Question: You’re in the NFL now, the latest step in a lifelong dream. But when did it begin? When did you first start playing football?
Answer: “I was seven or eight years old. It was a Bantam Boys Little League in Langley Park, Maryland. I played for the Langley Park Falcons and we wore black, white. I played everything – wide receiver, cornerback, safety, running back. When you were young, you could play both sides of the ball, so I did. Those were awesome days. We had a coach who was hands-on. Everywhere he went, I went. He was pretty much like a dad to me when I was in his care.”
Q: What do you remember about your first team?
A: “I had a five-touchdown game. I scored twice at running back and receiver and once at kick returner. Those days, you had a lot of fun with the game. It’s between the lines of having fun and being serious about playing.”
A: “It’s the family aspect of it. I’m not taking anything away from any other sport, but it’s 11 guys out there on the field. In basketball, you make or miss shots and go back down the floor. In football, it takes drives and plays to be put together. It’s not home runs, or things like that, and I’m not taking anything away from another sport. Here if one person goes out of assignment, it matters. It’s a game of inches, and that could be the end of the game for you. The togetherness and the cohesive unit you have to be out there, you have to just play as one. That’s something special about football.”
Q: Do you think fans, even the really educated ones, sometimes forget exactly how important that teamwork aspect is in football?
A: “I would have to say so. The fans see the games on Sunday or Thursday, and they might think that’s what it is. They don’t see all the work you put in together at practice. You have to know how the other 10 guys around you are going to play. You have to count on them to be where they’re supposed to be. If everyone does his job, that’s the only way things come together, and then you have to do it again and again. Fans might see one player, the superstar they expect to make the plays, but at any given time a player might be in position because of the play call and the work of everyone else – that’s on offense, defense and special teams – and it all has to come together.”
Q: What was your best sport growing up? It wasn’t football for all NFL players . . .
A: “Track and field was my best sport. I went to the Junior Olympics 13 times. I was number one on the East Coast for six years in the 100- and 200-meter. My mom had me in track. I wasn’t watching cartoons too much. I was always at practice or something like that. I appreciated her for that. I ran track all the way up to college. I took a break in high school. I tell people you have to be a student-athlete first, and I wasn’t as good on my grades as I should have been in high school. I disappointed my coach and had to get back on it and buckle down once I got to college.”
Q: Is track and field something you still watch to this day?
A: “Yes, definitely. I have a lot of guys in track. One is LaShawn Merritt, the U.S. gold medalist in the 400-meter, who ran in the same conference coming up. Philippe DeRosier also is an Olympic athlete. I ran with all those guys.”
Q: When did football take over for you?
A: “My mom, Joyce, is a big part of my life and my decision-making when I was growing up. I was kind of spreading myself thin as a child. I had all the coaches trying to get me to play basketball, football or track here or there. She told me to decide to go with just two of them. I didn’t see track being an issue because I knew you had to be fast at whatever sport you played. Track was a definite. Football took over more so when I got to high school. Little League was fun but high school, it was the pep rallies, homecomings, real cheerleaders. Plus, I knew I wasn’t going to be 6-6 to play basketball. I was going to be a better cornerback than basketball player. It was good advice my mom gave me to narrow things down. I realized that a long time ago. It’s the same advice I would tell younger people, ‘At a certain age, it’s going to come to a point where you’re going to have to be a master of one. You don’t want to be a jack-of-all-trades.’ My brother (Vernon) had me thinking that, too. He said, ‘You can be good at something, but you want to be great at something.’ I think I homed in when I got to high school. As a kid, you can play all the sports you want, but you do reach a point where you do want to see which college you want to attend. You want to buckle down and be a top-tier athlete in a sport.”
Q: When did you move to your position? Were you always a cornerback?
A: “My freshman year in college. In high school, I was playing receiver and cornerback. I actually went to college on a receiving scholarship, but the DB coach and I bonded to one another. He separated the DBs and receivers and my receivers coach looked at me like, ‘Why is he over there?’ I said, ‘I’m going to play DB from here on out.’ It was a natural fit for me and I thought a tougher job and challenge.”
Q: What’s your best football memory?
A: “I would have to say two years ago when I was Arizona. It came against Detroit when I had a 102-yard interception return for a touchdown. I think it was the fourth-longest in history. The quarterback threw an out route, and I jumped it and made the play. It was end zone-to-end zone. I was thinking, ‘I hope I don’t get caught.’ I got tired about the opposite 30-yard line, but I looked on the jumbotron and no one from the other team was close to me. I knew I was going to take it on in. I still have the ball. The Cardinals kept my cleats and jersey, of course. The ball is in my house with a picture of me returning it.”
