EXCLUSIVE: Mike Karney - Former Saints/Rams Fullback [Interview]

Introduction from the author: Just couple days ago I was trying to figure out who would be the perfect pro athlete to "break the ice" with an exclusive interview for Touchdown-Europe.net. I was going through YouTube videos, and one fullback caught my eye - Michael Karney. After doing this interview with The Hammer himself - I can freely say that he's one of the most humble people I had a chance to talk to. His passion and love for football reminded me of watching Ray Lewis interviews. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed doing this interview!


Mike was drafted in 2004. in the 5th round by New Orleans Saints, straight from Arizona State University, and was rated as one of the top fullbacks coming out of college. In 2006., he scored 3 TDs within just one game (which were his 1st TDs in the NFL) against Dallas Cowboys. After 5 years with the Saints, in 2009. Mike signs with the St. Louis Rams. He officially retires in 2012.


Waking up The Memories: The 2004. NFL Draft
I started playing football when I was 8 years old, and, NFL was a dream of mine. When I came out of college, although I was the top prospect at my position [fullback], I went through the whole process - you don't really know who will draft you. I was just hoping to be drafted. When the 5th round kicked in, and I heard New Orleans Saints and my name being called - now, that was a total relief. All the emotions one can think of - excitement, putting anxiousness to rest etc.  Just pure joy. I had my whole family there with me, you could see tears of joy in their eyes.

But, after that - you realize that football becomes a career. It's not just being drafted and that's it. I started every year I played and it does require a lot of hard work, but at the same time it's very rewarding.


NFL Rookie: 1st Game Against the Seattle Seahawks
Funny thing is that the day I was drafted, I was exited, but anxiety was there - Am I good enough to be drafted. After the draft new set of anxiety kicked in because of starting.  You start questioning yourself again - am I good enough? But then you remember - Oh yeah, this is football! I've played this game my whole life! It became reality my 1st game - to play well. I've earned my spot. 

I played against my home town team - the Seattle Seahawks. I was so nervous! So pumped! My 1st REAL NFL game! All my family was there, supporting me. I'll never forget that day.


NFL Rookie: Training
I used to do very unorthodox training through high school and college. I used to push a car, run with weights, sleds, and parachutes - whatever I could do to get quicker, better, stronger. I had to. In the NFL your're playing with and against the best of the best. You start to learn and find about higher level of training. 

You have to be on top of your game constantly, ready for everything and anything. The very best thing was learning so much more about the game, things I never knew before. How eye opening it was and how coaches can break it down so slow and into such tiny pieces, it was like under a telescope, which makes a huge difference on game day. All the schemes - both offensively and defensively, such great experiences to allow me to be where I'm at.


Gameday: Hardest Pancake Block
A lot of them. However, probably the best was against Dallas Cowboys my rookie year. I pancaked Roy Williams! I was a rookie fullback and he was a pro safety. He blitzed, and, I pancaked him. I actually have a painting of it in my house. That was one of my best blocks that put me on the map as a blocker my rookie year.

Mike was kind enough to share a personal photo of the painting!

Toughest Defense and Defensive Player
Oh man, a lot! I would say one of the toughest guys we always played against was Julius Peppers, played for Carolina Panthers and now for Chicago Bears. Then, I don't know if you remember the old linebacker from Denver - Al Wilson, he was a tough linebacker! Also, I would say Patrick Willis from the San Francisco 49ers, he was a really tough player.

Probably the toughest defense we played twice a year was the Tampa Bay Bucaneers defense when they had Derrick Brooks, John Lynch etc.


The Curse of Losing a Game: Unhappy Fans
It does get you when you lose a game. It's tough. I've been a part of teams that have won, I've been a part of teams that have lost. There's always going to be criticism either way. Obviously when you lose there's more criticism - because it's like - we're pro athletes, we make a certain amount of money, and everyone expects you to be better and to never make mistakes, but we're as just as humans as everyone else.

It's unfortunate sometimes that some fans feel like they can say whatever they want about you because they payed for their seat, payed for their tickets, they go to every game. I been called everything in the book - both me and my family, and I also miss that part of the game - it's the competitive thing that comes with the territory.

When it comes to media and reporters, it's like water off your back, because that's their job, that's something that's always going to happen.

But, at the end of the day, fans have their right, and we have our right not to listen to it.


Toughest Moment
Definitely having to say goodbye to the game I've played for so long, and to come to the conclusion that physically I wasn't going to be able to play this game no more. I think that anyone who plays this game at the highest level, no matter how long you've played, it's always going to be hard. 

For those people who say that it's not going to be hard - THEY'RE LYING TO YOU! 

Every day I get up I think about football. I think about the whole NFL. The whole daily grind. Day to day, week to week. What it feels like after the game - after you won, after you lost. Fans. Teammates. You miss all those little things. It's not necessarily the TD you made, the block you made, the game you won, the Superbowl you won or lost.

As I've said in some of the other answers here, football is my 1st love. It will always be a part of my life.  


