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This is an extended interview from the 2012 ESPN The Magazine Body Issue. Subscribe to the Mag today!
Why did you decide to pose for the Body Issue?
MJD: I wanted to show what I've been working with, I guess. I was a little nervous at first, but then once I got nude, I was good to go. I can see how people like to walk around nude in certain places. When the robe is on you are a little nervous, but after you take it off, it was just kind of ... whatever. I'm comfortable with my body and I'm not worried about what other people are going to say. It's not like I can change. Maybe I can work out a little bit more, but everything is God-given.
How does being a shorter back help you in the NFL?
MJD: I'm able to sneak up on people more. Football is a game of leverage, and I'm 5'7", so not too many people can get lower than me without leaving their feet. My legs are what I use as my strength. They are my source of power and I've based my game on being more explosive and being able to run away from guys. It's similar to Barry Sanders; I watched him play and tried to emulate his game. Marshall Faulk and Barry Sanders opened the door for the shorter back, and I feel like I've built on that. I use my quickness to my advantage. I figure everyone wants to be 5'7". It's the new 6 foot. Look at Ray Rice, Steve Smith, Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter -- a lot of people are starting to believe that at the running back position you don't have to be 5'11", 225 pounds. You can be any size and produce. I'm the smallest guy on the field, but people are terrified of me.
How do you go about lifting so you can hold your own on the field?
MJD: I do lunges, squats, single-leg work. I try to work every leg muscle to generate as much power as I can. The way I was trained as a running back was you run with the wide receivers and lift with the defensive linemen. That's what I did in high school and college. I can hold my own. They've got more power on the bench, but in my prime I've squatted more than 700 pounds. They don't look at me like I'm short after they see me do that.
I did ballet when I was 5 or 6 years old, but the lessons stuck with me. If you watch the great running backs when they run, it's like they are dancing. Watch Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Jim Brown, and it's like you can play music while they run.”
What do you like about your body?
MJD: That I'm short, because fans can relate to it. It gives people hope that they can do anything. People tweet at me, "Man, I'm your size, I'm not big." I was never the biggest or fastest, but no one worked harder than me. So it's, If he can do it, why can't I? And I love that.
What challenges do you face with your body?
MJD: Weight gain is tough because I pack on pounds pretty easily compared to everybody else. But at the same time, that is something I can use. I can fluctuate and I'm able to get a little bigger for games against certain teams -- not saying 15 pounds, about 5. But I can use that to my advantage in a game against teams such as Baltimore or Pittsburgh, who are bigger and more physical.
Have you ever felt self-conscious about your body?
MJD: I've heard a lot of short jokes. But I've always been of the mindset that I can't do anything about my height; this is what God gave me, so there is no reason to be upset. If I were slow I could try to get faster, or if I couldn't catch I would work on that. So I figured out a way to make my size work. I played point guard in basketball and used my dribbling and quickness to my advantage. In track, I was quicker than everybody getting out of the block, so I'd break out so fast that they'd have to come catch me. In soccer, it was easy to control the ball because I was so low to the ground. In baseball your strike zone is only so big, so it's kind of like cheating. Honestly, I think almost every sport was made for small people. Except basketball -- but then there's Nate Robinson. I've never thought being short was a disadvantage and I try to express that to kids: Whatever you feel is your disadvantage is what you should try and make your advantage. Most people in this world aren't 6'8" or 6'4". But it's good. I'm telling you: 5'7" is the new thing.
What is the most difficult thing you put your body through?
MJD: Because I have short legs, long runs and 100-yard sprints kill me. I jog to keep my body in shape, but jogging a mile or two is the toughest thing I go through. In the offseason, I try to jog at least two or three times a week and do some type of cardio, elliptical or StairMaster or something.
What is the most unusual training you've ever done?
MJD: I did ballet when I was 5 or 6 years old. It helped me learn how to use my body and balance on all my moves. I took ballet for a few years, until my grandpa said it wasn't a good sport for a football player, even though my grandmother made me do it because she heard Herschel Walker and Lynn Swann did. But the lessons stuck with me. When I get hit awkwardly, I'm still able to keep my balance. If you watch the great running backs when they run, it's like they are dancing. Watch Walter Payton, Gale Sayers and Jim Brown, and it's like you can play music while they run.
What is your favorite thing to do to maintain fitness?
MJD: I like to run in the heat. The hotter the better. That's where we get our edge with the teams from up north. Anyone can run in the cold, but a lot of people can't train in the heat. And when you run in the heat, you really see how in shape you are. Here in Jacksonville, 95 degrees with 85% humidity on turf (which makes it even hotter) is a typical day. That's our advantage -- to be able to withstand the heat and continue to perform. I train with a sweatjacket most of the time, which adds more heat. It helps you learn to fight through fatigue. It's more for mental toughness than anything. I try to prepare myself for the worst.
You might not have the perfect lips or butt or whatever, but what you've got is yours and you should treasure that. I have all I want.”
What do you tell yourself when you feel like you can't train any further?
MJD: I'm in this league because I want to be great, and to be great you have to be tough. It's not that I'll put myself at risk; I just want to put myself in the best shape possible for my team. If I'm not in the best shape of my life coming into training camp, I feel like I've let my team down.
What about your body would surprise us?
MJD: I'm flat-footed. I have some of the widest feet in the world, but I run on my toes. Amazingly, it hasn't caused me any joint problems. A lot of people have tried to change it. "Oh, you're flat-footed. You should wear orthotics." But I'm not going to change anything. I tried the orthotics and it actually made my feet worse. I've been running flat-footed my whole life. Why change now?
What was your best athletic moment -- when everything clicked and you felt completely in tune with your body?
MJD: My sophomore year in high school, I didn't play because I had knee issues with growing pains. My junior year, the pain went away and I was able to maximize my ability. That experience of going through pain and then being able to play without it is something I'll never forget. My first game back I scored a 91-yard touchdown. It was a gratifying feeling, all that hard work finally paying off. After that, I felt like I could go out there and show my true potential and succeed in the game.
What do you want people to know about you?
MJD: Society is crazy: If you're not a certain size, you should try to change this, or if this doesn't look the way it should, you should try to change that. I don't believe in that because you have a body and you can make the best of it. You hear people, especially women, say, "I don't like my body." But you know what? You should make the best of it. Everyone's body is right. Your body is specific to you and that's how it should be. You should enjoy it and take pride in it. I'm not a plastic surgery person. It seems like you are doing an injustice to what God gave you instead of making the best of it. You might not have the perfect lips or butt or whatever, but what you've got is yours and you should treasure that. So I want people to know I have all I want.
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