My guest today is two-time pro bowl NFL athlete, Christian McCaffrey. In 2017, he was drafted in the first round by the Carolina Panthers but has since been traded to the San Francisco 49ers. Christian shares his unique approach to grinding it out, having all systems in place, and trusting his instincts.
Growing up with superstar athlete parents, Christian and his three brothers were raised in an environment of discipline, expectation, and love. He shares the techniques and tools that have worked for him to improve performance both on and off the field. As a football player, he knows that it’s rare to be 100% healthy throughout a long season, and he explains how to navigate this reality.
Christian is transparent about having a chip on his shoulder and how he uses it as positive motivation in practice and during games. We also discuss the demands of his job and how he balances his relationship, family, and friends. During our conversation, we also touch on performance, family, nutrition, and the art of being a running back.
Listen to the episode here:
- Playing in the NFL [00:05:07]
- Blending Discipline and Open-Mindedness [00:07:13]
- Christian’s Background and Role Model [00:12:41]
- Superstitions [00:19:41]
- Mapping Out a Season [00:25:49]
- The Strength from Experience and Practice [00:28:14]
- A Look Into Christian’s Weekly Schedule [00:31:41]
- On Taking Medicine [00:37:55]
- Getting Traded [00:41:13]
- Learning the Plays [00:50:14]
- Feeling Sorry [00:54:16]
- Approaching a New Team [00:58:18]
- What a Coach Should Be [01:00:29]
- The Read of a Run Play [01:03:56]
- Constant Improvement [01:06:24]
- On Nutrition and Hydration [01:08:43]
- What Christian’s Relationship with People Looks Like [01:15:12]
- Christian’s Other Hobbies [01:19:13]
- On Breathing and Down-Regulating [01:24:27]
- On Taking Supplements [01:26:59]
- Football from the Start [01:29:02]
- Christian’s Message to His Younger Self [01:30:32]
- On Being an All-Pro [01:25:08]
- Christian’s Fear [01:35:58]
NFL Star Christian McCaffrey’s Road to Greatness: Mastering Mindset, Injury Recovery, Seasonal Eating & Enjoying the Moment
“I would tell myself to smile more, to enjoy where you’re at, not take yourself so seriously, have fun with it, and be extremely present. Always be exactly where you are. Stop looking so much into the future. Don’t change your work ethic or change anything you’re doing but your mindset behind it can be a little bit more freeing. That’s what I would’ve told myself. There are many things I don’t remember because I was never present at that moment. I was always thinking about how you would finish a game and you play well and you’re already onto the next one. That’s the way it’s supposed to be but I wish I would’ve stopped to smell the roses every once in a while.”
I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. I’m not happy or satisfied in the least bit. If anything, I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been in my life. Looking back, I’ve always had that attitude. There’s always something that’s pissed me off that’s allowed me to continue to work and I believe that’s God divinely intervening in my life and saying, “You got a lot more in you. I don’t want you to ever get complacent and this is why you’re doing this.” It sucks at times but I’m thankful for it because that’s where a lot of my mentality has come from. I’m thankful and grateful but at the same time, it’s knowing from experience that you’re not done and you’re not where you want to be, and I don’t know if you ever are.”
My guest is a two-time Pro Bowl athlete in the NFL, Christian McCaffrey. I know Christian a bit for a couple of years and it’s been interesting to watch him on his journey. He went in the first round of the draft originally to the Carolina Panthers but he was traded to the San Francisco 49ers who had an incredible season as well as Christian did. This is a conversation a little bit about football but it’s Christian’s stage to express how he does it and the way he does it is fascinating.
What I found interesting was here’s a kid who has three brothers, they all play football, his mom was a Stanford soccer player, and his dad played in the NFL and won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. They have had discipline since day one and that structure and support have also been something that Christian uses to make gains, progress, to be prepared, and ready to do his job, which is difficult.
Simultaneously, this is somebody who says, “Yes, I have all this in place, all of these methodologies, and all of these schedules. I’m always going to be asking myself, ‘How do I feel and what do I need?’” It’s such an interesting balance where, for example, let’s say he wakes up on a Monday and he doesn’t feel good. On the schedule, you’re supposed to do certain things. He’s saying, “Yes, but I don’t feel good physically.” You get so beat up on Sunday so then how do you adapt and pivot?
This is something that a lot of us don’t do. We set up expectations and schedules in our lives and we go along and follow them instead of saying, “Is this serving me for the end goal?” He’s an incredible example of this. He does talk about the artistry involved in football and how he uses the chip on his shoulder to drive him in a positive direction and what it’s like to get traded. You get a call at 11:00 PM one night and you’re told you got to be on the plane, you move your city, you leave your life, and you eject out of it.
At 7:00 AM, you’re on a plane to San Francisco and you live in a hotel for a few weeks. He said, in a way, that might have been one of the greatest things that could have happened to him. He could focus on doing his job, showing up, learning the offense, and not worrying about so much else. I admire Christian, he’s such a hardworking and what-you-see-is-what-you-get person. He is a real inspiration to take on hard things.
Whether you’re in a business or navigating family, it doesn’t mean you have to be a running back in the NFL, it’s that reminder, “I am going to have to work hard. I do need to be super rigorous about having a system in place that supports me. Simultaneously, I’m always going to be checking and rechecking if it’s the best thing for me.” I hope you enjoy.
Christian McCaffrey, welcome to the show.
Thank you. Welcome to my second home.
We get calls a lot about athletes coming and maybe they’re trying to recover from something or deal with off-season training. We’ve known Bill Romanowski. For those of you who maybe don’t know who Bill is, he is one of the heaviest people to ever play in the NFL, don’t you think?
Yeah. He had one speed, that’s for sure. To play that long and to do what he did was impressive.
He played with your dad. I know they played in Denver but did they play in San Fran as well together?
I don’t remember if they overlapped in San Fran. I know they played in Denver. I had gotten in touch with him because during my time at Stanford in my third year, I had a bunch of things going on. I was desperate and I was calling my dad, I’m like, “I need some kind of bodywork. Do you have anybody I can talk to?” He said, “No. Romo, probably will.”
Romo was living in Oakland. He was kind enough to have chiropractors and a couple of soft tissue guys come through and kept me going throughout that last year of my college career. I was always thankful for that. He’s always been somebody who, whenever you need a treatment person, knows all the different people all over the world for soft tissue and chiro work. Some of the people that he introduced me to, I still work with today.
For me, you have such an interesting blend of being what one would call old school, this tough and hardcore work ethic. The discipline was established pretty early in your house. You’re a young person who’s also using all these modern modalities for recovery and training. You’re blending the best of the past and the future, blending those for your own performance. Where do you think being sure about the way things are and staying totally open-minded how you manage both of those things at the same time?
It came from my dad growing up. We got to watch him towards the end of his career and all the different things that he used to do. People laugh at the different things he did but a lot of the things that he did are now implemented today.
He wouldn’t wear any pads in his pants because he wanted to be a little faster. It’s not that I recommend that. Now, the pads are getting smaller, and everything’s getting lighter. His whole thing was to be lighter, be faster, be as efficient as possible, all the different modalities, bodywork, and this and that. When I look at his career and then I look at my career, they’re similar in a sense of you know what to do as far as, “I need to take care of my body. I need to work hard.”
[bctt tweet=”My biggest fear is not living up to my potential.”]
The philosophy of how to do it is the same but how you get there is constantly evolving. The things that I did in my rookie year are completely different than the things I do now. In order to find the best way to do it, you have to experiment with different things and you have to be conscious and intent about how well you feel at certain periods of time and what’s the best way to do it. A lot of it is a lot of failures as well.
I was fortunate enough to have my dad. I had an advantage; I would pick his brain about different things. He would do a lot of different things with us as kids that other kids weren’t doing, and I remember those days vividly. We were molded to become perfectionists in the best way, I mean that in the best sense. It takes a lot to be good at what you do and it takes a lot to play in this league. Even though you might do everything right, you can still fail. Knowing that’s true for anyone who plays professional sports, we knew what it took, and we never got complacent with that.
People don’t realize that 1% of high school athletes play in college and then 1%-ish go from college to the pro. I always say it’s a miracle that people can do it and do it for a long period of time. You’re around all the people in the miracle so none of you realize it but people don’t realize it’s such a narrow and small window that it can happen.
I mean this selfishly, are you able to take that same attitude and even do it in your everyday life where you’re fixed in certain ways but then open to the world changing and people are different? Are you able to apply that same template even for your off-the-field life? I find that harder. I can be open to new modalities. I’m always working, especially as you get older, to pretend like I don’t know certain things.
That’s the best way to be off the field. It’s difficult to be an expert in multiple things. When you look at people who are professionals and who are the smartest people in their field or the best at what they do, they get that for a reason, and most of them have dedicated a lifetime to becoming that. As far as off the field goes, football and school have ran the majority of my life.
