NFL Players In Their Own Words


There are more than 6.8 million high school football players registered with the National Federation of State High School Association, more than 58,000 NCAA college football players, around 1,700 NFL players, and only about 260 new draftees every year. In other words, most people who start down the road to the pros eventually get side-lined. It takes a remarkable athlete to go all the way.

We had a chance to talk to some of these exceptional players and get their perspective on what life in the NFL -- and life in football in general -- is really like.

Meet the Players

Courtesy Buffalo Bills
Courtesy Buffalo Bills

 

 

The Routine

Takeo Spikes:


"My week starts off on Wednesday. Wednesday is game preparation. You get the game plan, trying to get the ins and outs of what's going to help you make a play faster or recognize things a lot faster than anybody else. It's the same thing pretty much on Thursday."

Willie Anderson:


"Wednesday and Thursday are our two toughest days. We come in a 7:30 for about 45 minutes of weightlifting. Then we have a team meeting at 9. Between 7:30 and 9, you can get a good breakfast in. If we win, Marvin [Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis] has a chef come in to cater, and they make pancakes and omelettes. We call it victory Wednesday and victory Thursday."

Carlos Emmons:


"[Wednesday is] our install day. We install the new defense or new schemes we're going to use against a team we're facing that weekend. It's a big day for us -- a big learning day. It's just like being in school, I guess, where you're learning all over again. They give you a big playbook and you've got to learn it all before the game."

Willie Anderson:


"[Wednesday, we] have the team meeting with Marvin at 9, then we break up into offensive and defensive meetings. We stay there from 9:30 until about 11:15. 11:15 is our first walk-through practice. We do the walk-through for about 45 minutes, then we come back in and have lunch between 12 and 12:30. During that time, the media is allowed to come in the locker room. So you get the lunch and the media every day for 30 minutes. There's usually some time for the guys to get taped up, because we go back out to practice at 2:00. So practice is from 2:00 until 4:15, roughly. And we do that Wednesday and Thursday."

Takeo Spikes:


"At the end of Thursday, I make a little cheat sheet of what I need to know. Friday is like icing on the cake. Friday, I look at the cheat sheet before I go out. Those are the things I try to remember. If I feel like I need to have a good game, I need to have a good Friday. Friday is the last day I have a chance to practice."

Willie Anderson:


"We start on Fridays at 9 a.m.. We usually have weigh-ins every Friday morning -- we weigh before 9, and then we have a team meeting at 9 a.m.. Then we practice from 11:15 until 1:00. So it's shorter on Fridays -- you have a little longer day to go do things."

Fred Beasley:


"Saturday, we have a walk-through. We walk through some of the situational stuff that might come up in the game. If we're having a home game, we meet up at the hotel close by the stadium, and then we have meetings at night to go over some last-minute stuff. Then we have the team dinner, then we have curfew."

Willie Anderson:


"We practice from about 11 to 12. If we're traveling out of town, we usually leave about 2:15, on the plane about 2:30. If we're staying at home, we're off until about 7:00. We check into a downtown hotel at 7."

Takeo Spikes:


"Sunday is game time -- it's time to pass the test on all I've been doing."

Carlos Emmons:


"The day after the game, what you do is based on whether you won or not. If we win the game, we're off on Monday, so we don't have to go in. If we lose, we have to go to work and get some studying in, and maybe get a little conditioning in -- some weight-training. Usually, the day after the game, you're extremely sore, so you really don't want to do much of anything."

Willie Anderson:


"If we win, we have victory Mondays. The only thing we have to do is come in and lift weights between 8 and 1:00. If we lose, we have to come and get a lift in before the meeting with Marvin, where we watch the game. We're usually done about 2:30 or 3:00. Then the whole entire NFL is off on Tuesday. Then we do the same thing all over again."

Before the Game

Fred Beasley on the field
Fred Beasley on the field
Photo courtesy San Francisco 49ers

Fred Beasley:


"I try to eat at least a steak the morning -- steak and eggs. I drink a lot of water at night, a lot of water in the morning. Even in San Francisco, it will still be kind of cold during the game. You still get dehydrated, because of the air here. Drinking a lot of water helps me stay hydrated, because I sweat a lot.

