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A Rookie Season Full of Ups, Downs and Everything In-Between

To come so close, to be just a couple games away from competing in a Super Bowl…that’s hard. But you have to be proud of every game you win in the NFL because it’s such a difficult thing to do. You don’t realize how difficult it is until you’ve played in games, especially post-season games, where it’s so close and everything counts. So you’re proud of every victory. But at the same time, you’re never satisfied. And that feeling alone is enough to provide us with a great amount of motivation and perspective going into next year.

Even though it still hurts a bit, I’ll be watching the game this Sunday. I have friends on both teams, and of course a general football interest, so I’m interested to see what happens. And now that I’ve played the game, I understand all of the tremendous preparation and work that’s going into it. As for the team, at this point, we’ve come to terms with our season. Now it’s time to for us to work on the areas where we fell short. We have to fix those things before we have another opportunity to play for something of this magnitude.

When I look back at my rookie season, I think it was a huge stepping stone and a big learning experience for me. I’m proud of it, but it was difficult. You have to learn some things the hard way, you have to make mistakes, and the pressure is on from the get-go. I had to learn those things. I had to learn how to play, how to set my game up while learning an offense, while learning to be on the quarterback’s timing. And I had to produce immediately. It wasn’t easy, but I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything.

There’s nothing that can prepare you for what an NFL season is until you go through it for yourself. You can hear about it and do as much training as you want, but it’s something that you can’t truly understand until you do it. You can be in shape and you can be mentally fortified – these things can help prepare you – but you are still going to encounter things that you didn’t account for and the season will take turns that you didn’t expect. It’s completely unpredictable. And that’s just the nature of the game. You can’t just hear about it; you have to experience it.

I think the biggest thing that really struck me is just how long the season really is. You can see it on paper, but actually going through it is a whole different story. Managing your body, your physical health, your mental health, having to step your game up every weekend and be at your best. There are no games when you can play at 80 percent. It’s got to be at 100 percent every time. Learning how to do that for that many games in a row – without being able to go home or see your family – is difficult.

One of the highlights of my rookie experience was being in that locker room with such great guys. We have a very good core of guys and being able to learn from them is something I will not forget. These guys really taught me how to be a pro, how to practice, how to play, how to carry myself. That’s very important because the transition from college to the pros definitely comes with its own set of challenges. All of my teammates are great, but I was particularly fortunate to have vets Jason Avant and Jeremy Maclin in my corner. They have years of experience and weren’t shy about sitting me down and letting me know what’s necessary to succeed at this level.

I’m excited about this offseason. So many areas of my game were exposed this year, and I’m ready to get to work on that and fine-tune my game. It’s the first time in a long time that we’ll have the opportunity to rest our bodies and get healthy, especially for us rookies. The time between the first and second year is a key point of transition, and it’s really about what you make of the offseason. This is a year-round sport. Right now I’m in Atlanta, but as soon as we start our workouts in Kansas City, I will be there.

After participating in an NFL season, you realize just how big this game is. You realize how many people this game reaches and that this platform that you thought was big is even greater than you can fathom. Once you realize those things and all of the time, effort and work that men years before you have put in to put this game in a place of prominence, it holds a certain weight and gravity that you didn’t expect. Even more so now than I did before, I have a great respect for the shield.

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