How to act off the field, I always knew how to be a good person, what to say, and what not to say. As you get older, that gets much deeper and there’s a lot more that comes with that whether it’s relationally, with your parents, or with your brothers. These relationships are evolving like the game is evolving. Now, later in my career, I’m doing a better job at being more open and separating football from life.
In the past, I’ve had a difficult time separating myself from football when I’m not playing. My success or failure on the field would dictate my whole entire mood for the majority of my life. I don’t recommend that, that’s a terrible way to live. It’s a good experience to be able to go through times like that and understand that that’s not the way you’re supposed to be and continue to work on yourself and do all these different things. I’m glad that I was like that at one point because it was my biggest advantage. I can see now, later in my life, that that’s not a sustainable way of living.
It’s weird, the thing that makes you successful also closes in on you so how do you balance that out? Let’s talk a little bit because it is fascinating to me as a parent and it’s different. You come from four boys, you have three brothers who all play football or now coach and combination. Your dad was an NFL player and your mom was a Stanford soccer player.
You come from a high-performing, high-wattage, dare I say, high-expectation family. With your personality, Laird and I were talking about it, I go, “Maybe we should have done that.” He goes, “First of all, we have girls.” He goes, “It’s working well with Christian’s personality.” Maybe you could share as a young kid in 1 of 4, your number 2, what that looked like. What are some of the things that your parents did that maybe were unusual but moved everybody forward?
I give a lot of credit to my older brother. My parents were unbelievable but my older brother, for me, was my best friend and role model. He would take me along with him everywhere he went and he would whoop my ass every single day. Whatever we were doing, he was killing me. Looking back, there were multiple ways to beat somebody in a one-on-one match, and he did it as good as you could have done it as an older brother. It made me want to keep playing against him.
I was always fortunate and appreciated that looking back. We followed after one another. My older brother played football and played all the sports and I wanted to be like him and I wanted to be like my dad so I did it too. Motivating me to play sports for whatever reason was never an issue. You never had to push me or any of us to work hard or when we were doing sprints at the end of the practice. We lived for that. It’s in our DNA.
I was like, “Maybe it’s cellular.”
I don’t know what it is. I wish there was an answer though.
I don’t know why but we always worked well with each other and we always worked hard when it came to sports. That was the deal and my parents knew that and because they knew that, the school was a massive influence on us. They were hard on us when it came to school. There were no Cs allowed. I’ll never forget I got a C in fifth-grade math one time. Parent-teacher conferences, I’m sitting in there, and my dad was talking about sending me to military school and holding me back a grade because I can’t figure it out. He was right, he was like, “You’re smarter than that. You could have worked harder.”
Most of the time, when you’re a kid in school, it’s effort. It’s like, “Did you read? Did you study or did you not?” They’re not trying to trick you as a kid. They were hard on us when it came to school. Obviously, school is important if sports never worked out. Also, it was a discipline that we didn’t necessarily want to do like most kids. They knew that in order to be great at anything, you got to do things that you don’t want to do and make that a habit. The school was big for them, they were always keen on it.
The early bedtimes, maybe share a little bit about it because it’s amazing. It’s amazing to me that there wasn’t a mutiny of four boys.
We have our issues, I’m going to tell you that right now.
I’m in awe, I’m like, “Compliance, it’s amazing.” What did that look like in general?
We were fortunate, we had money, my dad played for thirteen years in the NFL, and my mom was an amazing mother, couldn’t have had a better mom. We grew up with money, had a great house, and lived in a great community. I always tell people we were rich but we were not spoiled and there’s a big difference between the two. 7:30 was our bedtime up until eighth grade.
I remember my dad would feed us steak and pasta for every meal. My mom was an unbelievable cook. Everything was healthy, there were no sodas. They understood what it meant to eat well at a young age and how important that was, and sleep. I remember I was excited to get a phone. I got a phone during my freshman year of high school. They would take our phones at 9:00 PM every night.
We weren’t allowed to go to bed with our phones because they’re like, “I don’t need you staying up late doing stupid things on your phone. You need to go to sleep.” Sleep was big for them and diet was big for them. I remember when I was a kid, being Jersey-tackled was a no-no. If you got Jersey-tackled, I don’t want to say you’d get grounded but it didn’t rub my dad the right way.
I know what Jersey tackle is but explain to people simply what it is.
It’s when someone grabs you by the jersey and tackles you instead of being able to be wrapped up. Now, we have the velcro on our pads so you go to grab it, and your hand is going to slip off. I remember we’d go to the Home Depot, I’m 7 years old, get that double-sided tape that they used to tape the walls together, and that’s how we would tape our jerseys down. A couple of years later, we would tailor them. We were the only kids, we looked awesome, we had the swag, and all these different things. We had the tightest jerseys that were hemmed to our pants so no one could tackle us.
There are a million stories I have from the way we grew up. In high school, I remember I cramped one game, it was the first game of the year, and it was a hot game in Denver. I remember I cramped in the fourth quarter, that was a no-no. I used to have not a nervous issue but I would get super hyped up for games so I cramped. From then on out, my dad would take me to the Broncos doctor, that was the doctor when he was there. We’d get IVs on Friday. As important as school was, he would take me out of class.
We’d drive over there, I’d get a liter or two of a saline IV, go back to school, play that day, and we did that every Friday my whole high school career. I went to a private school so we wore jeans and khakis, and my dad was like, “That’s too heavy. You can’t wear jeans or khakis on a game day.” I would be the only idiot getting in trouble for wearing sweats on Fridays. It’s like, “Don’t talk at the pep rally. You got to save your voice. Don’t go outside because of the sun. You don’t want to squint. it’s going to make you tired.”
All these things were ingrained in my head all the time and I would listen to all of them. I still remember all of this because when I was having success, I would attribute it to these things. He was right, all the stuff he said was right, and I was like, “It’s working.” I wanted to do what worked. I’m playing well, I’m not getting Jersey-tackled, I’m scoring a bunch of touchdowns every game, I’m running fast, and I feel good. I must be doing something right. I would keep listening to him.
The same thing, I’d get me and a couple of teammates, and he’d drive us to go see the chiropractor that he used to work with in Denver. We were making sure of our bodies. All that stuff started at a young age and it did mold us to understand what it takes to work and what it means to work. It’s not just showing up for practice, that’s the easy part. It’s not just showing up for the game, that’s the easy part, and that’s the fun part. It’s all of the behind-the-scenes things that matter that’s going to allow you to be who you want to be.
The point that you’re presenting is important that people don’t realize it’s not just in the moment or the practice of the moment, it’s everything else you’re doing, even down to who you’re with, what time you’re going to bed, what you’re eating, and what you’re thinking about. I’m curious if it made you at all superstitious though.
When I hear that, I have my own little weird things. I wondered if you’ve repackaged that in your own way. That’s always such a tricky thing, like, “I have a system and this is how it works. I put my pants on this way on a game day.” What did you take with you and what did you reformulate?
Everything has evolved in different ways. The philosophy of this is what it takes to be great has been the same, it’s what that means has changed for me. It made me superstitious and routine oriented. It was more so not doing certain things that I was superstitious about than doing certain things. When I first got into the league, I was superstitious.
Everything was to a T, everything was the exact same. My warmup was the exact same every day, which still is, it’s something I held. I’ve gotten less superstitious over the years in my league in my time because I would attribute something to like, “This is why. I put my right cleat on first,” which I still do. Now, I do it knowing that if I don’t do it, it’s okay and I don’t freak out as much. Once you play enough games, it’s like, “I forgot to put my right knee pad in before my left knee pad.” You go play well and you’re like, “Maybe it wasn’t the knee pad.”
The concept of routine is always important and it’s checking a box and making sure I’m mentally ready to go. Routine has been extremely important. I hate doing anything random. I hate showing up and being like, “I feel good today.” I need to have an exact schedule. My dad had it, my older brother had it, and that’s what they did. That’s the way it is for us.
Of course, they’re all going to work hard pretty much if you’re at that level but is there anyone that you’re in awe of how loose they can be and then show up and perform?
I envy them in a lot of different ways. I know that I’m gifted athletically and I’m able to do a lot of things that people can’t. I know that I don’t have to do all of the things that I do to get there and I’m aware of that. Once again, for me, it’s the checklist that’s important. My biggest issue has been overdoing it. Sometimes I can overdo it and that’s been the worst enemy in my whole entire career, it’s been my biggest strength but it’s my worst enemy.
What does that mean, overdoing? The stress around doing it becomes also its own beast.
I would say over-training, finding different things to do, and going full throttle every day, all year, especially late in your career. You have to know what to do and when. When is important. You can’t peak too many times throughout the year. You have to stay fit and active and you have to train. You can’t do nothing but you can’t overdo it either. It’s finding that balance. There are guys that I’ve played with who I’m jealous of because they show up a minute before practice and ball.
Give me an example.
