As an undrafted guy, I felt the sense that I really had to earn my keep because nothing’s going to be given to you as an undrafted player in camp. So you feel a sense of urgency, because at any given moment you can be cut with no guarantees and no promises. Your contract is not guaranteed and there’s no signing bonus, therefore if you get cut, the organization can pretty much wash their hands of you and cut all ties.
At the same time it’s a blessing in itself just to be in the NFL, but you do understand that any given moment can be your last. So with that chip on your shoulder you understand, ‘hey, you’re not wanted,’ because technically they didn’t draft you, but they gave you an opportunity as an undrafted free agent to make that team. Everybody knows as an undrafted free agent it’s an uphill battle to make that squad and I was fortunate enough to be in that small percentage that makes the squad. I don’t know the exact percentage is, but I know there’s a very slim chance of an undrafted player making an NFL roster. When given the opportunity, you definitely have to make the most of it.
My first time ever having an opportunity to play was Week 3 against Buffalo my rookie year in 2012 when they decided to bench Eric Hagg. After that, the coaches sat me down with Usama Young and said, ‘you two guys are going to rotate along side T.J. Ward, and whoever has the best game this game, is going to be able to start for the rest of the season. We’re going to give you guys the opportunity to duke it out.’
Once I had that opportunity, I had a great game against Buffalo, and I just can’t thank that coaching staff enough for giving me a shot. For throwing me into the fire in Week 3 and saying ‘hey, you’re not an undrafted free agent rookie anymore.’ I just never looked back from there.
Since that day it’s definitely been a whirlwind. You go from a guy that’s an every day kind of guy to a guy to where people want your autograph and fans sometimes idolize you. You begin to understand and appreciate and see the type of impact you can have as an NFL player. And when you begin to get into the lime light, being in this league you begin to see the impact you can make on the youth and things like that. It’s really been an awesome time.
When I was a kid I never could have scripted or even wrapped my brain around the type of opportunity and the doors that have opened and the things that come with being an NFL player.
I was a huge Deion Sanders fan growing up, especially growing up in the Dallas area. I idolized Deion Sanders, man. I always liked his swagger on and off the field, you see the impact that he had on me – and not just me – but a lot of youth that wanted to be like him.
I haven’t had a chance to personally meet Deion as a player. But one of the achievements I’m most proud of – it was a Thursday night game last year against the Bengals, and Deion picked me out as his impact player of the game. The things that he said, and the respect that he showed my game, it really sent chills through my body to see the guy that I idolized have those kind of remarks and respect for my game. It was just a super cool feeling, like, it’s sending chills through my body even now thinking about it.
Growing up there were six of us and I grew up in a two-parent household. I was born in California, that’s where my mother was from and then my father moved there after he left Arizona State University. I grew up there for about five years, then we moved to Texas, and we were just a middle class family. Hard working. My pops had a job and my mother had a job and it was just a lot of time being around siblings with my parents having to work so much. All we had was each other.
From there we just began to form that bond, always just being competitive with each other, we were always super competitive around the household. We were four boys and two girls and we were all fairly close in age, so it was a very competitive household. But there wasn’t a shortage of fun. We always had fun, we enjoyed each other as much as possible.
I wouldn’t quite call it fun, but there is one memory that sticks out about the type of stuff that would go on in the household when our parents would be gone. I was probably like, 12, 13, and I always wanted to be competitive and beat my older brother Marcell at everything, and I couldn’t beat him at anything. I remember he told me one day, ‘let’s race,’ so we decided to race through the house to the kitchen. ‘So he said ‘go’ and I’m beating him, but my brother was a huge prankster man. He sprayed like a whole can of starch on the kitchen floor, so by the time I got to the kitchen it was just me running by myself, so I slid and fell and bumped my head – I had just a huge knot on my head that absolutely killed.
I look back, man, at the type of stuff Marcell used to put me through. He used to torture me in some ways. But whenever I look back I just laugh at it.
He’s still faster and stronger than me, which is something that will never go away. I’m still his little brother and I don’t think he’ll ever drop that title, no matter how many, pro bowls, all pros or whatever the case may be, I feel like that’s always going to be the case. But I’m cool with it, I just have to put him in his place sometimes. I’ve got nothing but love for all my brothers, especially Marcell.
The biggest moment of my college career at Wyoming was playing against Texas. It was a huge game and I had my whole family come down to see me play in front of 110,000 people alongside my brother Marcell. To look over and see him – this is a guy who I idolized by the way – was just incredible.
I always wanted to be just like him. Whatever he did I wanted to do, whatever number he wore I wanted to wear. And for me to have the opportunity to play with him on that level was amazing. I don’t think people realize, I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to play with the guy I idolized. Though I fought and bickered with my brother, I idolized him, and to have the opportunity to play along side of him, that’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world. We used to have our own little things we used to do on the field and it was really just fun, man. I don’t think that people really understand the magnitude of how awesome it was to get to play with my brother for three years. For three years I knew that my brother was going to be on the other side of the field at corner and I was going to be on the other corner and say ‘hey man, let’s play some football.’
Now, he is my first phone call after every game, even though he still gives me a hard time; especially when I don’t make a play and he knows I could have made a play. He still won’t let me live down the interception I dropped against Cincinnati, which was probably the easiest interception I’ve ever had in my career. But it’s things like that that are the things you cherish because he knows the game of football and I trust his opinion and his knowledge of the game.
After getting through last year, there are questions I know I’m going to have to answer this season. ‘Can he repeat what he did last season? Was that a one year kind of deal? Will he be able to build upon that kind of success and say he’s the real deal?’ I feel like it’s no pressure. I feel like last year was just the beginning of the scale where people begin to realize, ‘hey, this kid can really play.’ Now, it’s just more eyes and more people will pay attention to me now because of what I did last year. So I feel like it’s no pressure. Football is fun, you know? Football is exciting and I get such thrill and a rush from going out there.
Once you come out of the tunnel there’s just something I feel from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet. Once you go back in after that warm up and come back in for that four-minutes right before kickoff, you just hear that atmosphere, whether home or away – the vibration of that stadium is something that you would never be able to get anywhere else in America. Nowhere else would you get that feeling, that vibe, that intensity in any other profession. This is the best of the best, in the highest form of competition. This is the National Football League and not everybody’s fortunate enough to play this game at the highest level, so when I take that field, it’s really just a feeling that I can’t explain. It’s just an awesome feeling that comes over you.
Cleveland has been an awesome situation, too.
It’s super cool getting to play in this secondary. On paper, I think all four of us are pro bowlers. Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, Tramon Williams – I think this secondary is going to be scary.
We don’t have the pedigree of a secondary like Seattle, but a lot of us made bold statements that we’re going to have to live up to this season. I feel like the way this secondary is gelling, it’s awesome. We feel like we are the best group in the National Football League and we feel like we want the game to rest on our shoulders. And if that’s what it’s got to come down to we’re more than capable.
I feel like the fans in Cleveland appreciate me as a player and me as a person – and it’s a mutual feeling. I didn’t know what to expect when I first came here, but when I got here you realize no matter what’s going on – the Indians can win, the Cavs can win an NBA Championship and the Browns can go 4-12 – but you realize this is a football city. A blue collar, hard working football city with a grind it out mentality that at the end of the day loves their Cleveland Browns, and it’s time that the fans get a winner. Last year we gave them a small taste before we depleted and went down the stretch 0-5, but I feel like this year is going to be the year. We’re definitely going to give the fans what they deserve and what they need.