I dreamed of playing in the NFL ever since I was a kid.
I actually grew up with Brian Branch, my Alabama teammate who was also in the draft, and we used to dream about it together. I’ve sacrificed so much and worked so hard to get to this point, that it’s difficult to really describe how it feels. There have been a lot of people who helped me get here, especially my family, and it’s been special to be able to share this experience with them. I learned that you have to become comfortable with sacrifice and dedication to make it to this point. The process is really hard, I won’t lie about that. But if you are fully dedicated to it, and know that you love it, it makes it tolerable.
The NFL Draft process is unlike anything I’ve gone through before, because beyond putting in the hard work you don’t have a lot of control. I gave up any ideas or expectations on who I was going to play for a long time ago. I’m from Georgia, so growing up I was a fan of Georgia football, but that’s not where I ended up playing college ball. I’m truly glad I got to compete there though, because I think it really helped me become the player I am today.
There is definitely a transition period that happens when you finish your college career and are preparing to play in the league. For this period you’re not really with a team anymore. You have to get comfortable with the idea that you are now a professional football player, and these franchises are expecting you to get that edge and that next level training on your own. There are a lot of resources for you once you’re on a team, but there’s a lot that you’re expected to do on your own in the off season. Or for us, before our first season in the league.
Leading up to the Combine, I worked with Brent Callaway and the team at Exos at their Texas facility. The staff that he’s put together out there is unbelievable. I learned a lot working with him for the Combine and it’s been great training with him after the draft as well. I’ve learned more over the past year than any year past. I’ve been doing all kinds of different workouts, and really learning about my body and what it’s capable of. Back in college training, we just did whatever our strength and conditioning coach told us to do. Now I’m the one that’s really in charge, and I have great people helping me. I learned a lot that I will be taking into my first season in the NFL.
Another part of the process: a lot of brands started approaching me. The only ones that I’m excited about are the ones that feel authentic. I was able to connect with companies like Old Spice and Chipotle early. Courtyard by Marriott is also one I’m excited about. They have an official partnership with the NFL already, and I know what they offer.
I was pumped when the NFL Draft came around and told me that I’d be able to help give one of the fans a vacation to one of the away games as part of a giveaway. I know what an amazing opportunity and experience that is. That fact that I get to be a part of it is even better. Getting all this attention as a pro football player can be pretty difficult to deal with, but one of the bright spots is getting to help people.
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Leading up to the draft, I made an honest effort to stay off of social media as much as possible. There are a lot of people out there in the football media world that were making predictions, trying to compare you to other people in your position, etc. For me, there isn’t a lot of value in knowing that. There are a lot of people who will say whatever, even with zero experience with football at all, so you have to remember that. It’s a free world, people can say whatever they want, but I don’t have to pay attention to it. I’ve learned the importance of protecting my thoughts.
I’m glad that I got to have my family with me at the NFL Draft. They were the ones fielding a lot of calls, so that I could really focus on this moment. They’ve seen the hard work and the sacrifices that I’ve made to get here. My family does a great job of keeping me humble and grounded. I was glad I also got to share the draft experience with my teammates Branch and Bryce Young. Bryce and I got close in college, going through phases of leadership and watching each other grow up as individuals and players. I know that Bryce is going to do big things.
Going into the draft, I was comfortable just sitting back and feeling blessed no matter what team calls me. I’m blessed to be getting drafted in the NFL. I dreamed about this as a kid, and I’m not going to let expectations ruin it for me. There were a few teams that I met with in person before the draft. My first visit was to the Houston Texans, then I went to go see the Detroit Lions, and then I went to see the Seattle Seahawks. But there was no indication of where I was going before I had my name called. I’ve done all of the work, I know how I performed through college and during the Combine — that was all I could control.
I knew the call was coming, and I knew that I would appreciate the blessing when the call did come. Getting that call from Texas is a feeling I still can’t explain. All of the hard work and sacrifices throughout my life all paid off for that moment. It was the best feeling in the world. Now I’m using this opportunity to stay locked in and focus on doing everything that I can to elevate the team.
Our rookie camp has been great, and I’m enjoying the process of getting familiar with my role on the team. It’s been great to get to know my teammates like CJ Stroud. We were able to spend some time together before the draft, so I’ve gotten to know him before we’ll even play on a team together. I can tell he’s a great leader and will be a huge asset to our organization.
I’m also looking forward to seeing all of my old Alabama teammates on the field. There are a lot of quarterbacks that I’m looking forward to seeing across the line and trying to sack. I can’t say there’s anyone in particular. For me, I want to win championships, and I’m going to do the work to help us get there.