Q: When did you first think this was real? When did you first think, ‘I have a chance to play in the NFL?’
A: “I always dreamed about it as a child. You play so you can be a pro. You see these guys on TV and idolize them. It came into focus when I was about 17. There are a lot of pros in the Washington, D.C. area, and I was fortunate to train with Darrell Green. He told me I had nice size and speed and if I took it seriously, I could play corner in the league. I always kept my head down and worked hard at it. Those were big words coming from one of the best, and I tried to sponge it up as much as I could. I’d pick his brain for anything I could learn. These past few years in the league I asked him how he could go at this level for 20 years without getting injured. He said to take care of my body and put things in God’s hands because, ‘He won’t put anything on you that you can’t bear.’ I try to work through things and give my best for the guys around me.”
Q: Do you have a pre-game ritual?
A: “Yes, I call my son, Gregory, and tell him I love him. He asks me who I’m playing, as usual. I call my mother and then just mellow down to music. I switch the music up. My sister, Tamara, sings and raps. I kind of listen to the things she says since we grew up together. I listen to Marvin Sapp’s ‘Never Would Have Made It,’ a gospel song. My mom always played that around the house.”
Q: What about after football? Do you have any post-career plans?
A: “I have a few ventures. I modeled for six years. I’m very big into fashion. I have a store I’m working on in Arizona. I have my hands in a few things. I have a few stocks. Don’t really know exactly. Hopefully, I get a few more years in the league and I get everything all blueprinted out. Right now, football is my number one priority.”
Q: Who’s the person most responsible for you being in the NFL?
A: “My mother, with the help of my brother. She was a single mom raising two kids in Washington, D.C. It was a tough place to grow up. I have to take my hat off to her. All the beatings on my behind worked to keep me on the right path. I gave her some gray hairs growing up, but she always stayed on me. I thank her so much because all the guys I knew who have seen how far I’ve come tip their hats to me. They say, ‘You were around all this foolishness, and you stayed the course.’ I have to say my mom is the most responsible person for me being here today.”
Q: That’s not always easy to do at a young age.
A: “You have all your friends going this way or that way and you’re thinking, ‘Man.’ You don’t want to be an outcast, but you have to stay the course because it’s going to be greater later. That’s what my mom would say, ‘It’s going to be greater later.’ It was a tough way to grow up. You had to make your decisions, and she showed the way. She provided every way she could. Where I was from, there was a lot of crabs, a lot of ‘pull-down’ effect. You had to have tunnel vision.”
Q: Do you have a particular high school coach or teacher who means a great deal to you? If so, why?
A: “Victor Roy of Northwestern Senior High School just stayed on top of me. He was always on my back. I wondered why early. As I got older, I realized, ‘If they’re not talking to you, it’s a problem.’ He just wanted me to do well. He stayed on me about my grades. He’d say, ‘We have one of the best players in the nation but no one will know because you don’t care take your grades seriously enough.’ I’d got home and knew I was wasting a chance. I got it corrected and came back my senior year. My college coach, Kevin Grisby was another type of father figure. He stayed on my back, and I said, ‘I won’t make the same mistake I made in high school.’ ”
Q: Did you have a favorite player growing up?
A: “Darrell Green and Champ Bailey. Darrell just for his wisdom and for being around him. I sponged a lot from him. Champ because he learned from Darrell. They were elite players.”
Q: Favorite team?
A: “I’m from D.C., so people thought it was the Redskins. It was the Tennessee Titans. My mom and no one could understand it, but Eddie George was on their team. I just liked him. Every time he played the Ravens, I thought he competed with Ray Lewis. I like that. He carried himself so professionally. He wasn’t playing the first time I played Tennessee. When I first played the Titans, I thought, ‘This was the team I followed.’ It was awkward, but fun.”
Q: What was your first car?
A: “It was a 1996 Cadillac, and I got it my rookie season (2009).
Q: What was your first job and toughest job?
A: “The only job I had was at a J.C. Penney in Silver Spring, Maryland. I was on the stock shift. I had to re-arrange the couches and flooring. At the end, you had to stay two hours extra because stuff was moved out of place. I’d start after school, around 3:15 and get home about 11:00. I did it for six months before getting into college.”
Q: Do you have a favorite quote that has inspired you in football or life? If so, what is it and why does it mean something to you?
A: “I have two. ‘Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.’ It’s no matter what you do or go through, we’re a forgiven people. God created us in his image. I say don’t look down or judge people. The other is, ‘Don’t tell me the sky is the limit when there are footprints on the moon.’ No one ever thought we’d ever land on the moon, but we did. The sky is not the limit. You can go as far as you want to go. Just put your best foot forward and work hard.” … Blessings,