Friday, June 21, 2013

#RookieWeek


     As the veterans take off for break, us rookies get to take part in an orientation called Rookie Week.  This week consists of meetings, charity events, and exploring new areas of St Louis with lunches and socials.  Now it wasn't all fun and games, we had hard off-season workouts and conditioning every morning to start out the day.  These were harder than normal, because we didn't have to save our legs for practice.  Also with the break just around the corner, there is always a tension between the players and the strength coach.  As players we get a little restless and it is harder to focus which doesn't mix well with coaches that know this tendency and are on edge, ready to jump on top of the problem.  This has always been the case since I was in high school, and continues to be the case today.  Rock warned us that last year on the last day before the break he had to punish the rookies because of this and pretty much ran them into the ground.  Well it came close to happening again, but we pushed through and remained focused enough to have a great week of work.

     After a good hard workout, the next thing you want to do as a player is go sit in information meetings! Well maybe not too exciting but we did get some good presentations on financial/credit help, NFLPA, highway patrol, drug, and legal information.  While all the players might not pay attention, I try and gain all the knowledge I can to help me out in the future.  I always learn something new!  We are blessed to have the team offer free services to us to help us out in these areas that our new to us.  The funnest part of the week was in the afternoon with the charity events, seeing the city, and social events.  They wanted to take us to new parts of the city and also get some team building time in, so we went to eat as a team at Blueberry Hill and Scape.  Blueberry Hill was awesome to see the history put into that place with all the pictures of famous people on the wall.  It also was a good time playing games, and teaching Barrett Jones how to play darts... by beating him.  Scape was a more modern place and the best food I have had in St Louis so far!  These were great lunches in two areas that I have not been to so far, but will definitely be back.  

     The two charity events we got to participate in were the Rams Training Academy and TASK (Team Activities for Special Kids) Bowling event.  The training academy was fun interacting with the community and playing football with the kids.  I ended up helping with a tackling drill where they went through cones and tackled a dummy.  Man kids get intense and their faces and tactics are priceless!  The funniest was when I was trying to get creative with the drill.  I had them back peddle to a cone where the dummy was, then break downhill to swat the receiver out of the way and make the interception. While I was explaining it one of the kids says, "isn't that pass interference?!" Lol, don't you hate smart kids... well he was technically right and I had to just tell them to go around the dummy without touching him.  We ended the day with signing autographs.  For the bowling event, each player was assigned a lane along with some TASK athletes.  The picture shown above was my lane with Katie (who won), Megan, Colin, and Andrew.  They were all fun to bowl with and I enjoyed the time with them and their families.  I really connected with Colin as he was the outgoing one and very funny also.  He showed off his muscles after he made a good bowl, and later he showed them to the cheerleaders coming around!  It was a fun time and hopefully I will get a chance to be with the TASK athletes again.  We ended the week with a young professionals social at the Missouri History Museum where we got to network with people our age outside of football.  I actually met a woman who works with a company here in town that makes reality TV shows, one of which I watch (Fast N Loud)! I thought that was pretty cool and we also got to see the Pro Football Hall of Fame exhibit.

     Overall this week was a fun experience and we were provided with some great opportunities and information that will help us out in this transition into the NFL.  We now have a four week break before training camp, which I will use to go back to Texas to continue working out and visit family.  It is hard to believe that I won't be a short drive away from family after this break and will hopefully be starting my new life in St Louis.  But for now I will enjoy this time off and can't wait to see my family, until next time!

