Exclusive: Toby Gerhart Interview, Part I

"Going into high school, people were saying that I should play linebacker, or fullback, or safety. Then, teams were telling me that they weren't sure that I could do the same things I could do in high school at the college level. I got to college, and performed well in college, and now the exact same thing is happening at the next level. I want to get out there and prove people wrong."

Q: Can you describe the process so far in preparing for the draft, from the time you declared through now? We know you were down in Southern California, then went to Indianapolis for the Combine, and then back to the Farm for Pro Day, but can you fill us in on everything in between?

A: Back in the first week of January, we came back for school. I was still contemplating whether or not to declare. I was still trying to find an agent. I was back here for the first week of school in winter quarter, then decided on an agent. He said it would be best for me to leave school and train exclusively for the Combine. So I took a leave of absence and moved down to Southern California into an apartment in Irvine. I was rooming with Colt McCoy and training with 10 other guys at the Velocity Sports Performance Center in Irvine. Basically, we'd train six days a week.

We'd work out from about 9 till 10:30 during either lateral movement stuff or the short shuffle or the three-cone, or linear speed stuff for the 40. Then we'd head over to Mission Viejo High School and workout from about 11:30 to 1. For me, it would be running routes, catching balls from the quarterbacks, doing bag drills, cone work and getting on the board and diagramming plays and going through interview questions with the coach from Mission Viejo. We'd get done with that at about 1 o'clock and head back to the facility at 2:30 and lift till about 5:00. We'd do that Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday and Saturday would be recovery days, where we'd do yoga or some kind of stretching, as well as massages, and take ice baths. Sunday was a complete day.

Q: Is it what you expected? Have there been some surprises along the way? Or is this generally what you thought would happen once you declared for the draft?

It is basically what I thought would happen. Once you declare, you don't hear anything until the Combine. It was just straight training. I liked that. I didn't have to worry about school, I didn't have to worry about anything else, I was just 100 percent into training. I wasn't hearing from teams. Of course, you see [ESPN's Mel] Kiper [Jr.] and [Todd] McShay and the various mock drafts that come out, but it was just 100 percent committed to training until the Combine, and once you get to the Combine you get a better feel for teams, and stuff along those lines.

Q: Can you discuss the Combine? It seems like organized chaos. Hundreds of players descending on Indianapolis. A myriad of drills, interviews, and so on. Can you describe that experience and what it was like, and further, how you felt during and after the Combine?

A: I actually thought the Combine was kind of fun. Most people were saying that it was going to be the most stressful environment I could be in and a generally terrible thing, but I actually enjoyed the process. I got in there Wednesday and didn't have anything to do. We got in a day early. The next morning we woke up and they took us to a hospital to talk about our medical histories and to get any x-rays or MRIs of previous injuries in college or hospital. We had blood taken and whatnot. We were there for about two hours.

Q: Sorry, just to interrupt: you had a pretty serious knee injury in college. Did everything check out in those medical exams?

A: Yeah. The next day you meet with all the doctors, and by this time the doctors have all your x-rays and MRIs and stuff. You then have about seven or eight rooms in the stadium, and each one has six or seven doctors from each team there. So you'd walk into the room and hand them your paperwork with your medical history and all of your x-rays, and one doctor would check you out and do a bunch of tests—pull on my knee and whatnot. Then you would go to a table in the middle of the room, and that one doctor would present you to the rest of the other doctors. As he's talking and describing your medical history, they're running up to you and pulling on your knee and talking to each other. I did that about eight different times in eight different rooms. The whole process took about six hours. But ultimately, everything checked out. Everything was as expected. My knee is still a little bit loose, but that's the way it's been for the past two and a half years, but I've played on it for two solid seasons and haven't missed a game because of it.

Q: Okay, so after the medical exams, you get into the workout portion of the Combine. The consensus seemed to be that you performed above expectations that people had for you going in. Can you talk about the workouts, and also, was there some enjoyment in getting out there and surprising people with just how athletic you actually are?

A: The first three days when you're doing the medical stuff are just a drag. I was waiting to perform the drills and do the tests. After all of the medical tests you have interviews with teams, and they ask you, "Are you going to do everything at the Combine?" I said, "Yeah, I'm going to do everything. I want to compete with these guys." Some guys don't run their 40, and some guys will only do certain things because, well, I don't know why—some felt they didn't have to, or some wanted to wait till their Pro Day. That's sometimes looked down upon. I told them, "I'm here to compete, I'm here to measure up against the best, and I'm going to show you guys that I'm much more athletic than you think."