"I'll probably eat a salad the night before the game -- a salad or ice cream. I don't eat that much the night before the game. But the day of the game, I eat steak and eggs, hash browns, stuff like that."

Willie Anderson:


"I load up on carbs, man -- a big bowl of oatmeal, with some fruit in it, a baked potato, a couple of pieces of sausage, and a lot of water and Gatorade."

Carlos Emmons:


"I don't really have a pregame ritual. I get up, I eat. If it's a 1:00 game, I go straight to the stadium. Usually, I get in the whirlpool to warm up or whatever. From there, I stretch a little bit, and by that time, it's time to go on the field."

Jonas Jennings:


"My thing is I listen to music, and I always think about making the big play. You know, making a big block or doing the things I've seen on film, but I'm actually living through it through the music. I keep music on until it's time to go out. I have an iPod, with over 3,000 tracks, and I just randomly listen to them. I've got everything from blues, gospel, to R&B."

Fred Beasley:


"I try to do things at the exact some time every week, so I won't have a lot of time to sit there and do nothing. When I first come in, I read the program -- features on players and stuff like that. Then I probably go get some coffee. Then I watch a little football. We always play later than other teams because of the time difference. I don't know if it's really a ritual, but it helps me to do all those things in the same order every time."

Willie Anderson:


"I carry a Bible with me. I like reading Bible verses -- it keeps me focused for the game, and it gives me a little extra motivation. I don't really do any kind of rituals, though. No music -- I hate hearing music before the game, because as an offensive lineman, you've got to be as calm as possible. You know, some of the defensive guys and wide receivers are all hyper. Offensive linemen, we've got to have controlled aggression -- you can be aggressive and have attitude, but at the same time, you have to be controlled because it's a lot more thinking involved."

Fred Beasley:


"I don't knock guys for doing some of the things that get them ready for games. I think the only thing that really annoys me is when the guys are yelling and trying to get you hyped and stuff like that. A lot of guys do all that stuff to get hyped. But most guys, they get themselves ready by being quiet and just thinking. They don't need to be all-out rowdy. That's the type of guy I am: I'm not running around, jumping up, trying to bang on guys' heads and shoulder pads to get them ready for a game. I just sit there, and really just play the game in my head, get myself ready and concentrate on what I've got to do."

Jonas Jennings:


"'Playing in the dirt again' -- that's what I say right before we go out. It's always like being a kid. Go have fun, and do your job. It's going to war, you know. It's either kill or be killed in my position. Regardless of if I like it, I've got to hit somebody every play. You've got the best player on the opposing team every week. That's something you've really got to prepare for physically and mentally."

Physical Fitness

Eagles linebacker Carlos Emmons
Eagles linebacker Carlos Emmons
Photo courtesy Philadelphia Eagles

Willie Anderson:


"I'm a big guy, so I start my workouts [in the off-season] earlier than most guys. Some guys will start working out in February; I start working out in the middle of January. I do cardio stuff to keep my weight in place. You know, workouts three or four days a week. I start out with cardio, stretching... Now, for the first time ever, Marvin came in and instituted an off-season workout in Cincinnati. So at the end of March, in Cincinnati, he's doing stuff four days a week with the team."

Carlos Emmons:


"With all the pounding our bodies take, you're going to have problems once your career is over. It's just the nature of the job. You just have to hope it's not as bad as some of the players who retire. You can try to keep your body in as great a condition as you can, but eventually, just with all the pounding your body takes, you know there's going to be some problems."

Willie Anderson:


"I call the team doctor at least once a month, because there's something always going on. I've got to have my Ibuprofen just to get through my day sometimes. During the off-season, I detox my system of Ibuprofen, and I try to stay off as much anti-inflammatory medicine as I can. The off-season is the time when a lot of players just detox themselves."

Jonas Jennings:


"I'm allergic to shellfish, so that's definitely out of the question, and I stopped eating beef or pork my Freshman year at Georgia. So it's been about eight years since I've had any beef or pork. I'm actually a chicken, fish and turkey guy, which usually keeps me pretty lean. That really helped my game -- helped me reach my optimum, and keeps me pretty healthy.

"During the season, I try to stay away from a lot of fried foods and things. In the off-season, you can get off that program. You can eat chicken wings and that sort of thing every now and then and it won't hurt any."

