AFC South: Early Influence

Early Influence: Series wrap

July, 30, 2010
7/30/10
4:14
PM ET
Virtually every guy I talked to for the "Early Influence" series that wrapped up Friday morning seemed pleased to be given a chance to think back and talk about someone who’s not gotten a lot of notoriety.

I appreciate those of you who sent word you liked the series, and I understand those of you who found it tedious at the finish and also expressed yourself. While I was not on vacation, I tried to mix them in with plenty of other posts.

I learned and thought of a few things as these unfolded:
  • The vast majority of guys look to their dads (and we had one mom) or to their high school coaches when pointing to the person they feel had the biggest, lasting early impact on their football careers.
  • The most popular characteristic, trait or habit that started early and ultimately helped a guy get to the NFL was in some way tied to work ethic.
  • Nobody said he didn’t have one.
  • Mine were Peter Herzberg and Arlene Walker.

We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

Here’s the box that can take you to any entry from the Early Influence entries:

Early Influence: Montell Owens

July, 30, 2010
7/30/10
12:55
PM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Montell Owens, Jaguars special teamer and fullback

“For me that would be a college coach that I had named Jeff Cole [at Maine]. One of the things throughout my career from Pop Warner all the way to the NFL I’ve realized is that there are coaches who really care about your well being and winning, and there are coaches who just care about winning.

“One of the things some coaches don’t realize is that you can do both. You can actually teach a man to be a better man, improve his character while also winning.

“I didn’t recognize until just prior to his death that he really cared about my well being, he really cared about the guys on the team, he really cared about their well being. What kind of person are you going to be.

“Take a glance out into the world now and what you see are a bunch of kids, a bunch of athletes who are really talented, but the limiting factor on how far they go is their character. Their character puts a cap on how far they can go. A lot of that could have been changed had they grown up under a certain coach, and coach Cole was that for me…

“He was a young guy, maybe in his late 20s, early 30s. We got into spring ball after my third year, he comes walking out after he was away for a month. He had lost I want to say maybe 100 pounds. He broke the news to the team that he had some form of brain cancer, he’d gone overseas for treatment. At that moment in time when somebody tells you something like that, you think back to how they treated you, to what they instilled in you, to all those things. That hits you like a ton of bricks.

“He ended up dying, I want to say three weeks thereafter. He was deteriorating that far. They had sort of a home-going at his house before he died, when he was barely talking, could barely recognize you, couldn’t do anything. He pretty much told you, you’ve got to get things right today, don’t wait to be a better person tomorrow …

“Those principles that I learned while I was underneath his tutelage were the things that carried me that training camp here in Jacksonville my rookie season when I was the ninth running back coming in as an undrafted rookie. I think about him all the time, especially when I am going through a trying time. I don’t only think, ‘What would my father do, what would my mother do, but what would Jeff Cole do?’

“The way he lived his life has now become a part of the way I live my life.”

Early Influence: Jerraud Powers

July, 30, 2010
7/30/10
10:10
AM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Jerraud Powers, Colts cornerback

“The one guy that probably taught me more about football, I thought I knew a lot but he instilled a lot more -- was when coach [Will] Muschamp was at Auburn [coaching the secondary] my first two years. Talking about how to prepare, his philosophies, techniques -- all that I still take with me to this day. I still talk with him about once a month just to keep in touch. He played a real big part in making me the player that I am today.

“From a mental standpoint, he taught me how to bring the same attitude every day to practice or a game. Have the same attitude every day, like you love football, and never change that. He coached every day like it was his last day coaching. He kept that enthusiasm and that fire about him, he had it every day when it came to him coaching football. That was one thing he kept consistent and it taught me about how being consistent in the mental part and bringing it to football every day.

“I think he has an idea that I think of him this way. He was one of the main people I talked to about coming out early, he gave me his honest opinions and his advice. I think he knows I rank him pretty high on my list of guys who’ve influenced me in the game of football. He was pretty crucial.”

Early Influence: Jason McCourty

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
4:48
PM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Jason McCourty, Titans cornerback

“For me it’s my older brother, Larry White, he’s the one who pushed for me and my twin brother Devin [a Patriots rookie] to be playing football. He was always pushing for us to be aggressive, go out there and make plays.

