First, can you let readers know what you’ve been doing with yourself since your time in the NFL?
I’m the project manager for a small custom home building company here in Cincinnati, Hensley Custom Building Group. I say small because we do eight-to-ten homes a year. On average they are a million to two -and-a-half million dollar homes – that’s the general range.
How hard was it for you adjusting to post-NFL life?
It was difficult – to a degree. I miss the camaraderie and friendship. And the competition – football is the ultimate competition. In my last year in Pittsburgh I hurt my knee and have had problems with my knee – the cartilage has worn away. My body didn’t hold up…
I spent a year rehabbing and trying to figure out what my plans were next – what to do now. Fortunately for me, I was always interested in real estate. I got my minor in real estate in college and my wife and I bought and redid 48 homes and apartments while I was rehabbing, It was a good buffer – a good platform for me. We still own them all.
How did you get started afterwards in the business?
I had a friend from college here in Cincinnati that was having a home built here and I asked him if I could speak with his builder. To pick his brain. That’s ultimately what I wanted to do – to be a builder. Well the builder was more than helpful. I took a job shadowing him – unpaid. I worked in the field for six months for free for him.
He appreciated my work ethic and attention to detail and offered me a job. So I decided to stay under his tutelage and learn from the best before I jumped out on my own. He is a Builder 20 – one of the best. We’ve built homes with bowling lanes, basketball courts…that’s the level a lot higher than what I’ll be on when I start my own business.
So, that’s what I’ve been doing the past four years.
Were you surprised to go undrafted when you left college? What did your agent tell you?
My agent was David Lee of Players Rep. He let me know that I had a chance but if so it would be in the latter rounds. I was 220 pounds – which was undersized for a 6’4″ defensive end. I’m not going to say it wasn’t disappointing. But it was different for me. Football never was the end-all goal. I was blessed enough to get picked up as an undrafted free agent. My father always taught me to do my best no matter what and let the chips fall where they may. If I didn’t make it, that would have been God’s will.
I watched every draft pick on draft day with my wife and son. We didn’t have a party and it didn’t happen for me. I got calls during the draft and afterwards my agent said I should go to Pittsburgh. That’s where my best opportunity was if I could outwork some other guys and get a spot. I was fortunate to make the team and then the active roster.
Being a Cincinnati guy, how hard was it for you to go and play for Pittsburgh?
It’s wasn’t really. I wasn’t a big Bengals fan. I was actually a big Raiders fan. I loved the black hole and Los Angeles fans.
You mentioned your father earlier, who was a former Bengals player himself. How much did he help you to develop into an NFL player?
I wouldn’t have made it without my father. We lifted weights together – even when I was in college. It wasn’t just lifting weights – it’s what he instilled in me. My work ethic. To give a good effort – 110%. There’s no way I make it without that work ethic he instilled into me.
Who helped mentor you as a rookie in Pittsburgh – on and off the field?
Joey Porter, Farrior…even on offense with guys like Alan Faneca…there was real leadership in the locker room. It was almost like a requirement to do the simple things. If you didn’t run to the ball, Porter gave you that look. I was blessed to be there. From the top down with Cowher when I was a rookie and even my last years under Tomlin.
I was the team captain at the University of Cincinnati for several years and I felt like I was a hard worker, but I could really see the level of work in Pittsburgh. This is why I went undrafted – there was a whole other level of work.
Haggans – no one worked harder than him. He was a machine. I guess that’s why his career was so long. He didn’t make the splash plays like Porter – he wasn’t as physically gifted I don’t think. But his effort and hard work was amazing.
And yet you made the team…
Well, I was cut before the first game, but then Matt Kranchik got hurt and they called me while I was driving home and told me they wanted to put me up to the active roster. It was amazing. All my dreams had come to fruition. I was ecstatic.
It’s funny because on that same day when I was driving home I got into a car accident – I was rear-ended badly on the highway. My back was hurting…. When the training staff asked if I would be ok, you know what I told them – “Yes!”. I even got a sack that game against Steve McNair when we were up by like 40…
Fast-forward- I got hurt in the AFC Championship game and couldn’t play in the Super Bowl.
Afterwards you were released and actually signed with the Bengals. ..
Yeah….my family loved me no matter what! It was actually expensive for me to play in Cincinnati – I had to buy tickets for my family and friends. Marvin Lewis was a really good coach…Guenther was the linebackers assistant coach then…
The experience there was different from a player’s standpoint. There was less leadership. There were some older guys – Thornton and Simmons. – but you didn’t feel like there were many vocal leaders. In Pittsburgh you had older guys like Aaron Smith and Keisel – guys that were outspoken and backed it up with their play and in practice. Honestly, in Cincinnati you didn’t have that. There was a lack of leadership in the locker room.
Afterwards you return back to Pittsburgh – did the guys there give you any grief, playing for a rival?
Guys joked with me – Arnold Harrison my best friend came down on me, But it’s different in the NFL. If you can be a help to a team in the NFL, they welcome you with open arms. Look at Pittsburgh now – they had Jacoby Jones there for a second – and he was a Raven!
My second time in Pittsburgh was a blessing. Tomlin was at the University of Cincinnati with me – Amos Jones was to. So I had that familiarity.
The usual guys were also there – Colbert, Coach Butler and LeBeau. Coach Mitchell. They welcomed me with open arms- me a skinny kid from Ohio, a walk-on in college and undrafted free agent. I was blessed to have a playing career.
Any advice for kids entering the game today?
My advice would be to work your butt off and enjoy the moments. My regret is not enjoying my time there, You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I worked hard sure but I didn’t work hard and enjoy it. Personally, I looked over my should so much just trying to stay on the team instead of also enjoying it.
That’s why I don’t have a lot of funny stories. I never really went out – I was always reading the playbook and staying in. So enjoy the time you have – even my friends in college would tell you they never saw me at parties at college. Some said it was me being mature but you have to enjoy life. Work hard and enjoy it – spend time enjoying the fruits of your labor.