I am fortunate to work with a colleague, Kwame Etwi, who played Division 1 football for 4 years at Texas A&M. He is still cut, years after football. His thighs aren’t Saquads, but they are still the size of tree trunks. Let’s find out a little more about the game from someone who can offer perspective on the things we discuss regularly on the blog.
You were a walk-on at A&M and not only made the team, but you played for 4 years. What was that like?
It was pretty surreal. Even starting off and going in, my mindset was to keep outworking them. I played as a true freshman. I went through a few coaching changes. I learned a lot about football and a lot of lessons about life. The time spent with football and college were some of the best years of my life.
What position did you play? How hard was it to take care of yourself?
I played RB. Also kick returner. Also gunner. RB is probably the toughest position to take care of your body. We do everything except the QB’s job. We block LBers, huge 350 lb linemen, and have to evade the tackling of faster secondary players. “Prehab” was maintenance. Proactive. Shoulder prehab, hamstring drills. I had a partial tear of my hamstring going into sophomore year and that was my eye-opening moment to taking care of my body. I saw the trainers every day, often 3x per day. Cold and ice tub, drinking, proper nutrition, stretching, treatment, a huge amount of things done to take care of yourself. As cliché as that sounds, you have to take care of yourself as a professional. You take a beating in games and in practice, so if you aren’t doing everything, you are going to get and stay hurt.
This NY Giants blog doesn’t have a flattering opinion of RB positional value. What are your thoughts? How important is RB to success in the NFL?
The RB is an integral piece of your offense. OL is first, and QB/RB play is behind that. The RB is an extension of the OL. The RB is involved in pass and (sometimes) run protection. If you can get to 2nd and 6 or 2nd and 5, the whole playbook is open to you. If the RB is not protecting the QB or helping in the run game, you will have trouble succeeding. It is a game of inches, and you need to win all of your 1:1 battles. All of the details of the offense (gaps, etc) are important to put the team in a competitive position to win.
We think that the game is won and lost at the Line of Scrimmage. What did you see?
Agreed. If not at the OL, where else would it start?! The QB needs time. Up front needs to do their job. Center was important for the calls. Everything flows from OL. If the Guard does not move up to the second level, you can’t execute. It is a very long day when you can’t control/win at the line of scrimmage.
TNF is panned by this blog as being a dilution of product and particularly bad to players. Can you share what you’ve heard from NFL players?
I have friends and former teammates in the NFL. The short recovery time (Sunday to Thursday) is brutal on players’ bodies. 3 days is not enough time to incorporate a new game plan, rehab, prep for the new team and everything else (travel etc). Then add the long 17 game season, and it is just not enough time.
Speaking about player health, tell us about what players are doing to take care of themselves.
Mobility is the most important thing. Frequent yoga. Physical therapists. Yoga puts you in less frequently visited positions than you would otherwise find with normal work. So it is valuable for helping the body work those areas which would otherwise not be addressed.
You were on teams with immensely skilled teammates. Did their talent necessarily correlate to success in the NFL?
Yes, but the most talented players were also the ones who were putting in just as much effort off the field. At the level we played, talent only gets you so far. The SEC is super talented. The gap is narrowed, so you have to be doing everything.
Talk about desire.
If there is no desire, there is no success. It works that way for anything in life. If you don’t have that in your profession, you won’t get anywhere. And from that, the happiness won’t be there either.
Did you have any concussions playing football? Any other injuries?
In High School I had a concussion. In college I did not have one, although it is possible. Other than my hamstring, in my senior year, I tore some ligaments in my left hand. The injury happened during practice. They were blitzing without OLmen! Generally speaking, I was pretty fortunate.
Tell us about blitz pickup. What was that? What was the ask?
(Laughs.) An unsaid job is picking up whoever it is coming through, whether that is a Safety or 350 lb lineman. If I can cut a DLman by using a shoulder pad on the thigh/upper knee, that was at least going to slow him down. These big guys are tremendous athletes and they can go right through you. So your job is to simply slow them down for however long you can. Punch and drive. It is art. You have to know who your player is who you are blocking. You have to be meticulous on who your responsibility is. Your responsibility could be a gap. If they sneak that CB blitz in there, that is your responsibility. For the big guys, you know you are not going to “win” that battle, so you just have to get “run over slowly.” If you keep them away from the QB before he gets rid of the ball, you have done your job.
What drives the players in the NFL?
Providing for their families. I have friends who came from nothing. The first contract is proving yourself. The most passion and desire is there at the beginning. The second contract is much more business. That second one is about your health. The first contract is life changing money, but the second contract is more generational money. It does vary situationally, depending on what your circumstances are, i.e. there is a difference between playing for the Texans vs playing for the Chiefs. Your goals are different.
Lightning Round: The Rules For Winning in the NFL, v2.0
Rule #1 QB– Agreed. They run the offense.
Rule #2 Protect the QB– Yep. If your OL/RB/TE can’t protect the QB, you lose.
Rule #3 Rush the QB. Yah. You have to put them in uncomfortable positions. That is when penalties are made and errors are forced. Penalties happen when you force the Offense to make mistakes in protecting the QB.
Rule #4 Every other position is in support of Rules 1-3. (Laughs) Yes. Without Rule 1-3, it is a struggle.
Rule #4a WRs are a dime a dozen. Yes. Few are gamebreakers. And then the Safety helps to neutralize that. Most WRs will do a good enough job that it is a commodity.
Rule #4d Safeties are more important today– I agree. See 4a. Safeties are hybrid linebackers today. The real good Safeties are captains of the defense. This is how the game has changed.
Rule #4f A very good OL coach is almost critical. True. true. True. true. times 5! times 10!!
Rule #4g Tight End in the Red zone. I love that. Things get spicy. It is mismatch heaven. The things that you can do with a good one are many. Mismatches. Size with the Secondary or Speed with the linebacker. As a RB, I loved a good TE, it made my job easier.
Rule #6a Pitchouts do not work in the red zone– It depends. Depends… I had a play in college on a fake FB dive pitchout that I scored on or may have scored on the next play.
Rule #6e Prevent Offense prevents you from winning. True. True times two.
Rule #6j Can’t turn it on or off. Yes. It is like taking plays off. Puts yourself in a position of vulnerability. Can get hurt.
Rule #6k Defense still wins championships. I still agree. The NFL is crazy with Offense. The Defense will keep you in games.