“He played in high school and then he served in the Army, he fought in the Persian Gulf War, he’s 39, quite a bit older than us.

“My father passed away when I was three, so he kind of was that father figure for me. He kind of taught us different little things that my mom couldn’t teach me and we could always go to him for a little bit of advice. And when it came to that aggression in football, and actually going out there and completion, he was nig on that for us.

“Before every game he’ll call me and continue to try to motivate me: ‘Just know that you’re the guy, go out there and don’t be afraid, challenge those guys. On your worst day you can call him up and he’s going to tell you how good you are. He’s great in that way.”

Early Influence: Rick Smith

July, 29, 2010
7/29/10
3:11
PM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Rick Smith, Texans general manager

“When I got to Denver as a young coach, we won a bunch of games that first year I was there in 96. We ended up losing to Jacksonville. It’s 15 years in the league now and I get it, but you come into the league as a young hotshot coach, you win 13 in a row like we did and you think it’s pretty easy. When we lost that playoff game to Jacksonville, I just remember how distraught I was. I’m at home, and I’m lying on the couch watching TV and the phone rings. It’s 9:30 at night after the game. And it’s Mike Shanahan.

“And I will never forget, he said ‘Rick, I just wanted to let you know, I thought you did an outstanding job this year, we’re close, al we have to do is have a couple tweaks in the offseason and we’ll win it next year. I remember hanging the phone up thinking what kind of presence does this guy have, and what kind of leader he is to pick up the phone and call a defensive assistant. I’m the low man on the totem pole. That just impressed me so much.

“It got me thinking about leadership. And then he gave me the opportunity to move over to the front office when Jack Elway retired. He put me in the position and he exposed me to everything I needed to be exposed to to ready myself for this job. I can pull out a file of quotes and meeting notes that I have taken from him.

“And I’ve made phone calls like that and I try to promote leadership and grow great people. Leadership is action, it’s not position. I’ve learned a lot from Mike.”

Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Rashad Jennings, Jaguars running back

“I’m going to go with my brothers, Butch and Bryan Jennings. They took the time to allow things to make sense to me and they pulled out my passion. It’s something very simple.

“It wasn’t that they took me out and trained me, or took me out and showed me all these drills. It’s not like they ran my life, every single day holding my hand. It was just that, when we had a conversation, when we talked, they would simplify things and show me that I could accomplish my dreams.

“They opened doors and made me push myself even further. They made me want to do better. It sounds so simple, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

“I’m the accident baby; they are 10 and 13 years older than me. They both played football too. Bryan graduated from Virginia Tech and he was with the Chargers, Patriots and Titans and Butch graduated from Liberty and he played with the Giants for a year.

“So I got a chance to watch two men that I respected do this. I had somebody that I could look to that did things the right way, that worked hard, that carried themselves in a respectable manner. They kind of set the bar in that.

“They always pushed me, [that] I could do anything I wanted to do and if I wanted it I had to work at it. They drove me to ask questions and figure it out on my own.”

Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Will Witherspoon, Titans linebacker

“I think typical stuff. My dad, Cordell, used to tell me, if you’re going to go out there, be part of the team. Hold up your end of the bargain, do what you need to do and don’t be afraid of anything.”

“I was never the biggest backer out there, I was never the biggest guy out there on the field at any particular point in time. And when I got there, part of it was that military lifestyle -- my dad served in the Air Force -- from moving around all the time and getting to know new people all the time. It was just like all right, find you place, find your role and be part of it. Don’t try to do more than that.”

“One of those things, that military thinking kind of gets stuck into you. I can still remember now, he’d come to my room for school and just knock once. ‘Time to get up.’ And that was it. Done. It’s always been that sort of simple deal, not that my dad was a military hard guy. He did what he had to. He gave me choices. He said, ‘Here’s the right choice, here’s the wrong choice, you tell me what you want to do.’

“And that was one of the great things I think about my parents. Not only did we live this military life but you kind of blossomed that whole ideal through educational experiences, moving here and there, meeting new people.