-Student of the Game
#RookieWeek

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Wrapping Up My First OTAs


     The final week of OTAs are in the books, and they were some of the hardest practices so far.  The intensity, expectations, and even the heat continued to rise this week.  It started out Monday with the practice moved to the afternoon.  This was the hottest time of the day and definitely the hottest practice so far.  We installed punt return and kickoff return this week.  Still running with the 2's I will get a chance at "shark" for punt return and a front line blocker for kickoff return.  Basically a "shark" is the 2nd guy from the outside and is a great position that does it all from rushing the punt to doubling the gunners.  We had a chance to compete a little this week in special teams instead of just drills and walk through, as the punt team went against the punt return.  I got to rush a punt of the edge for the first rep, and I had timed it just right to come unblocked.  I didn't go for the block because it is practice and I don't want to punch my plane ticket out of here lol, but it would have been close!  I am excited about these and all of my special teams positions as I think I have the skills and technique to produce and make an impact on this side of the ball.  We ended the week of practice with a little fun change up drills, which I hear is a Coach Fisher tradition.  We started out the practice with switching individual drills with a completely different position group.  For example, the defensive backs went to do offensive lineman drills and the O line went to do DB drills.  This was funny and interesting at the same time to see what the other players do on a daily basis.  Then after a normal practice we ended the day with a little competition of punt catching, D line versus the O line to see what side of the ball had conditioning.  Instead of a normal punt they used the "jugs", a machine that shoots the ball, to launch the ball into the air as high as I have ever seen.  I'm happy to say the defensive line won, with some actually impressive catches including a one handed catch.  It was a great first experience of OTAs and I look forward to improving with my experience and production as we head into training camp. 

     The pressure to perform continues to rise as two people have already gotten cut in the last week in order to bring in more players. As a rookie you always hear of the stories of players getting cut, but watching it first hand makes it more real.  He went through meetings, got ready for practice, and right before he went out someone came and told him the news.  Just like that he was out of the building and looking for a new job and home.  This makes you feel the pressure and you wonder where you are in the coach's eyes.  The only indicator they give you is the tentative depth chart, but other than that the coaches don't give you much feedback on where you fit in or their expectations for you. Maybe they don't want to make false promises or get our hopes up. Whatever the case, as a player I try not to focus on that and just focus on what I can control, which is working and playing to the best of my ability. That being said, when your job and livelihood are on the line... you can't help but notice.  I will just continue to work hard, play to the best of my ability, and keep the faith.  I love the opportunity I have here in St Louis and look forward to earning my role on the team.

     On a lighter note, Emory Blake and I teamed up to take on the specialist's doubles Ping Pong Tournament.  I have always been pretty good at ping pong since I had a table growing up and also there was one in our player's lounge at Texas Tech.  Well there is one here also, so naturally us athletes like to kill any down time with... that's right, even more competition!  The specialists seem to always have the most free time and therefore end up the best ping pong players.  They had a tournament drawn up for this past week in a double elimination doubles tournament.  Emory and I took on Austin Davis and Chris Williams in the first round and came out with a resounding victory. But trying to get the players there at the same time proved too difficult as the rookie and veteran schedules were slightly different.  The verdict is still out on who are the best ping pong players.  Next up, rookie week!

-Student of the Game
#RamsRookies

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ask An Athlete #6


     Chris Fitz comes to me with this question... "Players grow up a fan of a certain team, and I'm sure they all dream on draft day or after to be picked up by that team. Is there any disappointment by players if they go to a team they never liked or was a fan of, or in certain cases hated because of a rivalry? I am sure players are mostly just happy for the opportunity, just wondering if any lingering feelings from the past. Also, do you still root for the team you grew up watching even if you play for another team or for a rival?"

     Thanks for the question Chris!  I actually grew up a Dallas Cowboy's fan and also a University of Texas Longhorn's fan.  My mom graduated from UT and being the big state team the connection was strong.  I was a pretty big fan and always watched and rooted for them, especially since my uncle was a big fan of their rival Texas A&M.  When my college football offers started to roll in, I never got my hopes up too high and sure enough I never received an offer from UT which was a little disappointing.  It was more disappointing not because I wanted to go there or would if I got the chance, but because the bigger "power rated" schools in the state and nation did not feel I was good enough to give a scholarship.  I was excited and blessed to get an offer to Texas Tech and the combination of local location, football, academics, and opportunity to play made it the perfect place for me.  Looking back I believe I made the right choice and now I am a Red Raider for life.  As for UT I will never root for them again and will always be my in state rival lol.  Now as I have made the transition to the NFL, it ended up being a similar scenario.  I was in no way a die hard fan of the Cowboys, but always thought it would be cool to play in my home state and just an hour away from my hometown.  However, on draft day it was a little deja vu when the teams did not think I was good enough and none of the teams drafted me.  I was a little disappointed again, but everything happens for a reason and yet another great opportunity of football, coaches, location, and opportunity to play has landed me in St Louis.  I think this is the perfect place for me and I hope to make it as a Ram.  As for the Cowboys I won't be a fan at all unless I end up playing for them someday, as crazy as NFL careers go.  Overall in these team selection processes there is always a little disappointment if things don't go as planned, but I am just extremely blessed and excited for these opportunities that have come my way.  I just focus on what I can control, stay humble, work hard, and keep the faith in God's plan.  It has worked out for me so far and hopefully it will continue to.  Go Rams!

