle for years and when Anthony Castonzo got to Boston College, they moved me to left and moved him to right tackle."
Q: How did you pick Boston College?
A: "It wasn't always my first choice. I really wanted to leave the state because I grew up in Boston. It was the best place for me at the time. The offensive line coach there, Dave Magazu, did an extremely good job in recruiting me. I used to go to BC to see how they did things. That's when I got to know some of the guys and the school tradition. Boston College was good for offensive linemen, and I knew I couldn't go wrong going to BC."
Q: Was it a good fit from the start?
A: "It was a great fit. The older I get, the more I realize it was the best fit for me. I'm trying to start my real estate development business in Boston and everywhere you go, there are BC alumni. It gave me the opportunity to play in the NFL and the fact if this doesn't work out, I can always rely on my Boston College education. I can get myself a job and do something else. Boston College was the whole package – culturally, athletically and academically."
Q: What's your best football memory?
A: "I have so many of them, but one of the best was in my junior year when we played Clemson. They were like in the top five in the nation, and I don't remember if we were ranked at the time. We went to three overtimes and as the game got going, as offensive linemen we got stronger. We saw we could beat those guys, and we just took over the game. They were supposed to beat us by 21 points, and we beat them in three overtimes. It was amazing. That's why you play the game. When no one gives you a chance and you walk out with a huge smile on your face, there's no better feeling."
Q: What did you see in Anthony Castonzo? Did you see the talent?
A: "Yes, I thought he has something special about him. The fact he was a true freshman and they gave him so much and he worked hard, I knew he would be special. I'm excited we're paired up again after all those years. We played in college and we're both here and playing at a high level. I think it's a thing of beauty."
Q: How much is what offensive linemen do done by physical skills and by intellect?
A: "I wouldn't have it any differently. It's a tough position, but it's also tough for the guys we're going against. We're going to make it tough on them. It's about preparation, doing the right thing. Going into the game and knowing everything you're supposed to about your opponent, be ready and once you do that and put yourself in a good position to compete, you just go out and do exactly what you're supposed to do. It's like going into a final exam and knowing you've studied your hardest and you have all the answers. There's nothing to fear."
*Q: Why are offensive linemen usually the most fun guys to talk to?
*A: "I don't know. We're not really all about ourselves. We're really about the group. There are so many individual things we don't get to do. We don't get to score touchdowns or run the ball. I know my success depends on the guy I'm playing next to. We know no matter what we do, we're in this thing together. When you know you have to depend on your brother and your brother depends on you, it just makes us as a group stronger and better as people. A lot of our communication is verbal. Once you get to a point where you've played with teammates for three, four or five years, a quick look can mean so much. Sometimes a (grunt) or a little wink, we're speaking the same language non-verbally. We know exactly what's going on. We don't have to say much, just show up and do our part."
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: "No superstitions. I do like to get to the stadium early, get in the hot tub, take a nice shower and review my notes three or four times before I go out and warm up. It's just the way I prepare. Rituals? It's different these days (laughs). There's so much preparation."
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: "I already started a development company with a couple of partners, Eagle Development. I'm all about buying a piece of land and putting your own handprints on it and then sell it. There is so much you can do with land. My partners and I have so much pride in doing things the right way. I think we can help make a difference. It's a post-career business venture. It's residential development."
Q: Who's the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: "There are so many people, but I have to give a lot of credit to my high school coach, Tony Gulla, of Somerville High School. He was always there for me. Even when I thought basketball was my love, he always found a way to help me understand what it took to be a football player and how good I was at it. Even when I didn't think I was as good as he thought I was, he would find a way to make me believe in myself. He played a huge role where I am today."
Q: Do you have a particular high school coach or teacher who means a great deal to you? If so, why?
A: "There are many, the Mayor of Somerville, Joe Curtatone, who was an offensive line coach. There's another good friend, Tommy Macome. These guys had something to do with sports. I think also my mother, Morisena, and my older brother, Golman, are my heroes. My mom always found a way to give me what I wanted, even though at the time I didn't know how hard it was for her to do that. She made so many sacrifices to just put a smile on my face. I love her and respect her for all of that. My brother is dealing with sickle cell right now. It's tough. He can have four good days and would have like three bad days. When God gives him the chance to have four good days, you wouldn't even know he is sick. The way he lives his life is that there is nothing else that matters."
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: "It would not be fair to pick one guy. If I had to pick the perfect offensive tackle, I'd say the feet of Walter Jones, the mindset of a Kyle Turley, the arms of Jonathan Ogden the mental acuity of Jeff Backus and the strength of Orlando Pace. Those are some of the guys I looked up to growing up."
Q: If you had the components of those guys and got a second contract in this league, how big would that contract be?
A: "Wow (laughs). I don't think a team would have that much money. I'd probably have to tell my owner I was his new partner (laughs)."
Q: Favorite team?
A: "Do I have to answer it? It was the New England Patriots, my home area. I was all about them during the years they were going to the Super Bowl. I was on the other end of the Colts-Patriots rivalry. There were some great games."
Q: What was your first car?
A: "It was extremely old when I got it. It was a white Ford Crown Victoria. I think it close to 200,000 miles when I got it. It was my dad's old taxicab. I rode it hard, but it was ridden hard before me. I took it to college and we'd take it out. Sometimes we'd take it somewhere then not know if it would bring us back. I donated it to a junkyard when I was done with it. I couldn't get anything for it (laughs)."
Q: What was your first job?
A: "Don't laugh, I was a lifeguard at a small school in Somerville with an indoor pool."
Q: What was your toughest job?
A: "I won't say it was tough, it was challenging and I welcomed the challenge. When I was at BC, I had the chance to work in Boston and with the troubled kids. I was just amazed to see much they didn't know. I was trying so hard in two months to teach them as much as I could. They had all the wrong information. No one wanted to go to college, 'College is not for me.' Some of the things they used to believe in, I'd tell them, 'That's not the way to make it.' It was extremely challenging. It was tough in the fact that I was an outsider coming in and to try to teach them how to do life right. They didn't know me or who I was. At first, they wouldn't give me a minute or second of their time. Once we got going, we all got along to the point where they would call me most every day and ask me about ideas about certain things. That was hard, but I realized I had made them trust me enough. When we got to the point where they would call or text me, I knew I was doing something right. It was heart-warming and head-breaking at the same time. I guess it's a feel-good story because as an individual you're doing something positive. It's our job to go back and teach those kids. There is so much they don't know. I used to have friends like that, too. I had friends who wanted to get a job to start making money rather than going to college. When I got to college, I realized what it takes to be successful in the world. I'd go back and tell them to find a school to learn something to use for the rest of their life. I'd tell them they'd always be behind when it came to money and things like that. You'd work 40 or 50 hours a week and not have enough money to have a small vacation. You get old faster and when you look back, you realize you didn't have so much. If you follow the plan and work, you may not be at the top, but can live a comfortable life."
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: "It's not cocky and it's not something I say out loud. I say it to myself and it's my belief, 'My best will beat anybody's best.' If I said that to someone, it would sound cocky. It really has to do with myself. If I show up to a game, my feet and hand placements and mindset are right, it doesn't matter what my opponent does. I'm going to make it all about me. If I'm at my best, nothing else matters. If I'm at my best, I'll beat anybody. It's not a quote that comes from my mouth. It's an inner belief I live by. I started feeling that way in college. Our offensive line coach used to teach us not just to get the job done, but to dominate, to be your best. He'd say, 'If you're at your best, I don't care what they do.' I thought, 'He's right.' My best will beat anybody's best."