I’ll never forget, I was trying to figure out what to do in my off-season and I was like, “I’m going to ask the best guys.” I go up to Julius Peppers, this is after my first year. Julius Peppers will be a Hall of Famer, one of the best D-ends, a stupid athlete, and played basketball in North Carolina and football. I was like, “What do you do off-season?”
Mind you, he’s 6’8”, 300, runs like a deer, and is strong as an oxy. He was like, “The off-season is for resting the muscles.” I was like, “What?” He probably trained and did some stuff. His stress level for him was none compared to mine. He might say something else and he might’ve been like, “No, I definitely was.” He didn’t make it seem like he was. He was so good. I caught him at the end of his career and he was still a ten-sack-a-year guy.
A guy like DJ Moore, whom I played with him in Carolina, was a freak athlete. I remember training with him in the summer and he’s 6’2”, 210, jacked and runs super-fast. I was like, “Where have you been training?” He’s like, “I started this week.” It’s a couple of weeks before camp and I’m like, “Damn.” You look like that and you’re running like that, more power to you.
I wish mentally and emotionally I could do that but that’s not me and it’s never going to be me. I’ve learned to slow down during the earlier parts of the off-season. I came here because I didn’t want as much tread on my tires but I wanted to stay fit and I wanted to keep my joints healthy so I found you guys and that’s what led me to you guys and it worked.
What shows up for me when you talk about that though is each person understanding what works for them and developing their system because it’s easy to get caught up in what other people, your teammates or your opponents, are doing or not doing. It’s realizing, “I am going to stay open to learning but I’m also going to appreciate that we all do it differently.” Success, we can get there in many different ways. A lot of times, people think they have to do it exactly the way someone else does it or the way that they used to do it.
The other thing is modifying the way you do it. You say, “I can’t do it the way I did it as a sophomore in college or high school.” It’s that weird balance of knowing oneself and always adding and adapting. That’s important. Let’s talk about your season. You said off-season, in-season, you can only peak so many times. I’m curious if you could give us the rhythm of a year, what it looks like, what you’re hoping for, and what gains you’re hoping to make when in a perfect situation. We’ll talk about injury but I’m curious how you map it out and what that looks like.
It’s a great question and I wish I had a concrete answer but the thing that I’ve realized the most is throughout a season, the question that you continuously have to ask yourself is how you feel because that changes. Mondays are different every week and Wednesdays are different every week, meaning you might feel horrible one Monday morning. Normally, my lower body day would be today. I do all my treatment and flushing and all that. I’d then go do a lower body lift. If you can’t do that, you can’t do it, and you might have to push it back.
[bctt tweet=”I believe that if you continuously do the right thing, it will work out in one way or another.”]
It’s waking up after competing and saying, “How do I feel? Do I feel like I got hit by a car?”
It’s checking the box, “What do I need this week?” There were multiple weeks I didn’t pick up a weight, I didn’t lift one time, I didn’t practice one time, multiple times, and it’s because Sunday is the most important day and you have to know that. You got to get lucky with a good coach who can trust you on that too.
I’m thankful for the coaches that I’ve had who have trusted me knowing that I know what’s best for my body. Sometimes I might be able to practice on a Thursday but is it what’s best to get to Sunday? These are rare occasions where you’re hurting and things are going wrong and this and that and you’re fighting through things that you can fight for. Fight through as long as you’re smart.
Let’s look at that for a second. A lot of times, regardless of whether you’re in physical activity, people feel at a disadvantage. You’re in pursuit of something or whatever. You’re in a position and you’ve been there before so it gets easier in a different way of management. Where do you get the emotional strength to continuously go through that?
It is a vulnerable position. I’m asking you to go out and go to war on Sunday and then I’m asking you to get ready to go again the next Sunday. That week, maybe you’re not feeling great. Is it because it’s like, “I’ve been here before. It’s going to be okay.” Where do you get that strength and that confidence to keep going through that? People don’t realize when you’re physically not feeling great and you’re going out there and people are trying to get you, that’s a hard position.
You get it from experience. Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of different things I’ve had to deal with over the years. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of different things I’ve had to deal with over the years. I’ll wake up Monday feeling horrible but I know I can get to Sunday and I’ll know the plan from experience because I’ve been here before and I’ve had something like this before.
I trust the people around me. It’s not ever just you. You have to rely on a lot of different people. Your strength coach matters, your equipment staff matter, your coaches matter, your position coach, your head coach, your coordinator, and your teammates. Everybody matters when it comes to football. To me, it’s the biggest team game in the world. It gets individualized and this guy and this guy. It’s never one guy.
There’s a whole behind-the-scenes staff. The trainers, that’s who you spend the majority of your time with. You can get to Sunday but it’s getting to Wednesday to practice, that’s the challenge. I believe you need to practice to be good. I believe you need to lift consistently throughout the year to maintain a level of strength and aerobic capacity. You have to, otherwise, it’s going to be tough.
That’s another thing, how do you keep that going during a season when you’re managing injury and being beat up and stuff? Where do you get it from?
Practice. I like to practice. I have monitored over the years how much I practice and what I do. Through experience knowing I might need 8 reps today, 10 reps today based on how I’m feeling, a few runs. On this other day, I’m feeling good, I’m at 12 to 15 or whatever and you’re monitoring it. Practice is where you rep what you’re going to do in the game and that’s when you feel comfortable with the timing with the quarterback, the timing with the O line, and all these different things. You’re micro-dosing the game before you get there.
When you don’t practice throughout the whole week, for me, it gets a little bit challenging, doable but challenging. For some of my best games, I didn’t practice the whole week and that might be because my mind is completely free, loose, and I’m reacting but I still would rather practice. You have to get those reps before the game because the game plan changes every week, it’s not the same plays you run.
If it was the same plays, it’d be much easier to go from Sunday to Sunday. You’re playing against different guys, you’re playing against different defenses, and you need to be able to see those in live reps before you get to Sunday. Practice in the weight room is where you continually maintain speed, conditioning, and strength that you’re going to need to get through hopefully 21 games but 17 at the very least.
In season, when you talk about explosiveness, is that lower reps? If you can give me a sampling of you feeling pretty good and you’re in the weight room, would it be a Tuesday and a Thursday? When would you go in? Would you be focusing mostly on your first step explosiveness and that kind of thing? What exercises specifically are you doing to help you maintain that? It’s a long season and you’re trying to calibrate, recover, and somehow perform all the time.
Mondays are usually a lighter but lower body emphasis. You went through a lot of loads and you take a lot of hits. There was a point where I’d not practice on Wednesdays because I was getting a lot of wear and tear and I’m getting a lot of touches. You’re taking more hits so Monday might not be the best day for the lower body. I would do a full body Wednesday, lower and upper on Wednesday morning, and then not practice. I get my lifting on that Wednesday and now I’m ready to go for Thursday. If you were to map it out and you feel great, Monday morning would be a lower body lift. You have a lot of lactic acids and you have some tension from the game. The whole point is to work that out.
When you say tension, do you mean that you’re beat up?
You’re tight and you need to move around a little bit. You don’t want to let that all sit. Monday and Tuesday are huge treatment days, IVs, and all that stuff. Wednesday would be the upper body in the morning and then we would practice Wednesday. People don’t respect how explosive and violent running and cutting are. We practice hard. There’s not a 75% or 50% unless it’s a walkthrough or jog-through.
If you’re practicing, it’s full speed, you continuously stop and start. You can’t replicate that in a weight room ever. You have to do those reps. When you’re running 18 or 21-plus miles an hour all the time, cutting, planting, stopping, and starting, that’s a big lift in and of itself. I always monitor how much of that I’m doing throughout the week and base my lifts on that. You have to have load on your lower body in order to keep your joints and your knees and all that stuff healthy throughout the year.
It’s almost like you have to get that impact so it’s ready for that impact. It’s hard not to overdo it.
Friday would be neural. If you want to do a light clean or a med ball throw, it’s getting the nervous system back going for the Sunday game. Saturday is a walkthrough treatment recovery and traveling if it’s an away game and plays Sunday.
We were joking that we met through Romanowski. The story on Romanowski was that he would start getting irritated on Thursday and his wife said that he would almost go to the other side of the house by Saturday. It took him that much to get that fired up to play that game. I’m wondering if, emotionally, how do you generate what it takes to get out there. Is that a consistent process for you as well?
That’s why taking care of my body is important. The overall philosophy is to take care of your body so that you can feel 100%. If you feel good going into the game day, I don’t have to psych myself up. I don’t have to listen to a song. I’m ready to roll. There’s no one who’s going to motivate me more than I’m already motivated, not a song, or nothing. That’s my favorite thing in the world to do, there’s nothing like it to me. I’m ready to roll come Sunday.
You don’t have to get angry.