“Football wise that’s always been find your place and be willing to uphold your end of the bargain. You don’t want to be the liability for anybody. Make sure what you do what you can, and if you can do more.”

Early Influence: Pat McAfee

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
2:58
PM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Pat McAfee, Colts punter

“Like any of us who are lucky enough to have fathers in our life, I think my father’s the guy I look up to -- Tim McAfee. He’s the guy I always worked with, the guy that used to tell me when I was doing things wrong. He was always the guy. When you’re a specialist here, there are two guys you look up to: Adam Vinatieri and your dad.

“He was my soccer coach since I was a little kid and when I made the transition, he just kind of jumped on board with me, helped me out every week. When I said in high school I was kicking for 10 hours a week, I was literally kicking for 10 hours a week and my dad was there the whole time. He’s the guy I owe all this to.

“He didn’t know anything about kicking or punting before I started. Then whatever he sees me do well, he would pick it up and whenever I wasn’t doing something well he would pick it up just from seeing me do it well in the past. He was like a guidance counselor, a ball shagger and whenever I was messing up, he’d be the first one to tell me.

“He picked it up without every trying it, without ever knowing anything about it and is still probably one of the biggest influences in my life. It’s a great thing.”

Early Influence: Amobi Okoye

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
11:10
AM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Amobi Okoye, Texans defensive tackle

“My high school defensive line coach, Greg Campbell [Robert E. Lee High School in Huntsville, Ala.]. First of all he was the coach that saw me in home room, he was a substitute teacher, and said come on out and play. My best friend, one of my best friends to this day, Bradley Nall, told me, ‘No, you don’t want to come out there, you’ll get broken.’

“Between both of them, day in and day out you think about that: What if that moment wouldn’t have happened? I probably would have never tried to play football.

“I listened to both of them. Greg Campbell said you’re a big guy, you can play a sport. And my friend challenged me by saying no you’re not going to be able to do it. We never really talked about football like that until that moment.

“From Campbell, it’s all the coaching points he gave us, all the motivational ways he used. He was a coach but at the same time a friend. And from him, all the other coaches were the same. He was our wrestling coach too. We used to talk about women, working out and trying to get right.

“On the field he always used to say 'Bam. Bam. Bam.' He was trying to teach us you’ve got to be explosive like that. We’d do a rip move and he’s say, 'Bam.' We always said we were going to have a Bam Camp one time. Now and then I think about that and just smile.”

Early Influence: Kassim Osgood

July, 27, 2010
7/27/10
2:15
PM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

[+] EnlargeKassim Osgood
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesKassim Osgood continues to be motivated by his brothers, just as he was as a child.
Kassim Osgood, Jaguars special-teamer and receiver

“My older brothers, Tresean and Chayin, and one of their good friends who was one of our neighbors, Terrence Chambers. We’d always play a little two-on-two tackle football at our apartment complex growing up. Me being the smallest and the youngest, a lot of times it took extra effort and a little more determination for me to make my way.

“My brothers always encouraged me, told me I had the talent and I was good and Terrence always told me, ‘Yeah, you can be just like Michael Irvin, you can be just like Thurman Thomas.’ I always told him, ‘I’m going to be Kassim Osgood and I’ll be in the NFL one day.”

“They loved kidding me but at the same time, they were always encouraging me to continue to work hard and play hard. Playing with those guys, I always knew what it was like to be out of your comfort zone.

“I get phone calls and text messages from them telling me to continue to push hard. They know that I want to be a wide receiver, or have a more active role on offense, so they always remind me, ‘You had to go against guys that were way bigger than you … so continue to remember that and have that hunger and passion and drive.’”

Early Influence: Kerry Collins

July, 27, 2010
7/27/10
10:45
AM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Kerry Collins, Titans quarterback

“I’ve got to credit Joe Paterno with that. I really started learning about football when I got to Penn State. All the things that Joe believes in and his values, those are things I will take with me for the rest of my life, beyond football.

“You’re never as good as you think you are when you win, you’re never as bad as you think you are when you lose. He was about keeping an even keel, never getting to high or too low, about the ability to bounce back, the ability to handle pressure situations. He made the practice environment pressure-filled for a quarterback. He was always on us because he knew what we were going to face.

