Life as an NFL Rookie

In this exclusive interview, DevilsDigest tracked down ex-Sun Devil fullback and crowd favorite Mike Karney, to discuss his experiences thus far with the New Orleans Saints as he reaches the midway point of his inaugural season in the pros.

The 5-11 258 Mike Karney was drafted by New Orleans in the fifth round, and was the first Sun Devil player to be selected in the 2004 draft. Going into his team's bye week, Karney has only rushed the ball once for a yard, and caught two balls for 17 yards. The fullback told us that he spent his precious weekend off with his family. "I went home to Seattle to see my newborn niece," he said. "It was my sister's second child, but it still was very special." The not so pleasant portion of his vacation was watching his ex-teammates on TV against Cal. "We did sit down to watch it, and in the third quarter we turned it off…but that's all right. We have only two losses and those are to some of the best teams in college football – USC and California."

The ex-Sun Devil said that for now he doesn't keep in touch with his teammates, but that will change in a couple of months. "I'm trying to leave these guys alone and not cause a distraction," he explained. "At one point when they were 5-0, I felt like calling and saying what a great job they're doing. But sometimes you just want not to ruin anything. I usually would stay in touch with Andrew (Walter), but I know he has a lot on his plate right now. Not just football, but getting all these calls from agents and people that want a piece of him when the season is over. When my season is over, I'm definitely heading back to Arizona and I'll definitely get in touch with a few guys."

After the first seven games of his pro career, Karney is pleased with his progress as a player. "Things are going great," he exclaimed. "The more I play, the better I get. In the beginning, starting at training camp, you're totally overwhelmed with information. You have four pre-season games where you have to go in there and show them what you got. Once you do that and make the roster, you're able to zero on the basics. It's a lot of fun, but it's also a lot of work. It's been a long year, but I made it to the halfway point pretty healthy. That's all I can ask for."

Karney has seen his playing time increase, especially in the games where running back Deuce McAllister had to sit out. "My minutes have gone up since Deuce got hurt," Karney commented. "When we played St. Louis, Aaron Stecker, Ki-Jana Carter and myself were the only running backs. We ended up rushing for a 100 yards, and we wanted to make a point that we can win without Deuce." Sure enough, they prevailed in a thrilling 28-25 decision in overtime. Aside from the win, Karney enjoyed talking to Rams' wide receiver and former ASU teammate Shaun McDonald. However, his biggest thrill was playing against fellow ASU alum Adam Archuleta. "There a few times I was blocking him. So I got to say hello to him in a different fashion (smile)."

As far his role on the team, the fullback isn't complaining of the number of snaps he gets to play every Sunday. "When Deuce came back I still got to play a lot," said Karney. "Who we're playing and what they do, determines how much I play. But I'm the only fullback on the roster, so I consider myself a starter (smile)." Some pundits, like the ESPN Sunday night game crew, not only see him as a starter but also as a rising star. That crew was overly complimentary about Karney's play when the Saints met the Minnesota Vikings. "I did hear about all the stuff they said about me, " he admitted. "Good to know that fullback's play doesn't go unknown (smile)." To the naked eye, it seems that the Saints only utilize Karney in the opponent's proverbial red zone. Karney stated that there's some truth to that, but once again it's dictated by the opponent's abilities more than anything. "They're some games where it's the other way around," he explained. "It just goes back to what the team we're playing does. Against Minnesota, our offensive coordinator obviously felt that we should go with a fullback in the red zone."

When Karney does venture deep in opponent's territory, he does so by blocking for McAllister. "It's an honor, a privilege, blocking for him every day," Karney said of his role. "I've never seen a running back like him since I've been around (smile). I never blocked for a guy that is as big, talented, and as smart as he is. That's one thing that goes unknown with him, is how smart he is. He's a great guy to be around, and he has taught me a lot thus far."

McAllister not only gives proper kudos to his fullback, but his sense of loyalty knows no boundaries. "When we played in Arizona against the Cardinals, he didn't play but he did travel," Karney recalled. "I was with my family in the hotel lobby ready to go for dinner, and all of sudden Deuce walks in head-to-toe with Arizona State gear. I said "Duece what's up with the Arizona State clothes?' and he said "I'm wearing this for you! You're my guy. You're my fullback, and you're getting it done out there!" That shows what kind of guy he is, and how much he appreciates what the guys in front of him do. It makes it a lot more fun when you know you're blocking for a guy that appreciates you."

When asked to self assess his play in his rookie year, he replied: "I hope I improved (smile)…you get caught up in trying to get everything down. They throw so much at you and they expect you to pick it up like it's nothing. I came into camp, and we had at fullback Sam Gash – an all-pro, seasoned veteran, and Super Bowl champion. I was looking forward to learning so much from him, and I did in mini-camp."

"Then we get into training camp," Karney continued, "they release Sam and tell me ‘we're gonna throw you into the fire.' Then the focus changes because you're not the #2 guy anymore. Each game I play I feel that I'm better. Once you know the offense, you do the things that you feel that you can do and feel comfortable doing them."

Currently the Saints are 3-4, and are very much in the post-season picture. Karney remarked that the team's collective psyche is in tact. "The team is still together," he said. "The locker room is still together, and that's important at this level. We went on a there- game skid and guys were looking around wondering what happened. Our leaders Aaron Brooks, Joe Horn, Deuce are doing a good job making sure we're all the same page working towards the same goal which is getting to the playoffs."

Karney had a hard time recalling a funny rookie moment, but that's not to say that he isn't paying his dues these days. "You have to carry helmets in," he said. "I have to buy breakfast for the running backs every other week. They've been funny things like that, but nothing that has been too funny (smile). Just doing the typical rookie things, but that's what a rookie is all about."

When it comes to personal goals, Karney is realistic concerning the most obvious feat of them all – notching an NFL touchdown. "Sure it's a goal, but I don't get my hopes up," he said. "I just look forward to paving the way for Duece and wait for my number to be called. If I block, rush the ball or catch it I'll do whatever is needed. I don't know about the rushing touchdown, you don't see too many fullbacks getting rushing touchdowns, so I don't get too pumped about that (smile)."

In fact, what does excite the humble and hard working Karney is aiding in a score rather than being the scorer himself. "There's no better feeling hearing the crowds roar knowing that you blocked your guy and Duece is running out there. To me that's my joy and that's my touchdown. I look forward to doing that as much I can."

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