I’m already angry. I’m good to go. It’s the most fun thing in the world for me to do. That’s why you take care of your body, that’s why you do all this stuff that can get exhausting, and that’s why guys retire when they still have a lot of play left. It’s not because they can’t play in the game anymore. The funnest part of football is the games, that’s why we play. It’s a year-long, 365-day preparation of what it takes to play. If I can emotionally enjoy that for as long as humanly possible, I hate putting a day on, “How much longer do you want to play?” “I don’t know, as long as I can, and as long as I hopefully want to.” I love Sundays, that’s the gear-up day. You’re ready to go.
Do you think you and your dad love football the most in your family even compared to your brothers?
I don’t know. It’s a good question. You’d have to ask them that. I don’t know how you would compare it. I know my family. I don’t think I have any more love for it than anyone else. My dad played for thirteen years and was a psychopath when it came to the stuff that he did to train and all the different things he did. My older brother played for five years. I look at my older brother who coaches now. He got a job with the Dolphins. He’s pretty fired up.
He’s not going to coach with your dad anymore?
He got a job in the NFL.
Are you serious?
Yeah. We were fired up for him. He’s an offensive assistant. It’s a low-level thing. He’s young. Watching him coach in the way he prepares, he’s obsessed. I’d call him when he was coaching in college and all he talked about was some 16 or 17-year-old recruit that he was recruiting from the middle of nowhere in Indiana. I’m like, “I don’t care about this kid’s tape that I’m not going to watch play.” He’s obsessed with it. My dad was obsessed. My little brother, Luke, loves it. He calls me all the time and is asking about different speed things.
Is he the one at Rice?
He’s the one at Rice.
They switched his position, am I getting that right?
He switched positions.
He went from quarterback to receiver.
We all love it. Dylan loves it. I don’t know if I love it more than anyone else.
I can’t imagine anyone loving it more than you. Let’s say you’re going into Sunday and you’re not feeling great, you’re managing this and that, a calf, or something. It takes something else then. What is that?
Medicine works. It’s a conversation worth having because it is something for us. It’s a sticky situation because we know that sometimes that stuff is not good for you but not playing is also not good for you. If I take a tour-it-all, seventeen games a year, that’s it. Other than that, after those seventeen days, I’m taking care of my body with the best of them. I’m good. Sometimes you need that pick-me-up to get going. Otherwise, you’re going to be thinking about whatever it is that you’re dealing with the whole game. You can’t play like that, you have to play free and loose.
No, I don’t attribute it all to that because it’s not just that that’s going to get you through a game. When you come out of the tunnel and you get that feeling and you look at the other team, there’s an adrenaline that’s hard to compare to anything else. I look at the UFC fighters and even military members, it’s the military and the things that they do that I couldn’t even imagine. You then have the UFC fighters.
My favorite part of watching MMA is when they close the gate and you can hear the lock and it’s them and the ref. All these lights and all these different things going on, it’s a fight. Those guys don’t care about anything else other than winning that fight. In football, which I relate to that, it’s a smaller way but the same way. That gets you over the edge.
There’s the team aspect of it. Your teammates are relying on you. Everyone touches each other’s money and they need me and I need them. If I can give them my best even if I’m not feeling great, then we’re all going to win. That’s the most important thing and that’s the accountability aspect of it of, “I know I’m going through some stuff but so are all of these other dudes. They’re going out there and putting their bodies on the line every single Sunday for me, for the team, for themselves, and for their families. I can do the same.” When you have a team that’s bought into doing that, it’s special.
You got traded and you went from Carolina to the 49ers. There was a second. I’m not a Rams fan. Because I’m from the Caribbean, I like Dan Marino a lot. I started with the Dolphins. I know it’s not been easy, let me tell you. I know that you made a home, you have a home in Carolina, so you were vested in that franchise, in that team. It’s not like you were like, “I’ll be here and then I’ll end up somewhere else.”
What is that like when maybe the program hasn’t gotten the personnel yet that they are hoping to get and it’s not easy? when you’re playing on a team like that and you’re having to produce because that’s what your job is, is it like, “I’m going to focus on what I can control, which is me being as productive as I can be.” How do you not let the other stuff creep in about, “We don’t have that.” How do you do that?
I never went into a game thinking we were not going to win. I always thought we could win. In Carolina especially, it was bittersweet for me at the time because I was the captain of that team three years in a row, those were my guys, that locker room. We were tight and we had gone through so much together. We all know how difficult it is to win in this league. After my third year, our head coach who had been there for nine years got fired in the middle of the season. All of our vets who were the leaders of that team all moved on either retired or went to other teams.
We had an ownership change and there were many different variables that were in and out in a revolving door. It takes a long time to build a team. For me, you have to respect that transition period for what it is and you know it’s going to take a lot to win. I always felt we could win. Even when we were 1 in 4 or whatever it was, I looked at our schedule and I was like, “We have a difficult early schedule. We play a lot of good teams.” It’s a long season. You’ve seen teams go nine wins in a row and make the playoffs at 8-8, 7-9, or whatever it is. It happened this 2023.
They were close, those games were close.
Some of them weren’t and some of them were. We had a new quarterback, we had a new offensive coordinator. You have a new playbook and you’re starting quarterback got there during training camp, no OTAs, nothing. There are growing pains that come with that. Anything can happen and you can go undefeated. I always felt if we lose a couple early, we’re going to pick this up and once we get clicking, we can go but it’s going to take some growing pains to get clicking, that’s the way the league works. I thought I was going to be in Carolina forever. I was like, “If we don’t make it this year, then next year we’re rolling.” That’s what they say, any given Sunday, anyone can win at any point.
How do you protect that mentality? I’m going to say the winning mentality because that’s what it is. It’s focusing on, “What are the things I need to do? What does it take for us to win?” It’s a genuine winning mentality and not like, “This is hard.” What do you do? Is that natural for you? How do you protect that? That’s hard to maintain.
You protect it because it’s better than the alternative. The alternative is you got a bunch of complaining guys who hate going to work. It’s a long season. You want to have a group of that. You have no chance. There are always two ways to be in any situation. If you pick the latter and you pick the one that is respectable, it’s a better way to live your life. It’s easier, in my opinion.
[bctt tweet=”If you be yourself, you’re going to find people to get along with and be a good person and treat everybody with respect and work your ass off.”]
It might be harder to do because it’s easy to complain and moan but it’s going to pay off if you continue to do the right thing and be the right way. I was lucky enough to have good veteran leadership when I first got into the league. I watched those guys in the way that they acted. Even when you lose, they didn’t change. They were killers. I always respected that and wanted to be like that.
How does the trade happen? Do you get a call? What does that look like? From the outside, most of us don’t know all the inner workings. Is it your agent calls you and goes, “Hey.” What does that look like?
It’s tough because the media is relevant nowadays and it’s more than ever with social media and a lot of the talking heads that talk about this and that. It was in the air that I was going to get traded. I was dialed in, I told the general manager, “If anything’s real, let me know. If it’s not, don’t. Be honest. It’s all I ever want and it’s all I ever needed. I know that this is a business but I need you to be honest with me.” He was and I was appreciative of that. After we played the Rams, my agent called and he says, “It’s going to get a little more serious. It’s probably 50%.” That was on Monday. I appreciated him saying that because he was right. Tuesday, it was about 70%. I’m playing Tampa for the Panthers.
What did you use to call Brady?
The Dream Crusher.
On a side note, do you remember when I had that conversation with you, Ronnie, and Brady said he was retiring and you guys were all stoked? Ronnie plays for Baltimore. I go, “Don’t you guys want to compete against the best guy?” You guys were like, “No.”
I want to play the worst guys all the time. I want to win by 50 every game.
One time, I was practicing volleyball and Laird was there. Someone on their team did some weird illegal carry with the ball and we’re like, “That’s a throw.” It was a point game and done. He goes, “Are you comfortable winning like that?” I was like, “Absolutely.” I thought that was so cute, you and Ronnie were like, “That guy, he’s retired, great.” Tuesday, it’s up to 70%. How are you showing up and going to the facility? You got the colors on the team and thinking, “I might be out of here.” Are you in? Are you out? How do you do that?
I was all in. It’s better than the alternative. You got teammates relying on you. Nothing is true until it’s done. Trade talks happen all the time. Sometimes, depending on who you are, they’re public, and that was the situation with me, a lot of this was public and that’s why it was harder to deal with. I was all in. I got a call, I practiced, treatment, meetings, and all that with Carolina. At 11:00 at night, the GM calls me and traded me to San Francisco.
What would happen if they said, “We’re trading you to the Texans.” I’m trying to think of a team that’s not maybe thriving at the moment. “Pack your bags.” How does that work? There’s nothing you can do?
In trading, you don’t pick where you go. I was fortunate to go to San Fran, for sure. Looking back, it doesn’t feel real. I know we still got a lot more left so I don’t like talking too much about it. I’m fortunate.
Here you are, a systems guy, you have your system set up at home, and you have all your stuff lined up the way you do it, your recovery, your food, and all of it. All of a sudden, you’re living in a hotel.
