How tough was your initial transition to the NFL coming from such a small school like 1-AA Western Carolina?
It wasn't easy, in fact it was pretty tough. Coming in I was undrafted so my chances were slim to none. The speed of the game and the mental aspect of the game was a whole lot tougher. It's just something that luckily enough I was able to persevere through, it just took a whole lot of hard work and dedication. It wasn't an easy road and it wasn't an easy transition, but it was something I was very lucky to have it go in my favor.
You played running back in college, right? Yeah. So, you had to come in and make a position change as well. How tough was that and what did you have to go through to make that work?
It was tough. First of all I had to put on weight and I had to learn a new position, learn how to block. That was the toughest thing – to learn how to lead block. I think what helped me a little bit was being a tailback knowing what I wanted to see from guys in front of me and the way I wanted them to block. That helped me a little bit, but as far as learning technique and how to take on guys, that was my biggest challenge. That's something that every year I try to work on and get better and I think I continue to learn and get a little better each year.
You're a guy who's been with the Panthers for quite sometime. What are some of the changes you've seen as far as in the backfield, blocking for different types of backs and how to adjust to that?
Like you said, I've seen a lot of different backs and had to block for a lot of different backs. It doesn't change dramatically, but it does change things a little bit. The main thing for us to get on the same page is for us to get in the film room and watch film together. That's the case with every back I block for, even when there have been injuries. We have to sit down and concentrate and watch film, that way he knows what I'm looking for and I get a feel what he's looking for. It's never easy when you're used to blocking for one guy and then there's and injury or a change but that's just the way this league is now. I don't change a whole lot, but I will change a little bit based on what their needs are and what they're looking for.
Back to your college days, do you ever go see any of the WCU/App State games?
You know, I'd like to get up there but unfortunately, it's always right in the middle of our season. I follow the rivalry breezing through newspapers and hearsay. Maybe when I get finished I'll get up there and make it an annual event.
What did you think about App State winning the 1-AA national championship this past year?
Haha. Well, it's hard to see your biggest rival win the national championship, but I know Coach Moore up there, he's a friend of mine and a heckuva coach. I think it's good for the Southern Conference. They had a great year and I look for them to have another good year, but just for a team of their caliber to go in and do what they did is good for the whole conference and for their program.
Through the years you've had some injuries. For you, what has been the hardest injury to come back from?
Uhhh… None of them have been real hard. I've had little bumps and bruises and I've only missed a couple of games. But, probably my shoulder injury has been the most devastating injury that I've had so far and I continued to play with it. Usually it's in the offseason when you have surgery or go through rehab, that's the toughest thing. Luckily I haven't had anything serious, even that was relatively minor, but I've had my bumps and bruises. I've had some back bruises and the shoulder, but luckily nothing serious. I've been pretty fortunate.
As far as some of the older Panther fans out there, you're one of the fan favorites. I think they really respect the fullback position and what you do. How does that make you feel when you go out there and make a good play and hear the fans yelling "Hooooooov!"?
Oh man! You know… it's awesome. Just to know that the fans embrace me like that whether if it's me personally or as a player or me being a local guy, whatever it is just the fans in our area and for our team seem to embrace me. And you know at first it was awesome and that hasn't changed. It's awesome to have support like that.
Yeah, as far as I know, you and Peppers are the only guys who've played their entire careers in North Carolina. You were both local guys, stayed at local high schools, played at in-state universities and have both played your entire NFL careers with the Panthers. You don't see that very often, that's for sure.
Yeah, it's tough, but there might be a handful of guys, but I've certainly been fortunate to be in North Carolina close to my family and they get to see me play. I think that's a HUGE advantage for me.
Being with the Panthers for a while, you've seen us go to the Super Bowl and you've seen us be about as bad as we can get in the NFL. How do the guys in the locker room adjust to different levels or success and how do you personally do it? How do you go into the 11th game at 3-7 with the same intensity that you had in Week 1?
Well, I'll tell ya, it's a business and we're paid to win football games, that's the short of it. The thing is you're always playing for your job, there's no such thing as job security in the NFL. You know, they're constantly signing guys to try to replace you. The thing is you go out there and play your best and try you're hardest because every time you're out there, you're interviewing for every team in the league. It's just about being competitive. You have to look inside yourself for motivation to keep going on because it is tough. You do it with pride and just being a football player. When you're losing it's tough, but when you're winning it makes it all worth it. You have to deal with the ups and downs.
