Every Step of the Way
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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."
"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.'"
"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."
"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."
"[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."
"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."
"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."