No one asked me those questions because that’s the hardest part.
How do you go, “I’m sad. I’m going to miss my guys, I love them. I wish I could have done it with them. Now I’m moving to a great place.” Weirdly, your dad played there, it’s a great location, and it’s a great team.
I went to school there.
Your system, here’s somebody who has it dialed. Were you staying at a hotel for a minute?
A few weeks.
How do you pull that cord and find your homeostasis and the place that you can perform from in this whole new switch in 24 hours?
There are many emotions that come at once and you can’t address any of them because you have to learn a new playbook and it’s week seven and you play the Chiefs in a day and a half and you’re like, “Damn.” As much as I’d love to address everything, leaving my home, going five hours across the country, and all these different things, I still haven’t addressed them and maybe that was the best thing to happen because you get to move on right away.
If it’s 11:00 at night, do you see anyone the next day or you’re out?
I would’ve loved to see them and my teammates and say bye but there’s a 7:00 AM flight. I practiced Friday for the 49ers the next day. I got there Friday, did my physical when I walked out to the practice field, did some high knees, did a couple of reps and handoffs of some outside zones after with some of the quarterbacks, and then back into learning the playbook. It went on from there and that was it.
Here’s a familiar environment for you, football, you know it well, pads, helmet, and you got a new jersey on, it’s pretty wild. Is there any moment in there where you’re like, “What’s happening?” Are you locked and loaded, “I know what I’m doing,” and that’s it?
Honestly, the biggest thing for me was to learn the plays.
Order of importance, what needs to happen.
The order of operations was to learn the plays, continue to take care of the body, learn the plays while you’re in the ice tub, and all of these things. Luckily, I played at Stanford so I had guys in the Bay Area that I knew who could take different things but that was tough and I’m living in a hotel. Looking back, it was one of the best things ever because I lived at the facility. I was there all day for how long learning the plays and taking care of my body. It was difficult at first, I wouldn’t call it easy.
Your first game was good. Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t that where you threw a pass and ran a pass?
That was my second game. I had a ten-play package in the Chief’s game so that was when I got there Friday and ended up playing Sunday. I played a few plays. They called all the plays that I knew. After that, it was like, “Unless we call it again, we don’t have a whole lot for you.” It was getting your bearings. I’m in a new number and new stadium. I got done with that game. To be honest with you, I don’t even know what happened. It’s like, “I need to sleep now.” That happened and then the next game, we played LA.
You don’t know what’s going to happen. They traded a lot for you. At the same time, there are many good players on this team. Is it going to be the same? Are you going to be used the same? Are they going to like you? I honestly surrendered to God at that moment and I was like, “This is in God’s hands now. It’s not up to me. I’m going to stop trying to control every aspect of my life and make it about me.” That was one of the most freeing things I did.
I did feel a big boulderer off my shoulder, like, “Let me go out and ball. Whatever happens, happens. I’m going to check my boxes and do me.” I got traded. I felt free at that moment, which was empowering and something that was rare. It was like, “Screw it, just go and be you. Don’t try to do anything special. Try to just be you.” That was the best way to be.
I feel like you have a lot of different but like-minded soldiers on that team. There seem to be a lot of intense and hardworking athletes. They’re on every NFL team but it seemed like you slipped into a culture that works probably pretty well for you.
They had built that. For me, that was another thing that was different from what I had. I wasn’t the leader of the team, I was sitting back and doing my job and that was probably the best thing for me. I didn’t have to say anything, I didn’t have to speak or do any of that stuff. You had all pros all over the field who they’d built this culture for 6 or 7 years and they’ve gone through their growing pains already.
The same ones that we were going through in Carolina, they went through those. They started turning around, NFC Championships, Super Bowl, and they’re making the playoff. Now, it’s like, “We might be able to do this.” I came into a culture with a learning mentality of observing all of the things that went on and how these guys worked and how they operated. I’m like, “They’re like me. This is awesome. This is fun to be a part of.” They welcomed me with open arms and I couldn’t have been more thankful.
I can’t help but think of that expression, “What you do in private, you’re rewarded more.” I can’t imagine that you didn’t feel this way, you get traded to a team that you’re like, “I kept my head down. I kept working hard and things worked out.”
I believe that if you continuously do the right thing, it will work out in one way or another. When I surrendered to God, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to win right now but it will in the end. Everything might not be perfect. I’ve been there where it’s like, “I did everything right this off-season.” In game two, I’m like, “What the hell? I did everything right. What happened?” When those moments happen, that’s when you have to continue to dive in and do the right thing and not go off the deep end because they’re going to come and you don’t know when they’re going to come.
Do you ever feel sorry for yourself? Do you ever have moments?
Never. I used to one time and that was the worst thing.
One time you felt sorry for yourself?
I remember there was a couple. I was going through a stretch of different injuries. Looking back, it’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. Him, you, and everybody in this room, it’s easy to sit there and pity yourself and be like, “Woe is me.” That’s the worst mentality you can have because it gets you nowhere, it’s not productive, and it doesn’t help you get to where you want to be.
You look at the two different ways to be, what do you want to do when something bad happens? Do you want to feel sorry for yourself, pity yourself, have a bad attitude, stop working as hard, or do you want to be a baller who says, “I’m going to work my ass off from here on out. I’m going to do everything I possibly can to come back.” Which one do you want to be? Everyone in the world would say, “That one,” but for some reason, we don’t. I didn’t at one point and I felt sorry for myself. It didn’t get me anywhere I wanted to be.
At one time you felt sorry for yourself? Let’s say your dad is tough. Your mom was a strong lady. Was she ever like, “Oh,” to any of you boys? Did you ever get any of that from her?
We got a lot in different ways.
I mean, like, “Sweetie,” and hair rubbing, “You tried.”
No. She was super loving. The first thing she’ll do is make fun of you if she were here right now but it’s just what she does and it’s how she acts. The thing about my mom is she knows how much it matters to us and she feels every emotion we feel. If something bad happens to us, it hurts her more than it hurts us normally, that’s the burden of being a mother.
Tell me about it.
I can’t imagine. I feel that way when I watch my brothers. When something bad happens to my brothers, I feel it to the nth degree and I’m like, “Man.” You don’t have any control. In those moments, my mom has gotten better but she has no nails from watching our games. When it comes to the serious stuff, she’s extremely loving because she knows how much it means. She’s not going to pity you for some other things.
This is a female question but I’m curious. When you go to a new team, are you like, “I hope they like me.” Is that ever a part of it or it’s like, “We’re here to do a job. We’re going to do this together as a team. You hold up your side of the deal and I’ll hold up mine.” Is this ever a hope, like, “I hope that we like each other.”
If I were younger and that was in year 1 or 2, I might think that. I’ve been around enough locker rooms. I was only in Carolina but we had different guys every year. I know how it goes. I grew up in locker rooms. If you be yourself, you’re going to find people to get along with and be a good person and treat everybody with respect and work your ass off.
I remember when I first got in the league, Luke Kuechly was one of my favorite teammates and was one of the best players ever. I asked him for some advice and this is when he picked me up from the airport after I got drafted and was showing me around Charlotte. He’s an eight-time Pro bowler, eight Pro Bowl straight guy. He was doing that for me as a rookie. That goes to show you the kind of leader he was.
He would say, “Be a good person, work as hard as you can, and have fun.” That’s from one of the best players in the league and I was like, “That’s what my sixth-grade soccer coach used to tell us before games.” It’s true, it’s the same thing in the NFL, be a good guy. I had known some of those guys before. You do have to earn respect though, that’s the big thing.
I didn’t care if they liked me. You want to be liked because it’s better than the alternative, I keep saying that but it’s true. I did want to earn my respect and I wanted to practice hard. I wanted to take care of my body and do the right thing and show these guys, “You traded a lot for me and I’m going to do everything I can to help you out and to do my part.”
What about coaching? I know your dad has had an impact. Is there a coach or coaches at different levels that had a profound impact on you either as a person or as an athlete? What about them? Why did they have that impact on you? What did they do or say?
I’ve had a lot of different coaches who have had huge impacts on me.
My college coach showed that she cared more about me as a person than as an athlete and therefore I would not only go through a wall for her but she was somebody that could profoundly influence me because it was in that order.
I’ve had a lot of great coaches, it’s tough to name one.
What are the qualities of a coach that you think, “That’s the way a coach should be.”
I have a running back coach right now, Bobby Turner, who’s been coaching for 51 years. He’s coached in the NFL for 51 years. He’s coached some of the best running backs to ever play. He’s been a part of the Shanahan tree for a long time. I’ve only been with him for a little bit, but I’ve had coaches like him before. I remember when I first came in the league, Jim Skipper, who’s a legendary running back coach, he’s coached forever. I had a guy named Jake Peetz who was great.
