I know you used to play baseball. How serious were you about playing baseball long term?
I was real serious about baseball. When I was growing up, I was one of those kids who played every sport. Baseball was my first love, and it was the sport I thought I was going to pursue. But my high school career got a little rocky in my sophomore year. The team started going downhill, and it wasn't as great an experience anymore. I was playing all right, but the passion wasn't there anymore. And then, I was blessed to have a great senior year in football. I really blew up down there in South Florida. I still played baseball. I had the Orioles and the Red Sox after me, but I think my heart wanted to play football.
What was it about football that made the decision easy for you?
I think it was the excitement, the rush. I think the game is fast and physical, and that's what I love. I played safety because I love the physicality of the game. There's nothing like getting a big hit. You get a big rush. I fell in love with that. I love baseball, too. Don't get me wrong. But baseball is a lot slower. I played centerfield and it was just something that kind of started to take a back seat.
Did you get drafted out of high school?
It's funny, actually. The Orioles (scout) was at all of my high school games. He kept talking to me a whole lot, and then I signed (for football) with Oregon State about two weeks before the draft. The Orioles actually called me a week before the draft to make sure I was going to play football, and I told them I was. So, I never got drafted. But they were still interested, I guess.
Speaking of Oregon State, there's got to be a story behind how you ended up there coming from Florida.
Well, I only played two years of football in high school. My junior year was my first year. And to get recruited by big schools, you have to have a big junior year to start the process. Then, schools already have their offers out by the start of your senior year. I kind of blew up too late, in my senior year. I won defensive player of the year (in the area), and I went to the all-star game. But I was kind of flying under the radar. … So, I had a couple of offers on signing day, but I wasn't getting a chance to get to a big-time conference.
Were they Division I schools?
They were. I had East Carolina, Colorado State, Temple — but no major schools. So, I kept my options open and went ahead and played (high school) baseball. Down here, colleges come watch spring football to recruit for the following year. When they started coming in and realized I hadn't signed yet, they started jumping on board. I had talked to (former Oregon State coach) Dennis Erickson a few months before this. He told me, 'We love your tape.' He said, 'Right now, we're kind of in a bind (with scholarships).' I thought it was just a story. But he called me every week and told me they were really into me and as soon as they could do something, the spot was mine. They finally offered me a scholarship in April, and I told him I would decide after baseball season, when I could go do a (campus) visit. I remember the weekend I finally went up there, three or four other schools jumped on because they realized I hadn't signed yet. But I felt like Erickson had been committed to me the whole time. It was really far from home, but I was so focused on the fact that college was another step in my dream to play in the NFL, that I didn't care if I had to go to Alaska.
Was it a good experience?
It was different. It's two opposite ends of the spectrum. You literally couldn't get any farther away. You have Boca Raton and Corvallis, Ore. It's crazy. I grew up in the sun, going to the beach at Christmas. And then you have a place where you actually didn't see the sun for three months. It was hard, but it kept me focused on football. I grew a lot. All I did was work out and train hard. I think that's when I did the most growth athletically. But I wouldn't change it for the world. It was hard being away from my family, but it was the opportunity of a lifetime. The people were great, but it was really, really different for me.
We ask this every week: What's playing more than anything on your iPod right now?
Probably Lil Wayne, I think. That's definitely what I'm playing before games. Usually, after games, I love to listen to R&B. That calms me down a little bit. I'm not ashamed to say I like R&B. I don't care.
And our other weekly question: What Web site do you visit the most?
Probably Facebook. But that's mostly because of being bored, I think.
Quincy Black once told me you convinced him to get a Jet Ski. Is that true?
Yeah. It was scary, too. We were in the locker room one day after a workout, and me, Adam (Hayward) and Gaines (Adams) were talking about going out Jet Skiing. You could kind of tell Quincy wanted to go, but he was kind of like, 'I don't have one.' So, he literally walked out of the locker room and went to go buy one. So, he calls me and tells me he's going to meet us there. He shows up, and he buys the most powerful Sea-Doo. I'm like, 'Quincy, have you ever driven one of these?' He hadn't. The first thing I'm thinking is, this is like getting your license and then the first thing you do is get a Ferrari. I tried to tell him it's not that easy. Those things are dangerous. Man, was it scary. I stayed as far away as I could. But he picked it up quickly. I was surprised. We ended up spending the whole summer out on those things. We had a lot of fun.