Takeo Spikes:


"This past year, I got into doing martial arts. [It helps with] flexibility. Sometimes, as an athlete, you lift all the weights, and you get all tight. It also helps with instincts, and being able to move in certain positions."

Willie Anderson:


"It takes at least until March for your joints to heal up. It's funny, because we're all big guys, and a lot of the time when guys who are smaller than you come to shake your hand, they feel like they've got to give you a nice squeeze, to show you that they're a man. And that's really not the case, because when you shake most football players' hands, it's usually a real light shake. First of all, we're thinking, we can't be like a monster, and just squeeze the guy's hand, or this lady's hand. And second of all, our hands are so beat up, we can't squeeze anything anyway. It's not until around March that I can shake somebody's hand without grimacing in pain. By the time March gets here, that's when the off-season workout starts with the team. Hopefully, you get a chance to heal up between January and March. You never really get fully healed. You get healed just enough to get back in training camp and go play, but you never really get fully healed."

Mental Mastery

Fred Beasley:


"I don't think [football is so much about] skills. I think it's more mental -- being consistent. You don't want to have up and down games. You want to do it so they can always count on you. So I think it's more mental than physical, skills-wise. This game is 70 percent mental and 30 percent physical."

Jonas Jennings:


"I study, and I know my strong points, and I look for their weak points. When we're studying the opponents, I don't look at the opponents as much. I look at the players who are playing the opponent -- what a player tried to do to the opponent, and how did the opponent react to what the player was doing. So I pick up a lot of tendencies, knowing if I do that same thing, he's going to do this, and I know how to counteract."

Willie Anderson:


"I'm a pretty good athlete, but at the same time, I work real hard at getting my technique, because there's going to come a time when I'm not going to be as strong as I am right now or as quick as I am right now. The thing that is going to carry any player through -- whether you have an injury or slow down due to age or whatever -- is your technique. You have to be a fundamentally sound player. That's one of the things I would tell a young guy playing sports: Learn how to play your position. Learn how to master your position."

Takeo Spikes:


"[If I'm having a hard time on the field,] I talk to myself: 'Spikes, you're a better player than that. I know you're better than that. I know you're better than that, so let's prove it.' And I always think, you have one opportunity. Now are you going to tell me, you're going to blow this opportunity? If you walked away from this game, you would be walking away saying 'If I did this or that.' And I don't believe in walking away from something saying 'if.'"

Jonas Jennings:


"I try to keep going. If you miss a block, and you dwell on that block, more than likely, you're going to miss another one. You've got to flush it -- you've got to choke the negative. I start laughing, when I do something bad, or something that's out of the ordinary for me. You laugh it off, trying to get to the next play."

Carlos Emmons:


"I don't think there's anything you can do to make anyone be able to handle pressure situations. Some people can handle it, and some people can't. You always have those people that, when they're put under a pressure situation, they won't come through for you. And there are some people that, no matter what the situation, they'll always come through for you. I think that's something that's instilled in a person at birth. It's not something you can teach."

Willie Anderson:


"The good players and the good teams are able to shake themselves out of that rut and get out of that funk, and just get to a rhythm. Coaches talk about keeping your tempo up -- getting the play in, getting out of the huddle, running the play with speed, getting back into the huddle. The faster we can get the play off, the more confused the defense is going to be. When you're not focused, when you're not in the rhythm, when you're in that rut, that's when see a receiver jump outside on third and one, when he doesn't have anything to do but just stand there."

Misconceptions and Problems

Buffalo Bills linebaker Takeo Spikes
Buffalo Bills linebaker Takeo Spikes
Photo courtesy Buffalo Bills

Carlos Emmons:


"[Fans] see a lot of things on TV, and they think it's all parties and just having a great time relaxing. Football at a professional level is a lot more business. I think it was a lot more fun growing up as a kid playing, but now it's more like a job. There's a lot of money to be made in our sport, and I think with the owners and coaches of the team, it's all about money to them also. It's all about them getting the best product they can on the field. That's the way they look at you: like a product. You have to realize that it's your job, it's a business, and if you're not performing at the level you want you to, you'll get fired just like anybody else will."