All of my running back coaches have been great. When I look at Bobby T, he’s detailed but doesn’t over-coach it. My position is an artistic position. There are rules before you get the ball, where you go, your track, your eyes, and what your read is. After that, it’s artistic. It’s up to you to figure out how to continue to get more yards and he respects that, but he’s detailed. It’s tough to explain but the things that he coaches are the most minute details but they’re the most important details. He coaches them over and over again every single day.
To your extent, he’s hard on you and he will coach you hard, but he loves you. He’s a guy that when you walk in the room, you want to earn his respect so badly because he’s a legend, he’s been in the game so long, and he’s coached all these great backs. He changes personalities, he changes the way people operate. If you don’t operate the right way, he’ll let you know. He doesn’t care. When you have a coach who’s had that much experience, that’s how they are.
I have so much respect for him and appreciate working under him because I’ve learned so much. He was the Bronco’s running back coach and my dad played. It’s funny how it all comes full circle. He’s a guy you want to make proud. To me, that is a sign of a good coach. You want to make all your coaches proud. When you have a position coach you’re with every day and you’re like, “I want to do the right thing because Bobby T said to do the right thing,” that’s how you know you got a good coach.
[bctt tweet=”Everything has evolved in different ways. The philosophy of this is what it takes to be great has been the same, it’s what that means has changed for me.”]
As experienced, capable, and expert you are in your position, are you surprised? Have you learned anything new from Bobby T? Was there something show up for you and you’re like, “I never looked at it that way.”
Definitely. Whenever you get into a new offense, there are things you learn all over the field that are different. The hardest thing to do but the most important thing to do when you have a new coach is unlearn everything that you’ve learned in the past and go from scratch. If you try to mix the two playbooks and be like, “This is what I did two years ago,” it doesn’t work.
You’re going to have a lot of this terminology that’s the same and that might mean different things. You have to start from scratch. I treated myself as a rookie as soon as I got traded. The basics of where your track is, what the footwork is, where you put your eyes, and the different coaching points on when you get the ball.
What does that mean, where you put your eyes? Do you mean to trick your opponents?
Every run play has a read. When anyone asks what’s the most important quality of a running back, I always say your vision because you can be super fast but you can overrun the cut. You see a lot of guys who aren’t fast, but they have long good careers because they know when to be at the right spot and they know what to do after they get there. You have to coach reactions, not rules. The rules are, this is your track, meaning if it’s the outside leg of the tackle, it’s the outside leg of the tackle. It’s not two inches to the right or two inches to the left, it’s the outside leg of the tackle.
After that, here’s your read, press the read, make the cut at the heels, and then it’s go be you. Anthony Lynn is also another one of our running back coaches, he’s the running back coach but he was big on that too, consistently repping the details. It’s a lot more than that as well but it’s little details that are going to allow you to be you once you get there. It’s repetition and experience. With routes, it’s a little bit different because there’s a lot of freedom. A lot of these running back routes, it’s to beat the guy in front of you. It’s being like a point guard in the NBA.
It’s different than the way that my dad played because there were a lot of rules to be a receiver, it’s this many yards, it’s in this amount of steps, or it’s this amount of timing and this and that. More of the routes that are inside the box, for us, it’s a lot of option routes, it’s a lot of reading leverage, reading defenses, and sitting in zones.
It’s not as much about four steps plant left, two steps out. There’s more freedom and that’s what makes it so fun for me because I enjoy studying that. I do look at it like an art and this is my canvas. If I can get you to go this way, you’re screwed. I’m going to beat you every single time. That’s how I look at it. A guy like Bobby T coaches everything up to that point and then he lets you be you.
That’s where real success comes where your game reflects you. What does it feel like when you’re doing something that you’ve done for so long but you’re still improving and learning? How does that feed you as an athlete and as a person?
Football is different than a lot of sports because no play is ever the same. That’s why I said earlier, you’re coaching a reaction. In martial arts, it’s not a jab, jab, cross, or hook. You don’t know what’s coming. Y you need to be good at seeing everything and laying loose and free. Otherwise, you’re going to try to follow too many rules and it might be different on one play than it is on the other play. I don’t like when coaches say, “There’s a cutback there.” Now, the cutback is in my head so the next time we run that play, it might be a bounce read and not a cutback read.
That’s why I enjoy, “Where’d you put your eyes on this specific play? Where were your eyes? Your eyes were wrong. Correct your eyes.” “Got it.” The next time that happens, I’ll know where to put my eyes. The improvement comes from the knowledge and understanding that every play has a life of its own and it’s not all going to be the same. It’s not like ping pong, this is my forehand, and this is my backhand. It’s the unknown and that’s why you have to continuously rep these things because you get better and better at reacting to the unknown.
I love that. I would imagine certain positions, it’s quite the opposite as you were stating earlier. It’s interesting that you enjoy that flexibility. Can we slide over to nutrition because you are systematic and scientific? Do you have a dog, by the way? I’m curious if you own a dog. Not with your girlfriend. Did you have a dog in Carolina that you had to deal with when you left on the trade? I was curious.
No. The dog is with her.
The best kind of dog. I was like, “What did he have to wrap up?” Food, nutrition, and if you do anything special, especially while you’re playing for hydration. People don’t realize that might be as much of the physical practice and this is the other real arm of it. How has that process been for you and what changes have you made and what does it look like? Do you do it differently in-season than out-season or is it pretty similar?
It’s pretty similar. I used to follow specific diets and this and that.
What do you mean, like calories, a certain amount of fats, grams, protein grams, and such?
Yeah. I didn’t like that and I felt worse when I did that.
What if you need more? What if Monday you wake up and you feel bad? This is why I always say to people that your off day may not be your off day because you might feel great on your off day and maybe your hard day might be your off day. You used to be like, “I’m this many grams of protein and it just was too limiting.” How are you doing it now?
My big thing now is to eat whole foods, eat food. Especially in season, if you’re hungry, eat. Food, sleep, and hydration are the most important things in-season and out-season. Personally, as many hits that I’m going to take, I can’t be too lean. I’ve played at the 3% and 4% body fat ranges and I feel terrible. I need a little bit more fat to me, the good fat, not sugar, and bad fat. I need a little bit more to me in order to sustain myself throughout the year. I feel better when I’m a little bit in that 6 to 8 range.
The biggest thing I do when it comes to diet is I get blood work done three times a year. Your sensitivities and allergies are changing all the time and your gut changes a lot. It’s checking the box. You could eat chicken rice for every meal but what if you have a chicken sensitivity? You’re not going to feel that when you eat chicken. It’s not going to digest as well as maybe something else that you should be eating. I look at all my sensitivities and allergies.
Is it a specific blood panel?
It is. I don’t know the name but I have a doctor I work with in Denver who runs all of that and all the supplementation and different things and what goes in the IVs and when you do the IVs and certain things like that.
Give me a scenario. Let’s say nothing extra is showing up on food sensitivities but maybe you’re depleted in a certain mineral or you’re depleted in certain things so those are the things that go into IVs.
That’ll also be the supplementation, whether it’s a pill form or a powder, something that you would take in the morning or at night or whatever it is you’re deficient in. I look at the deficiencies and the allergens, correct them, get a better base, and then go from there.
Let’s say mid-season, you’ve been going hard. What shows up that usually ends up becoming more depleted?
I’ve never done a mid-season panel. I do it before the season and then I do it right after the season and then I’ll do it in the middle of the off-season.
What does the season take away that you have to usually build back up if you’re depleted in something at the end of the season?
It depends because if you end up taking a lot of anti-inflammatories throughout the season, it crushes your gut so your biomes are going to be a little bit jacked up. My biggest thing is right after the season, getting your gut back to square. That’s why the diet is important right after the season. You went through a high nervous system, 21-week output where you were all in and under stress for a long time, whether you knew you were stressed or not.
Those first 2 or 3 weeks are important to me for cleansing, detoxing, and making sure you’re flushing everything out that you took throughout the year, and then starting to get back into the swing of things. You need to respect the time and the time it takes to clean your gut out and get everything. It’s not to take a pill today and you’re good. It’s a process.
Yogurt and some probiotics are probably not going to cut it. This is all overseen by this doctor, pretty meticulous. You guys had a long season this 2023. You are in a relationship that you want to be like, “I’m going to go have fun for a couple of weeks.” Do you do that a little bit later? Do you let your hair down and go do whatever or not really?
It depends. This 2023, I would’ve loved to take two weeks off of doing absolutely nothing.
Nothing physically and then not worrying about your food?
Rest, sleep, eat good meals, and not worry about what I’m eating, but eat good meals. This 2023, we went right from the season ended, we had the Pro Bowl, which was five days in Vegas.
That’s the opposite of rest.
We have five days in Vegas and then over the Super Bowl week, you do a lot of different media stuff and all these other things and that was in Arizona. Me and a couple of teammates took our significant others to Mexico and had four days. We couldn’t help it either, we were playing pickleball.