How do you handle fan and media expectations? Last year you guys made it to the NFC Championship game despite injuries and going into this season expectations are as high as ever. How do you handle it or do you just block it out?
You can't block it out just because it's so evident, just like last year when a lot of people were picking us. This year a lot of people will be picking us. We're in control of our own destiny. You can't block it out, you just try to look past it and take it one step at a time and that's what the Panthers organization keeps us focused on. But, you know, it doesn't matter how good of a team you are, you have to stay healthy. Last year we were able to make it to the NFC title game but unfortunately we had some injuries along the way that if we'd had those guys we might have had a shot. But, you never know, that's the way it is around the league, there's a lot of teams that I don't want to say are on an equal level, but they're pretty close. Injuries and stuff like that play a huge role when it comes to make that push into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl, you either have those guys or you don't.
How do you see things working out in the backfield this year? Foster will be back, then there's DeAngelo Williams, this year's #1 pick, and then Eric Shelton, the #2 pick from last year. I'm sure Foster will get his share of the carries if he can stay healthy, but how do you see things shaking out between Williams and Shelton, in particular?
Well you know, competition always brings out the best in guys and raises everyone's level. For the last few years we've drafted a running back high. It's going to be huge for us with DeAngelo coming in. I mean, he's TALENTED! You don't rush for 6,000 yards in your college career and not have some kind of talent! The biggest thing for him to overcome is going to be coming in and learning the system, which is the same for every rookie coming into any system. Last with Eric that might have been his biggest problem, but he's going to be a huge contributor for us too, I think both of those guys are going to work out well. How it works out, I don't know. That'll be up to the coaches and how they perform in training camp against each other. When you're put to the fire and put under water, that's when you show your true colors. I'm sure that through the competition, it'll sort itself out. Deshaun will be the main guy, but the other positions behind him are open to whoever steps up.
With Shelton, he's a BIG guy. He's about as big as any running back in the NFL. Do you see any chance of him being moved to fullback and maybe being your replacement down the road in a few years or do you think they want to keep him at running back?
You know, I don't know. That could be an opportunity for him to make a move. Like with myself coming out of college, I knew I had to make a move to fullback if I wanted to play in this league. If that's the case for him, I know he wants to stay at running back, but if he had to make the transition, that would be something he might consider. It wasn't a consideration for me, I knew I had to do it. The thing is, you don't draft a guy in the 2cd round if you think you're going to lose him, so it'd be a surprise to me if we let him go.
Yeah, especially considering he's the only big back on the roster. Deshaun Foster has some size to him, but beside that one run in the NFC Championship game against the Eagles, he's never shown an ability to get those tough, short yardage situations for us. Then, DeAngelo Williams is basically a scat back, so he's really the only guy there that has that power aspect.
As far as you go, how many more years do you see yourself playing? I know fullback is an extremely physical position, I mean you basically go out there and slam into a brick wall 100 times a game. How many more years do you think your body will allow you to play?
You know, I really don't know, but I'd like to say… I'd like to say about 4. I don't know why I came up with 4, but that'd get me to double digits – that'd get me to 10 years. But, you know, I see guys like Mack Strong and other guys throughout the league that play for 13, 15 years. Like you said, we're hitting someone every play and the last few years I've had some bumps and bruises and that's something I've worked through and continue to work through. It's something that is inevitable in this league – it's gonna happen. But, you know, I'm going to try to play as long as someone will let me. As long as I feel like I can come back every season and play at full speed, I'm gonna be there. When I feel that my body doesn't allow me to do that, it'll be time to hang it up. For right now, I think I've got a good 4 seasons in me. You never really know because you don't know what injuries you may go through. Right now I feel pretty good and I feel like I'm getting better every year, just learning and learning.
Well, for an undrafted free agent, you've done very well! Just to make the team is an accomplishment and then to go on and make the team and then go on and earn a starting position and hold it as long as you have is very impressive.
As far as the undrafted free agents this year, have any stuck out?
Yeah, there are a lot of guys, but there seems like there's always one guy that will come up and make the squad. I don't know, the guy that stands out on offense is the QB out of Northwestern, Basanez. He's come in and done a lot of things to impress me with some of his throws. But, right now, it could be some other guy. When you put pads on everything changes. That's when you separate the men from the boys. The men step up and the boys sort of fall behind. I'm sure one of the guys will step up and maybe make the team.
Is there anything else you'd like to say to the Panthers fans before I let you go?
Just that I appreciate their support and hope they continue to come out.
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