Jonas Jennings:


"The thing about this game is somebody has to lose, and usually that brings in the business part of it, depending on how much you win and how much you lose. And also, everybody has individual contracts. You've got to be able to come in every day and play hard, and try to keep going with what you started. You never want to get caught up in the business cycle of it. You just want to play football and let the business cycle handle itself."

Willie Anderson:


"[Fans don't always realize that] it's more than just playing on Sunday. If it was just us playing on Sunday, you would never see guys griping and complaining. Wednesday and Thursday makes you do that. It makes it so hard to lose, because you know how much work you put in during the course of five days, then to go out and lose a game, that's when tempers flare up, and you have these big blowups in the media.

"We work hard at what we do. It's not a 9 to 5 construction job. I have a lot of respect for the people who work in real hard labor jobs. I'll never compare it to that, because it is something fun to do. But it is a business, and the NFL owners do expect us to work very hard at making them a lot of money. It says in your NFL contract, you are paid to practice, not play on Sundays -- that's the fun part."

Fred Beasley:


"When I talk to my mom, she says, 'Why do y'all keep on running this play? Why didn't you throw him the ball? Why don't you do that?' That's what they don't understand, people who don't know football as well: It's the strategy part. It would be hard for you to explain to them why we didn't do certain things. Teams will be looking for those things -- teams prepare for you, and the things you always do, after watching them on film. So you can't do things you did when you beat this team so bad the week before. You can't come back and do that same thing again, because the other team knows you're about to do it. You got to change it up some."

Takeo Spikes:


"The biggest thing [fans] get wrong comes from listening to commentators. Commentators don't know everything. So if a commentator says something, they will take it and run with it, without really justifying a reason. As players, we sometimes make it out to be harder than it is, but it's not Xs and Os anymore."

Jonas Jennings:


"I think commentators try to do the best job they can, especially when they're doing play-by-play analysis, but usually they don't understand the rings of protection or other things that we're trying to do."

Fred Beasley:


"You see with all these other professional teams, like baseball and basketball, guys make all this type of money, and they don't come close to doing what we do [physically]. I sometimes wish I would have played baseball, just because of the finances. But I wasn't a baseball guy. The money that we make doesn't come near what baseball players or basketball players make. What we make is chump change to them."

Jonas Jennings:


"I think there are a lot of rules now that take away from the football. You've got unnecessary roughness rules, and celebration rules. There are a lot of things that are nitpicking, because of the business of the game, because of TV and stuff. I understand why they do it, but it really takes away from the traditional, back-in-the-day football."

The Good and the Bad

Willie Anderson:


"[The day after the game] I'm beat up for the next five, six days. You usually don't start feeling better until Saturday night. Then you wake up the next morning, and you go and beat yourself up again -- you do it all again. I think everybody in the league feels the same way. It's funny, because the coach will always tell you, I'll have you straight by Saturday. You're always good on Saturday. You go do it again Sunday morning, and you hurt from Sunday night until the next Saturday."

Jonas Jennings:


"You know, a win or loss obviously makes a difference. If you win, you feel good, because some of the little mistakes in your head are overlooked. But if you lose, those same little points are magnified. You think, 'Darn, I missed that block,' but we won, so they didn't say anything about it. But if you miss that block, and the end result is a loss, that's something that kind of sticks in your mind. And the only way you can get rid of that is getting a win the next week."

Carlos Emmons:


"As a player, after each game, you always feel like you could have done more. I mean, everyone else may say you had a great game, but you can always think back to a few plays in the game where you may say, 'If I was to do this a little faster, maybe I would have made an interception, or maybe I would have made a big hit, or maybe I would have done this.' There's always something you feel like you can correct in your game."

Jonas Jennings:


"[My family] watches the games all the time. They're used to me doing well, so when something happens, they're just like the rest of them: 'Hey, how you doing? You all right? Are you sick? What's going on?' They've got the same high expectations."

Carlos Emmons:


"Some players talk too much, or get excited about playing their real meaningless plays, just for the sake of trying to steal some publicity from the media or whatever. And I think that's kind of irritating. If you make a big play or a big hit, okay, I like celebrating. If you make a basic play, and you get up and you're jumping all around the field, sometimes it's ridiculous."