Retirement
I was scared even during my career. You can't go any higher than the NFL. When you're in high school you want to play on the college level. When you're in college - you want to get in the NFL. Each year of my professional career I was like - What am I going to do next?

I was passionate about real estate, so I've created my own business. When I was done, I had something waiting for me to be also successful at. I'm also working on my own website - www.footballmentor.com - where you can learn about the game wherever you are - U.S., Europe etc. Besides business, I'm covering high school games. 

It's about finding things that will keep you close to the things you love. For me to be able to be on site, to be able to do coaching and instruction videos, to be able to analyze and cover high school games - allowed me to be close to the game. It will always be a part of my life.


What Makes a Great Football Player?
That's a great question! There's a lot of great athletes who play football, but they're not always considered football players. 

Football player to me is someone who's tough, hard-nosed, physical, never shies away from contact, but also a very smart player too. He has to understand the game, schemes, understands where they need to be. Very selfless player is a good football player. 

When I watch football on Sundays as a fan now, or when I watch high school football when I'm covering games - I look for football players who posses those same qualities, because, if you don't have those qualities you can't play the game for very long. 


It's All About Giving Back
There's a huge platform that you're on as a professional football player. It's important to get out, spread the word, help the ones in need, help the ones who need leadership. I did a lot of charity work, speaking engagements, talking to kids and adults. 

Sacrifice and hard work are what it takes to accomplish something in life. Now that I'm done, I will still continue to spread the word.

I still love to help our local high schools, enjoy pee-vee and youth football. Just give back anyway I can. It's really important to do that, football is a great game in what it teaches you in your daily life. There's no other sport out there like football - it teaches you about team work, commitment, dedication..


Best Fullbacks
There's not a lot of fullbacks left. NFL has became a passing league, and that's where the game is at. However, John Kuhn [Green Bay Packers], Vonta Leach [Baltimore Ravens], Henry Hynoski [New York Giants]

I still really root for the position. I don't have a team I root for. I go for the guys I played with. It's fun to be able to watch the game with family and friends now. - I get that! I know that! I know what's going on! I know this play!. It's a lot of fun. 


Why Should One Become a Fullback?
I love how selfless you have to be, it's not about you, it's about the guy behind you who you're blocking for, it's about the quarterback, it's about your offensive line. You're just an extension of the offensive line. Your job is the dirty work. It's not easy, you're hitting guys from 10-15 yards away, not everybody wants to do it.

For me - from my 1st until my last game as a fullback, there is nothing better when you hear the crowd roar, because your RB just broke a really long run or even for a TD. 

Those are actually the things I used to listen when I play, because when the crowd roaring was pretty good, then I knew I did something right - our RB did a long run, or I picked up a blitz, or a block for our QB who thrown a big completition or a TD. 


The Worst Mistakes Fullbacks Make
The two things where fullbacks get in trouble are: one - not just getting your eyes fixed on who you have to block, because it's not always the guy you have to block. I think the one thing that doesn't get taught to fullbacks at any level of football is that your job is to clean up after whoever doesn't get their job done. So if offensive lineman doesn't get their block done, if it's a run blocking or pass blocking situation - it's your job to pick up that defender. You're considered as a fullback - the last line of defense before they get to the quarterback, or before they get to the runningback. So it's really important to see the whole play, the entire play, before the ball is snapped.

Two - Pad level! A lot of guys I've seen play a little bit too high, and for you to be able to block someone correctly and to pancake people, like you've asked earlier, you have to have great pad level! That means bending at your knees, not at your waist. A lot of guys even in college teams get in trouble because they don't bend in knees and explode their hips through the block.

Also, the most important thing is that YOU HAVE TO LOVE TO HIT! You can't shy away from contact, you have to be the hammer every play. I used to love when my old teammate Joe Horn [Saints, WR], well, he nicknamed me The Hammer my rookie year. I always took that as a compliment because that meant I did a lot of hitting and not getting hit. By him calling me The Hammer meant that I was hitting people. 

When you play fullback you can't just like to hit people, you have to LOVE to hit people.

Fullbacks maybe play 30-40 snaps a game, the more you're winning the more you're going to play. You don't get a lot of opportunities, but when you do get them - you make sure you do  them well. 



In Short:
FANS: For me, just being recognized by fans, and how humbling it was, was a great thing - I am a FB, it's not a glorified position like QB, RB, WR and so on. 

PRE-GAME RITUALS: I never really had any, just get out on the field 2 hours before the game and play some jazz music, while pump up music like rap, metal etc. comes in right before the game.

225lbs BENCH PRESS: At the combine, only 25 but I've had an injury, same year 34, and at the end of the rookie year my best was 38.

BEST COACH:  I'm going with New York Giants HC Tom Coughlin.

BEST QB: Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay, he's playing really well right now.

"Continue to keep learning about the game of football. You can never stop learning all the game has to offer. be coachable always. Be very diligent in taking what you have learned and apply it to the field. It won't matter if you don't apply it. Keep your head low, eyes up, and always better to be the hammer not the nail!"


Interviewed by: Mia Bajin

Questions prepared by: 
Mia Bajin, Kristian Kadvany 
and Nikola Davidovic

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