So going out there on Sunday, we started out with the vertical, and that went really well. Then there was the broad and that went pretty well. Then we got down to the 40 and for me, everything was riding on the 40. I was confident. We worked five weeks on it and I felt good about it. I just lined up, stared down the 40 yards, took a deep breath, and started pumping my arms. That was all I was thinking. I wasn't trying to run too hard or do anything much different from what I had been doing over the past five weeks. You finish your 40 and you have no idea what you've ran. They don't tell you your time, they don't post it on the scoreboard for you to see. You get done, and you think you ran pretty fast, but you have no idea. I was kind of pacing around and had about 15 minutes before my second run. I checked my cell phone to see if anyone was texting me. One of my roommates from Stanford just posted "Hell yeah!" as a text message so I thought, "Well, it must have been pretty good." So that was a bit of a relief. Then I did the second one and after, during running back drills, I asked my group leader, who was someone from the Minnesota Vikings, about our times and he told us, and I was excited about them.

Then I did the drills and did everything strong all across the board. I got a lot of positive feedback. I think I silenced a lot of critics in terms of playing fullback. I didn't see the television broadcast, but my parents said they were expecting me to run mid to high 4.6's, so by running a 4.53, it opened a lot of people's eyes and showed I was much faster than people thought. It solidified my draft stock a little more, and it solidified me playing running back at the next level.

Q: Was there a drill where you were particularly impressed with yourself? Everyone was talking about the 40, but you also had the three-cone where you were under seven seconds, and the bench press where you did 22 reps. Was there another drill where you thought you excelled?

A: Yeah, I thought my vertical was good. I had a vertical of 38 inches. I think that surprised a lot of people, to be 231 pounds and be able to do that. A lot of the time, speed and the vertical go hand-in-hand, so I could get a rough estimate on my speed from my vertical, as they're roughly correlated.

Then the field drills were big. I did about average times in the three-cone and short shuttle, but the field drills were an area in which I think I did strongly. Mainly, running the routes. The two big questions people had going into the Combine were my speed and my catching ability. At Stanford I didn't catch a whole lot of balls, so people questioned whether I could catch the ball out of the backfield and run the routes. We ran nine routes at the Combine, and each one of my routes was clean, each ball I caught was clean. I was real satisfied with that. I felt that I answered the questions people had about me.

Q: What have been the reactions you've received since then from NFL scouts, coaches and front office management?

A: Everybody was extremely happy with the way I performed. Everyone said I had the intangibles, the background, the intelligence in terms of understanding the game, and great tape. I had years of tape where I ran for a lot of yards and a lot of touchdowns, and then there are certain measurables, between the 40 and my official height and weight and vertical that matter, too. So that sort of solidified me as an earlier prospect. People no longer talk too much about fullback. The front office guys accept me as a running back and as a tailback. That has been great. It's exciting, but it's also crazy. You talk to teams and you may get a good feeling from them, but then they don't draft you, and a team you never talked to is someone who picks you. It has been an interesting process and it will be interesting to see what happens on the draft days.

Q: Coming out of high school, you were the all-time rushing leader in California state history, and yet people didn't see you as a feature running back. In this draft process, especially early on, people were looking at you more as a fullback than as a running back. It seems that throughout your career, people have been underrating you. Is that a motivating factor, not just to run for your sake but also to prove doubters wrong?

A: Yeah, for sure. As you said, it's been the exact same questions at every level. Going into high school, people were saying that I should play linebacker, or fullback, or safety. Then I had a good prep career and when I was being recruited for college, it was the same thing. Teams were telling me that they weren't sure that I could do the same things I could do in high school at the college level. Some schools, like USC, wanted me to play fullback or linebacker, while other schools were willing to give me a chance at running back. I got to college, and performed well in college, and now the exact same thing is happening at the next level. For me, it's a motivating factor. I want to get out there and prove people wrong. I feel that I have excelled at each and every level so far. The critics motivate me to get in the weight room and get on the field and work hard on my game, and just push myself that much more to excel.

Q: There is one more thing that seems almost inescapable with you is the issue of race. It has followed you a bit. The idea of the white running back is a bit of a foreign concept. I read that you were comparing yourself more to guys like Eddie George and Corey Dillon, and brushing away these concerns, but have you found that it has been a factor thus far? That people see the white running back and they're a bit hesitant? Or has it been a colorblind process?

A: People are definitely hesitant. Prior to the Combine, like you said, all the comparisons were, "He runs like Mike Alstott. He runs like John Riggins. He runs like Brian Leonard, or like Tommy Vardell." Every comparison was to another white running back, and no one else. As the Combine finished up, the comparisons started getting colorblind, you could say. Eddie George, Corey Dillon, Jerome Bettis, Deuce McAllister—guys who are bigger running backs. And yet I think teams are still hesitant about it, because as you said, it's still a foreign thing. The other day, I worked out for the Jets here at Stanford, and the running backs coach, as we were walking out to the field, was saying, "I love your film. You have great feet, you have great hips. But I had to come and check it all in person to see if your feet really are as fast as they are on film, or if your hips are as good as they are on film because, don't get me wrong, white boys like you don't move like that."

I think people try not to acknowledge that, but in the back of their minds, I think it's something they think about. I think it has affected my overall evaluation, particularly when the process started, but it's becoming less and less of a thing now.

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