We couldn’t help it. That’s what I like to do. To me, that’s a release. It’s like, “That was fun.” That’s something you can’t do in the season. It is important whenever you can. Even if it’s giving yourself a day of like, “I’m going to eat a whole day.”
Get crazy, Christian.
Get nuts. Give yourself a good day of reflection, rest, good food, no treatment, and no IV. Give yourself the day of doing what you want to do.
To be in a relationship with you, what does the person need to understand? Let’s say you come off of the last game of the season, a tough game, a tough loss, or whatever. Is everyone running away? Are people near but quiet? How does it work?
As we addressed earlier, football would dictate my emotions for the majority of my life. One of the reasons why I stopped doing that or at least tried to stop doing that was because I saw the way it affected the people around me. It wasn’t fair to them to be like, “I hope he plays well so he’s not an asshole for a week,” or, “He didn’t play well. Now I got to keep an arm’s distance.” That’s a toxic thing to have your family and your girlfriend have to deal with all that stuff.
I give them so much credit because they did have to deal with that for a long time and still do a little bit. You have to have a solid person with you if you want to stay emotionally sane. I’m fortunate that the way that my girlfriend and my family are when after games is exactly how I would want them to be. That’s a big reason why I love them and the reason why I keep them around and trust them.
I don’t think people ever see that side of a family or a girlfriend or whatever it is. When you have people like that around you who can build you up when you’re down, who are there for you when you do well, and who feel with you, it makes you feel better. It makes you feel like you have a team outside of your team and it means a lot.
Somehow they feel the disappointment that you feel but they also simultaneously know how to try to lift you up through that. It is an interesting thing. Olivia has a lot going on in her own life. How do you balance needing to be so focused on what you’re doing and then also supporting her because she’s busy and doing all kinds of things?
It’s challenging for me. Especially when I played in Carolina, she’s not at her house more times out of the year than she is because she lives in LA and she’s constantly traveling all over the world to do these different things. It’s a stressful job, believe it or not. When I first started dating her, I didn’t realize how hard she worked.
I have so much respect for her. That’s why I love her because I respect her so much. The way she operates in her mentality and her schedule and knowing that she thinks a lot like me in the sense of, “This is my job, this is my goal, and this is what I’m going to do. This is how I’m going to get there and I’m going to do everything I can to get there.” Also, while flying five hours to Charlotte every week to come to see me play and do all these other things. That sacrifice is hard to replicate on my end because it’s different. We have different jobs and I’m required to be in a place during my job while she’s sporadic.
Do you try to overcompensate at least in the off-season a little bit?
Every once in a while, yeah. She’s like, “You did a little too much there. You don’t have to do that.”
“Take it easy.”
She handles it so well. We have a good balance now but it takes a long time to get there. Learning how to support your significant other can be challenging. You have a lot of growing pains and this and that. She communicates great and I communicate not great at times.
I was like, “I can’t wait to hear if you do or not.”
I’m getting better. It works out great and we’re on the same WiFi now but it did take some growing pains, for sure.
It’s a dance. I know you play a little bit of music. Are you still playing video games?
Yeah, I play every once in a while. I’m not an addict. I’ll play once or twice a week maybe
I know you went surfing with Luca. Are you doing anything? Do you have stuff that’s like a hobby or fun? What are those?
Anything that’s competitive. Growing up with three brothers, if it’s snowing outside and you can’t go play outside, you’re playing knee football in the rug or you’re doing a game like, “I bet I can hit this ping pong ball in that vase before you can.” I get off to that. That’s my favorite thing to do, little games. Even when I’m with my buddies and we’re on vacation, there’s a putt-putt course, an adult playground where there’s an arcade. It’s the fun things. I like doing things. Playing in the NFL, I don’t go play five-on-five basketball anymore.
There are some rules, you’re not allowed to go downhill skiing.
I’m not going to ski.
Even though you’re from Colorado.
I want to. I would love to go play hoops and I’d love to go snowboarding all the time. It’s not smart. Football is a window for obvious reasons. I love ping pong. I love watching movies. I’m a big movie buff. I love TV shows. Why I like video games because I communicate with my best friends who I went to college with. I’m not FaceTiming, I’m like, “Miss you, bro.” That’s not our relationship. We’ll get on Xbox and compete against each other without breaking a sweat, that’s why it’s fun. I don’t play by myself. Anything where I can be around friends and family and have fun like cards, I enjoy it all.
Do you find that you’re thinking about football all the time?
Subconsciously, I am. You want to talk about ending up in a relationship. There are a lot of times when my girlfriend will be like, “Do you want to go on a walk?” I don’t go on walks.
You don’t jog or walk.
Your training is regimented and your rest is regimented. As soon as you go to dinner, it’s exhausting. I hate saying it again because I’ve said it five times now in the podcast but what’s the alternative? You could go to dinner or you can make a healthy dinner, sit down the whole time, rest, and get to bed early. What’s better for being successful in football? Usually, it’s B. I like going to dinner, I like doing all that stuff.
[bctt tweet=”When I surrendered to God, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to win right now but it will in the end.”]
You have to be good at planning those times. It’s like, “On a Friday night when I don’t have anything on Saturday, let’s do it.” You have to make that time up because that’s important. A lot of guys in the league have a family day and a date night day during the week and those are their days where it’s like, “I’m yours.” The rest of the week, you’re dialed in. I’m getting a lot better at that because I’ve stopped taking myself so seriously and I’ve realized that going on a walk in February when the season’s over is not going to kill you.
When you’re with somebody who’s that intense about what they’re doing, you understand, and the partner understands. Also, it’s everything they love about them. I’m sure you’re intense about her. People have to recognize that the same attribute shows up in a great way toward you. The fact that you won’t walk with her and the dog.
I’m getting better now. Even now, she’s good about that and she gets it, it’s like, “Dude, you’re an idiot.” She’s like, “I could find an article right now about going on a walk and how that’s going to benefit you tomorrow for training. I could find it on Google right now, I bet.”
You could wear shorts so they’re not too heavy on your legs.
Not in jeans. I’m sure not walking in jeans.
What would your dad say? Preparation for sleep, sleeping after a game, do you have any secrets about sleeping? Most people don’t sleep as it is and I can’t imagine, especially playing a night game, how you sleep.
It’s hard because you have so much adrenaline after a game still. Even if you don’t think you do, you think you’re tired, and you’re still going. the quicker you can come down, the better you’re going to recover.
How do you do that?
I get excited about the meal after the game. When you’re exhausted like that and you gave everything you have, the thought of eating chicken breasts, veggies, and all that stuff, I don’t like that. I give myself a little bit of a cheat meal after games. I get excited about that and it sounds stupid but that helps me sleep because I’m like, “I’m excited about this meal. I can eat this meal and go to bed. I’m fine.”
Is it like lasagna?
It changes all the time. Usually, my family gets it. The point is I’ll eat whatever they give me.
Do you have any breathing or do you have any ritual before bed that down-regulates you and gets you rolling?
Honestly, I’ve never had a hard time sleeping. I can lie down and fall asleep. For me, it’s the overall concept of not being stressed. When I got traded, I was stressed out at first but what’s weird is I found myself when I completely let go and I’m like, “I’m going to do as best I can.” I was sleeping fine because I had no stress and I was feeling good when I woke up and it was easy to go to bed. Monitoring stress is one of the most important things you can do and how you do that with cold plunges, sauna, breathing, and all that stuff. I did all that stuff throughout the year.
How am I feeling and how’s my stress? You also do a lot of it through the internal check-in and not ignoring how you internally feel. Are there any treatments that you care to share that have helped you in your healing or recovery that are progressive or cutting edge that have been a game changer for you?
I have such a good team of body maintenance people. A guy, Mark Lindsay, who I’ve been working with yeah since I was a junior in college, he’s kept me up a lot and he’s fixed me a lot. I credit a lot to him. He’s evolving too, he’s still in school studying, and not a lot of guys who are at his level are still doing that. When you’re talking about managing your body, there are a lot of cutting-edge things and there are a lot of different treatments that work but knowing when to do them is the most important thing.
It’s not overdoing different things and understanding the stimulus that comes with getting treatment and how to down-regulate your heart rate. You get three hours of treatment, you’re not just laying there. That’s a stressor. It’s a mini workout so to say. Your body is having to do a lot to correct itself. When you’re doing acupuncture and doing all these things, you might think, “I didn’t do anything.” That’s a stressor in and of itself. For me, it’s a combination, it’s diet, sleep, what lifts I’m doing and when I’m doing them and why I’m doing them, and when I’m changing them. It’s all the supplementation.
Do you have a baseline of supplements that you’re taking that are your basic kit? I know that the other stuff is changing.
I take collagen and vitamin C 30 minutes before every workout. I take creatine every day but it’s a mapped-out dosage of it. I don’t want any kids out there reading this being like, “I’m going to down it.” There are different ways to do it. Whole foods, to me, are the biggest supplement that you can have. It’s the best thing you’re going to have. I abuse Laird Superfood coffee.