-Student of the Game
#AskAnAthlete

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Week 2 of OTAs


     After a week off for the veterans and a week of workout/conditioning for the rookies, we were back to work for the second week of OTAs.  The first day's practice was delayed as the effects of the tornado knocked out the power for the facility and it remained that way on Monday.  There was also some damage to the fence surrounding the practice field and a lot of the trees around the grounds, but luckily that was the extent of the damage.  The power was finally restored in the afternoon just in time to get a lift and condition in for the rookies.  Coach Fisher continues to impress me with how he always keeps us, the players, in mind first and foremost in all situations including this one.  If we had moved the OTA to Wednesday, that would have been four OTAs in a row.  We might not have gotten as much out of them because of fatigue and no days in between for study and corrections.  Instead he moved it to next week, where we will have no more than two practice days in a row each week.  His reputation of being a player's coach seems to be correct so far!

     Tuesday was OTA #4 followed by OTA #5&6 Thursday and Friday.  The normal schedule for these days are all relatively the same with rookies starting around 7 am and getting done with everything around 5 pm.  Starting with breakfast it continues on through meetings, practice, lunch, meetings, and finally lifting for the rookies.  The day always starts out with a special teams meeting and this is a critical part of making the team for us rookies.  This week we installed punt and a tentative depth chart was made for practice purposes.  I am getting the opportunity to play the personal protector (PP) but am not the starter just yet (I'll try not and comment too much on depth chart and will leave that for the coaches to reveal).  This position is critical as the protection and communication for the punt team is made by the PP on the field.  I like this position of responsibility and have played it some in college although I didn't play much special teams then.  This was because I started and the coaches did not want to use me in that way.  I always learned the positions and was in every special teams meetings at Texas Tech as I was a backup just in case somebody went down.  Now I look forward to wrecking havoc on special teams and will work my hardest to earn those starting spots.

     Practice starts at about 10:30 and the weather was perfect... except for the occasional whiff of the landfill fire nearby, phew!  The week off gives us fresh legs, but also makes it to where they get sore again for practice.  But for the first day it was great as we got into the flow again without missing a beat.  The playbook is now starting to sink in for the common coverage/calls and the communication continues to improve.  But we are still constantly installing and adjusting our defense, so for us rookies it takes time and experience to make them become second nature.  I was having a pretty good practice Friday when I was hit with a new play that I had gone over but never played before... let's just say I was confused about the adjustment rules and we messed up the play call twice in two different situations.  But now I have it down and that experience has it in my head better than any playbook studying would.  When you don't have to think and worry about the plays and adjustments is when you can play your best football.  Overall, the rest of the practices went great and I even got a interception for my birthday on Thursday.  The coaches are now coaching us harder as the expectations for the rookies continue to rise.  Since we had the extra day of lifting/conditioning, we ended the week Friday with some Yoga for the rookies to help stretch and recover from the week of work.  The last week of OTAs are on deck! See you then...