Jonas Jennings:


"One thing you want to keep is a family-oriented atmosphere in the locker room. Just like at your job, there may be somebody there you don't like, but you've got to go to work. When you clock out, you don't necessarily have to go to happy hour with them, because that's your choice -- you're no longer at your job. You do what it takes to win, you do what it takes to be a team, and from there on, you live your own life, once you leave the stadium."

Every Step of the Way

Carlos Emmons:


"Coming up in a smaller city in Mississippi, we missed out on a lot of things, like access to weights and training equipment. We just didn't have a lot of the resources I hear from other players that they had coming up. We didn't have the pee-wee league football. We just started real early -- we usually played on our own as kids, and we didn't play organized football to maybe 7th or 8th grade. A lot of the guys I'm playing with now started when they were seven years old, eight years old, playing in pee-wee leagues. We didn't have those things growing up."

Fred Beasley:


"When I was a kid, I wasn't that into football. I didn't have time to be into football, because I worked all the time when my dad was living. It was all about work with him. So I didn't really get to watch a lot of sports. When he passed away, I kind of got involved with sports then. I enjoyed it playing with friends, and I just stuck with it."

Jonas Jennings:


"I decided in high school I wanted to play pro. When you start getting all those letters from different colleges, you figure you're pretty good, so you want to take it to the next level. You start working hard on it."

Carlos Emmons:


"High school was more fun. High school was just you going out and having a great time, interacting with the guys you're playing with -- enjoying yourself on the field, without a lot of stress. In college, you start to see a little bit more of the business side of it, because the colleges are trying to make money, just like the pro teams. So you start to see a little of what's to come. Once you get to the pros, you realize now it's a job. The game is still fun, and you love the competition, but a lot of the other parts of the game you don't like. A lot of the business aspects of it, a lot of the players don't enjoy, but it's something you have to deal with."

Jonas Jennings:


"With the pros and college, you're talking about the difference between professionalism and amateurism. With professionalism, you're actually getting paid. You've got a job to do, so they expect things from you. With amateurism, there are a lot of things you can get away with. Plus, being in college, you won't have half the problems you would in the pros."

Takeo Spikes:


"The big difference is the speed of the game. The speed of the game [in the NFL] is just on a whole different level, because of the fact that every player is bigger, faster and stronger."

Jonas Jennings:


"There are no 'plays off' in the NFL. Honestly, in college, you can get away with a couple, you know -- put your hands on that guy, and knock him down -- depending on how long you've been doing it and who you are. But in the league, it doesn't matter. There's no plays off. They're coming every play, and everybody's fast."

Willie Anderson


"Offensive lineman was always the position nobody wanted to play. All the kids would life at you. It was like a joke to be on the line, because it was a no glory position. Once I got a little older, my high school coach said, 'Hey, there's going to come a time where offensive lineman are going to be one of the highest paid positions in the NFL. If you know how to play that right now, and master that right now, you're going to be able to set yourself up for a long time later on in your career, once you get older.' I took that advice, and I've been a lineman all my life, so I know a lot about playing offensive line. I love playing it, and I love breaking it down, to the point now that when I watch NFL football, I'm watching offensive linemen. Kids have got to realize that: It's one of the positions that plays longest in the NFL, and pays the best over a long period of time. I'm always encouraging kids, keep hammering at it. People laughing at you now, they might be loving you later."

Takeo Spikes:


"I started out as a defensive end in high school, playing tight end, because I always wanted to be like Bruce Smith. When I went and signed the scholarship to play for Auburn, the coaches called me in and said, 'You can continue to play defensive end, but you've got several guys in front of you, and these guys are pretty good guys. You can make a better linebacker, and we think you can play not later this year, but right now.' I said, 'Let's go, I'll give it a shot.' I still remember, it was 9:45 at night when they talked to me. I was walking back to the dorm, and I said, 'Well, I'm going to make the most of it.'"

Fred Beasley:


"When I was in college, they kept moving me from tailback to fullback. I wanted to be a tailback, and I would lose weight to be a tailback, and then they would say, 'We're going to play you at fullback this year.' Then I would gain weight to play fullback. That did kind of wear me out, and I did get kind of tired of that. At one point, they weren't playing me at all. And I was like, if you're not going to play me, just let me go somewhere I can play. There was a point where I almost left Auburn to go play for a smaller school. Of course, you can't leave one Division 1 school to go to another Division 1 school -- you have to sit out a year. And I didn't want to sit out a year, so I would have to go down a level. I stuck in there, and everything worked out for the best."