You should make Laird make you coffees all the time.
I’d be wired. It’s a combination of everything, it’s the chiropractic work, the red light, the soft tissue work, the needling, the stretching, and it’s finding out when to do all that. I don’t believe in getting adjusted every day. I don’t believe in doing deep tissue massages every day. I don’t believe in soft tissue every day.
All these different modalities that there are now, it’s overwhelming how many different things there are now. I would catch myself overdoing it. There are many things I can do to get better. I can do all these in one day and that’s probably not the best thing for you. That’s why reading and listening to podcasts and educating yourself is the most important thing for every athlete because now you’re in control and you know exactly what to do, when to do it, and why you’re doing it.
Justin, do you have any last specific questions?
I still can’t get over the training. I was like, “Congrats, you’re here now. Go.” That’s still crazy.
In the second game touchdown, catch the touchdown and run a touchdown, that was awesome.
If you weren’t playing football, what would you do?
I get asked that a lot and I never have an answer. I don’t know. I’ve been playing football since I was 7. I played a bunch of different sports growing up. I played three sports all throughout high school and all that stuff.
Basketball and baseball.
I ran track. I’d be doing something in football probably. It’s not all I know but I would have to answer that when I’m done playing. It’s hard to even think about that while I’m playing right now because I love my job.
I didn’t even ask you about it after because it’s about now.
It always is. I always trust myself that whenever I am done, I’ll know what to do at that point but I don’t know now. If you have another one because I didn’t answer that, you can ask another one.
Cameron, did I miss anything? Do you want to add anything?
Is there anything you would tell yourself when you were first coming to the league?
You always say, “What would you say to your younger self?” People might be having this transition either to a new job or if an athlete is going into college. What would you tell your younger self coming into the league?
I would tell myself to smile more, enjoy where you’re at, not take myself so seriously, have fun with it, and be extremely present. Always be exactly where you are. Stop looking so much into the future and don’t change your work ethic or change anything you’re doing but your mindset behind it can be a little bit more freeing. That’s what I would’ve told myself.
There are many things I don’t remember because I was never present at that moment. I was always thinking about you finishing a game and you played well and you’re already onto the next one. That’s the way it’s supposed to be but I wish I would’ve stopped to smell the roses every once in a while. Good question.
Not only are you playing at the highest level but you were shining at the highest level. Do you feel like you always knew that was going to happen? Are you blown away? How did this happen? Do you feel like you were born for it? Are you obsessed with it? What’s the combination that led you here and did you foresee that? Did all those workouts in high school and college do that? When you were visualizing mentally, you have that now, you’re there, what does it feel like now compared to going back to those first workouts with your brothers and your dad?
I always knew I could play and I always knew that I was good at the level I was playing but there’s always been a higher level. Even when I was good in high school and we would kill teams and I would play well, I knew that there are Texas teams that are better than the teams that were playing and there are guys that are ranked higher than me. I’ve had a chip on my shoulder since I was a kid. I always find a reason to be bitter. I had no SCC offers. I had coaches tell me that I couldn’t play running back in the NFL or college even. I was the last guy picked for the All-American game.
Most people would be like, “You’re an All-American, how’s that feel?” I’m like, “I’m pissed off.” I was the last picked and I’m better than all these guys. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder. You then get to Stanford. I remember in my second year, I was the AP college player of the year but I lost the Heisman. One might think, “What a year you had.” I’m like, “I’m pissed off.” My goal was to win the Heisman and I didn’t. I’m pissed.
I got drafted top ten but there was a running back picked before me. I wanted to be the first running back picked. He’s a good player, that’s not the point of this. In my head, I wanted to be the first guy taken and I wasn’t. You’d say, “You’re the eighth pick in the NFL draft, that’s a big deal.” I’m thankful but I was also pissed off. There’s always something that’s going to piss you off when you play in this league, especially with competitors.
For me, it’s like, “You’re shining at the highest level.” It’s like, “Not at my standard, I’m not.” I wasn’t All-Pro this 2023. I made the Pro Bowl but I wasn’t All-Pro. Even the Pro Bowl thing, I was pissed off about. I’m not happy or satisfied in the least bit. If anything, I’m more hungry than I’ve ever been in my life. Looking back, I’ve always had that attitude. There’s always something that’s pissed me off that’s allowed me to continue to work.
I believe that that’s God divinely intervening in my life and saying, “You got a lot more in you. I don’t want you to ever get complacent and this is why you’re doing this.” It sucks at times but I’m thankful for it because that’s molded where a lot of my mentality has come from. I’m thankful and grateful. At the same time, it’s knowing from experience that you’re not done and you’re not where you want to be, and I don’t know if you ever are.
What liberates you from that though is, let’s say once you’ve completed your professional career, when you don’t sink your teeth into any of your successes, in a certain way, you’re also free on the other side because you don’t need everyone walking around telling you how great you are. The noise changes. It’s like, “I do things the way I want to do them my way.”
There’s something also liberating that you won’t be like, “People aren’t noticing me or telling me how great I am or I’m not.” If you’re not hooked your teeth into that, it also saves you. My last question is getting scared. You’re playing a difficult game, it’s like going to war on Sunday. Are there moments that it goes past the adrenaline of playing and the excitement? If you ever get scared and if you do, where do you put that?
Everyone gets scared in their own way. Playing football is what I love to do so I’m never scared, like, “That guy is good.” I fear failure a lot. My biggest fear is not living up to my potential. Back to your question about did you ever envision it. I’ve had good years but I look at the guys that came before me who are Hall of Famers and they stacked years, they were good for ten years in a row. These different guys that I watched when I was a kid, they’re ahead of me. I fear not living up to that and not getting there.
Every NFL player that I’ve ever talked to whether they’re a Hall of Fame, a multiple Super Bowl champion, or not, they all have that in common. They’re all bitter about something and whatever it is, that’s what made them great though. I don’t want to change what one of my favorite things about me is but I also recognize it, “when you’re done, you’re probably going to be pissed off about a few things and that’s okay.” My biggest fear is not living up to my potential.
Christian McCaffrey, thank you for your time. I want you to know how much I genuinely respect you. Thanks.
Likewise. You and your family have been unbelievable to me. I owe you guys a lot.
You owe us nothing.
It’s an honor. Thank you.
Laird and I talk about it. Sometimes we’ll be at this house and we have some of the most exceptional humans come through and I’m like, “Here we are sitting on the top of the hill.” To share time and learn also from you. I’m double your age but there are always opportunities to learn from anyone. The way you conduct yourself reinspires us separately, like, “We could work a little harder.” I don’t know about Laird, but I could work a lot harder. I want to say I’m excited for you. Congratulations on your season. There’s a lot more to do. I’m excited that you’re in a place you want to be in and have that opportunity to get it done.
Thank you, too. Going back to a question you asked earlier, being around people who are better than you at what they did is important and that’s why I spend so much time here because you and Laird are the best of the best at what you do. I remember my first day here when you all exposed me in the pool and I got my absolute ass kicked, it was one of the best days of my life. It reminded me that I had a lot of work to do and that I wasn’t where I wanted to be. That’s why I like coming here and I appreciate you guys opening your doors to me.
Thank you. Who was your friend, the muscular one? What’s his name?
Justin says he trained with myself and the 13-year-old girl, and he’s like, “I got my ass kicked by a middle-aged woman and a 13-year-old girl.”
I got a friend who’s a big powerlifter, a big dude. He’s like, “It’s not every day you can get your ass kicked by a middle-aged woman and a 13-year-old girl in the same workout.”
I wasn’t the 13-year-old girl, I want to say that.
Thank you so much for reading this episode. Stay tuned for a bonus episode where I go deeper into one of the topics that resonated with me. If you have any questions for my guest or even myself, please send them to @GabbyReece on Instagram. If you feel inspired, please hit the follow button, and leave a rating and a comment. It not only helps me, it helps the show grow and reach new readers.
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About Christian McCaffrey
Christian McCaffrey is the son of former Stanford and NFL wide receiver Ed McCaffrey and former Stanford soccer star Lisa McCaffrey. He attended Valor Christian High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. McCaffrey played running back, wide receiver, cornerback, and punter. He broke numerous Colorado high school records including total career touchdowns with 141, career all-purpose yards with 8,845, career touchdown receptions with 47, and single-season all-purpose yards 3,032. He was the Gatorade Football Player of the Year for Colorado in both 2012 and 2013. McCaffrey was also a standout sprinter on the track & field team. As a sophomore, he placed second in the 100-meter dash at the Mountain Vista Boulder Invitational with a career-best time of 10.75 seconds. Considered one of the best one hundred football players in his national high school class, he was selected as a 2014 U.S. Army All-American. He was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star recruit and was ranked as the third-best all-purpose back in his class and 77th best player overall. He committed to Stanford University to play college football.