Having been here in Buffalo for over a year, it's very clear to me, looking at the guys in this locker room that (the front office) is really looking for something specific in their players, and they've done a great job of identifying it. It's a measure of complete toughness that not every player in this league fully embodies.
Looking at the guys in this locker room it's just different. These guys are tough.
And when there's a great amount of toughness in the players on your roster it's contagious in a good way. It makes it much easier to be tough when you have someone like Kyle Williams sitting next to you.
That was my situation last year. I was working my way through a lengthy rehab from my knee injury the season prior and that S.O.B is going hard every day and beating rookies off the ball. It's like, 'I've got nothing to complain about.' This guy by league standards is older than dirt and he's kicking their ass. So when you have somebody like that next to you, you have no choice but to match that intensity because if he can do it, you can do it. It helps being surrounded by those people.
I think inherently some people are born with a little more toughness than others. Our strength coach at Stanford, who is not there anymore, Shannon Turley, he was a huge believer and proponent that you can train toughness. I think our military believes it. Our Navy Seals believe it. A lot of strength coaches in the NFL believe it, otherwise why do what we do from a work ethic standpoint?
The more times you put yourself in tough situations, the more stamina and endurance you build for tough situations down the line. There are always tough situations that you can't plan for, but how you respond to those has a lot to do with how you've trained yourself to respond.
Growing up in Mesa, Arizona, my dad put me and my siblings in some tough situations to prepare us for the things life can throw at you. I think he had a tough upbringing and he didn't want us to experience what he had to experience, so he did everything he could to spoil us, but he also knew at some point in our lives he wasn't going to be there to guide us through it.
So he wanted us to be prepared for whatever those life circumstances might be. Sometimes he made it harder than it had to be, even if it was something simple like your chores. So I give a lot of credit to him for building a level of toughness in me.
I was the oldest boy in my family so I had a lot of stuff on my shoulders. We had six horses and steer and four dogs and two acres of land, so it was a big chore. I remember we installed all the fences ourselves on the property and put in a roping arena and laid down the sand.
But Arizona is very rocky so we had to get all the rocks out of the ground in the arena. There were days me and my siblings would have to walk the field and pick out rocks and throw them over the fence and get them out of the pen so the horses wouldn't step on them and get injured when we were working them.
I was fortunate to be exposed to that hard labor, so here when they change the schedule or we go an extra 10-12 reps in practice, I'm usually thinking it's not that bad knowing I had to clear rocks for four hours when it was 115 degrees. That was not fun, but I think perspective helps.
That's why I knew in my mind when I used to do team roping stuff and I tried to throw a 400-pound steer on the ground, that sounded scarier to me than running past a 300-pound man in football. I always try to keep things in perspective and try to think of a circumstance where it could be worse or harder and it makes me stay positive and maintain the right approach with my game.
My rehab was a long and arduous process last year. Like anything there were good days and bad. But as much as physical toughness is important in this game, I think it's the mental toughness that keeps guys in the league longer than others.
At some point in your career you're going to face adversity, someone trying to take your job, an injury or a family tragedy. Life happens and there's no stopping that. Your mental toughness and being able to endure that and show up and do your job and be professional despite all those things is what separates some people from others.
That mental toughness is often overlooked, but not by our personnel department. It's clear to me that they make that a priority when they're bringing guys in.
What mental toughness helps to do is push you to reach new heights. I think that you can always do more. Myself, my teammates, you can always take one more step. And if you can always take one more step then you can take a million more steps.
I always feel like I can do more. I still haven't ever put my best ball out there. So that keeps that drive and hunger within me. And you also don't want to let down the guys next to you that are doing the same thing.
To ensure I maintain that kind of approach every day I make a point of referring back to a mantra that I live by, whether I'm dealing with stuff off the field or with football.
It really started with a coach I had in high school, Gary Gallant. He was crazy by most of society's standards, but a phenomenal dude. He was great at turning boys into men. He prepared people for real life.
He referred to a quote from Thomas Paine, who wrote about the man who can smile in trouble, and coach Gallant always talked about the guy who can stay calm when bullets are flying or calm in adverse situations. To be the calm one when the stuff hits the fan.
I always took pride in that whether it was my family or team when things were going crazy. I always thought it was good to be that guy who never loses his cool and has that calm head about him. So my reaction in those adverse times is always just to smile. It helps set the stage for how I'm going to respond.
With our team you look from one guy to the next and every guy has a personality or background or journey that embodies toughness. Whether you're looking at Frank Gore or Jerry Hughes. You can look at the whole team really. This team has a very short memory and a laser-focused attention span where it's one play at a time. One moment at a time. One game at a time.
So we approach each obstacle as the primary focus. We don't look too far ahead and we don't look behind. I think that's just something focused, tough people do.