Carlos Emmons:


"I didn't have a lot of hype coming out of college, so a lot of people didn't know about me. On draft day, Pittsburgh was calling a lot, and they kept saying they were going to take me, but they ended up not taking me until the second round. They told me after the draft that they knew no one knew about me, and they knew I would be there.

"That was kind of a frustrating situation because I know guys I saw going ahead of me -- I kept up with college football a lot, and I knew that I was much better than a lot of those guys. I think that's frustrating for any athlete."

Takeo Spikes:


"[Going pro after my junior year] was the right decision for me. I always wanted to be a professional football player, and this opportunity doesn't present itself that easily, or that often. So I felt like I did all I could as far as being a collegiate football player -- I accomplished a lot of my goals. I felt like this was a childhood dream that came true, so I wanted to take advantage of it."

Fred Beasley:


"I wasn't a Heisman runner-up or anything coming out of college. I was just one the guys on the team that gave it all he had, and that's how I got drafted. I wasn't one of the guys that the media pumped up. A lot of the stuff I did was on my own. I got drafted because of my effort and hard work. They called me a tweener, because I wasn't big enough to be a fullback and I wasn't fast enough to be a tailback. I just knew before I got drafted that whatever team got me, they wouldn't know what they were getting, because I knew I could play at that level. Of course, the 49ers gave me the opportunity."

Carlos Emmons:


"I'm not that kid that grew up saying I knew I was going to play pro ball. When I started to really think that maybe I could, was maybe after my junior year of college. Until then I never really felt like I was going to be a professional player, because I didn't have a lot of people to look at who had made it. We had a good three or four people who had played, but not as recently -- I didn't have a guy a year before me who went pro, like some guys have. I didn't have anybody to make me feel like I could make it."

Words from the Wise

Willie Anderson:


"I would say to guys coming out of college early into the NFL, 'Man, don't lie to yourself. You can lie to everybody else, but don't go fool yourself, because this is the real world out here. And if you know in your heart that you're not ready for it, you can always come back again. Because once you come out, you can't go back.'"

Fred Beasley:


"It's how bad you want it. A lot of guys, they get the opportunity, but they want it handed to them, versus going out there and working, and sticking with it, and doing the things they got to do to make a team. They're probably used to that in college and high school, but the pros are different. You've got to get out there and work, and do the things you've got to do to get the opportunity to play on this level. A lot of guys miss that. They've been fed off a silver platter all these years, and they don't care about the silver platter up here. It's all about what can you do for me."

Carlos Emmons:


"Get your education. Don't bank your life on making it to the pros. I mean, it's a one-in-a-million shot. No matter how good you are in high school, there are a whole lot of good high school players that come out. You may feel like you're the best thing out there, but there are so many good players coming you, you may only be average. So you need to look within yourself, and realize that don't bank your life on it, get your education, and if that happens to come, then you've been blessed, and take advantage of it."

Jonas Jennings:


"Get your books. You've got to get your academics first, because you can't get anywhere without your books. And you've got to go to through the college level first. Don't think pro: Take one day at a time, and do all the necessary steps it takes to get there."

Willie Anderson:


"Don't ever say, 'Hey, I made it.' Because the day you say that, is the day stuff starts to fall apart. You have to have that mind set, that every level I get to, I'm never going to be satisfied. If you're a Freshman in high school, and you get picked to be on the varsity team, don't be satisfied with that. Try to start. Once you become a starter, don't be satisfied with being a starter, try to be a good enough football player to earn a scholarship. Then don't be satisfied, just because you got a scholarship, go try to make an impact your Freshman year, if you can. If you can't, then you wait your turn. But when your turn does come, make an impact and never be satisfied.

"With all the successful people in the world, no matter what it is, if you ask them how they got to the top, they'll tell you they never got satisfied with what they had. Those people in the world, they think like that. To be a successful athlete, you have to think like that. You can never rest, because you always know there's always somebody younger than you preparing and doing the same thing you're doing."

Jonas Jennings:


"My mom always taught me, never worry about nothing you can't control, and that right is right and wrong is wrong, regardless of the situation. I kind of live by those two creeds, and my life really goes pretty smoothly."

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