-Student of the Game
#RamsNation

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

5th Annual Rams Playground Build


     The 5th Annual Rams Playground Build was our first chance for us rookies to get involved in the community and give back.  This year we were at Washington Elementary to build a playground, set up a basketball court, and paint the classrooms.  We were split into groups to accomplish these tasks in an organized fashion.  As you can see above, I got to practice my painting skills in a classroom and gave it a red and grey color scheme (as planned by the community service team).  I had never painted before and for completing the room with no painter's tape, I think I did pretty good!  Unfortunately, now my wife knows this and probably wants to paint our apartment now... haha but I will gladly do it.  While we were painting, the other groups were working on the playground and parking lot games.  After we had worked for a while, we had a chance to play with some of the kids that attended on a few of the "Play 60" inflatable games.  Kids go crazy over this stuff!  It is so fun to watch kids compete and try their hardest to impress us with their skills.  I got to throw some footballs and kick some field goals, but found out I was not good at the latter.  We were able to do a lot of work in a small amount of time before we departed back for the football facility.  The rest of the community service team put in a lot of work before and after we came to make this playground build a success.

     I love doing community service and working with kids, but hope I can become more of an influence in my communities in the coming years and participate in more events like this.  I have participated in these opportunities that have come to me, but now I need to put myself out there and get involved.  My introverted nature makes it hard for me to push myself to reach out and make the connections necessary to find and follow through on opportunities to serve.  Hopefully this is only the beginning and I will take the next step towards becoming more of an influence in my community.

-Student of the Game
#RamsPlaygroundBuild

Monday, June 03, 2013

From Lubbock to St Louis

Lubbock, Texas compared to St Louis, Missouri

     Y'all are fixin' to see how us Texans fit in way up here in the Midwest! Alright I don't exactly talk like that, but I have now been in St Louis for three weeks now and there have been some differences (as expected) compared to life in west Texas.  As you can see above, size and geography are quite a bit different.  That makes for more things to do and more events in this highly populated area.  The first thing I had a few comments on when I arrived is how I talk.  I don't think I have a southern accent, but i guess I do use "y'all" and "fixin' to" quite a bit.  The players have vast diversity so differences aren't noticed as much, but the locals have caught on to where I was from just by how I talked.  The first thing I noticed pretty fast is the food.  The food has been good so far... but where is the spice?! I have always heard that the food gets more bland and less spicy the more north you go, and that seems to be accurate.  I am used to an overall spiciness of foods and sauces being from Texas and having the Mexican influence from our neighbors to the south.  From the salsa to BBQ sauce, it seems like the "HOT" here in St Louis would be the "regular" down in Lubbock.  Speaking of barbecue, we had the chance to try out a variety at the Bluesweek Festival.  It was good overall and I love some pulled pork but I can't help but miss the brisket.  I have found some around so I will have to stick to those places.  Another food item I got to try is the St Louis style pizza and the toasted ravioli.  It was a pleasant surprise as I loved the cheesy thin pizza and the tasty ravioli.  Any other STL food staples I need to try?

     The last and most obvious is the weather.  The eye test of looking out the window doesn't work here as there is a lot more humidity compared to Lubbock.  I caught myself a couple of times in a jacket because it looked overcast outside just to find out it was still warm.  Rain?!  I think it has rained as much in my first three weeks here as it would all year in Lubbock!  The storms hit quick and hard but blow by fast making the weather hard to predict.  Lubbock's weather is also fast changing and sometimes involves dust storms, snow, and hot days all in one week.  But I have never been as close to a tornado as I was this past week.  Friday night I was eating at a restaurant with some of the guys when we started to hear about the tornado warnings and sirens.  I looked at my phone weather radar and saw a big line of pink of which I have never seen before headed straight for us.  As soon as the music stopped and management told us to go into the underground parking garage, I knew it was serious.  After a few nervous moments it blew over, but not all areas were as lucky.  There was tornado damage not but a few miles away near our football facility in Earth City and even worse damage around the St Charles area.  We were supposed to have an OTA today, but the power was out around the area.  Prayers go out to those affected and hopefully all the damage can be restored quickly.  Overall, I have enjoyed everything so far and can't wait to move my wife up here and see what else St Louis has to offer.  But for now the power is back on in Earth City and we are back to work tomorrow with OTA #4!

-Student of the Game
#Texas