“I would say if you could survive being a freshman quarterback at Penn State you’re going to be OK. Not only that, but the approach to things, fundamental football and an attitude that you are going to be a good leader.

“I’ve not had a conversation with him about what he’s meant to me, but I assume he knows from the likes of many articles like this. Many times, hopefully, I’ve said things. But it would probably be a good conversation for me to have with him.”

Early Influence: Josh Scobee

July, 26, 2010
7/26/10
2:12
PM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Scobee
Scobee
Josh Scobee, Jaguars kicker

“I only started playing football my senior year of high school, so I really don’t have too many early [coaching] influences.

“I would have to say my mom, Darralyn. She’s been a big influence on me my whole life, not only in sports but life in general. Growing up she taught me and the rest of my siblings great habits and great traits, how to act, basically how to perform like you’ve been there before, to have confidence in yourself. Be excited for what you’ve done.

“The main thing she taught us was to appreciate everything that you have and the opportunities that we’ve been given. Without her, I wouldn’t be here. My dad died of colon cancer when I was 12, and at the time we were homeschooled, the four siblings. If my dad had not gotten cancer, we were going to stay in home school throughout high school.

“When he died, my mom had to go back to work and be the sole provider and we went back to public school and that’s when I started playing high school sports and eventually football my senior year. She had to work two, sometimes three jobs at a time to pay the bills and put dinner on the table for us.

“If I’m ever feeling like I don’t want to work as hard as I should be, or I feel the slightest bit underappreciated for what I am doing or want to complain about anything, I always think back to what she sacrificed for us and that motivates me.”

Early Influence: Bill Polian

July, 26, 2010
7/26/10
11:55
AM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Bill Polian, Colts president

“I’d look to two people.

“My college coach [at NYU], the late Bob Windish. He was a great man. He was a terrific motivator, really cared about players. A tough guy. We remained friends for life.

“My basic philosophy of football comes from George Paterno, my first boss at the Merchant Marine Academy: Be sound, be disciplined, block and tackle, take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.”

Early Influence: Rennie Curran

July, 23, 2010
7/23/10
11:30
AM ET
Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Rennie Curran, Titans linebacker

“One of my great influences was my little league coach, his name is Ronnie Benton. I started playing for him Snellville, Georgia when I was 10. We had great years, all of us played together on his team from about sixth grade until we were 13, we only lost six games. He took me to my first Georgia game, which was my dream as a child from the first time I went. He taught me the traditions there and I ended up working hard enough and playing there, 45 minutes down the road. That was a huge accomplishment.

“He was like a second father to me. One of the big things he told us was to control what we could control, and that goes to me today. There are a lot of things I can’t control: my height, or what somebody else does, or who’s in front of me. I know I can control how hard I work, how much extra work I put in, my effort, my attitude, things like that.

“That’s something I take with me on and off the field.

“I always think about that stuff, take out the little league videos. That was something special. For him to watch me play in the NFL now I think is special for him knowing the influence he had on me. Without a doubt he’ll be at my first game.”

Before training camps kick off, a number of players and some coaches will pay tribute to people who helped them make it to the NFL as part of the AFC South Blog’s summer series: “Early Influence.”

Gerald Alexander, Jaguars safety

“It was my father, Lamar Alexander. When I was younger, he introduced me to the game of football, and playing youth football he was my coach. I think early on that kind of gave me the foundation as a player -- how much you should respect the coach. My dad could turn from football coach to Pops any minute. He was pretty much my early influence. He coached me from seven to 13, every year before I went to high school.

“I still talk to him today and he’ll give me advice and criticism, how I did, what I should do and things like that.

“Confidence was a big theme. And obviously you’ve got to be tough in front of your dad, you can’t be crying. Toughness, discipline and confidence, those were pretty much instilled in me early, to believe in my abilities and go out there and execute them to the fullest.”

“I think it was very instrumental for me because it obviously gave me the foundation for working hard. I don’t know if anybody could have taught me when I was younger the same way he could. It definitely helped me get to where I am now. You get a lot of life lessons from the game of football.”

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