Football journey: Jeremy Mincey

IRVING, Texas -- Defensive end Jeremy Mincey has essentially spent the first seven seasons of his career waiting to play for a team, a coach and a scheme that would allow him to play his best football.

He’s finally found it with the Dallas Cowboys.

Mincey spent the first few seasons of his career switching between linebacker and defensive end. Every other time he had an opportunity to get significant playing time, injuries slowed him down.

Well, he’s off to a good start this season as a key member of the Cowboys’ defensive rotation. He didn’t have a sack last week against Houston, but he nearly forced an interception with a little more than two minutes left, when he hit quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s arm as he was throwing a pass.

And in overtime, he forced a third-down incompletion that made Houston punt and gave Dallas the ball so it could drive for its game-winning field goal.

Here’s what Mincey has to say about his journey to the NFL:

What was the name of your first team?

Mincey: I didn’t start playing football until my junior year in high school. Actually, I didn’t even like it, I was a basketball player. My cousin was a star running back and he told me to come out for the team. It’s not like I was doing anything. I was just hanging out.

What position did you play?

Mincey: I started off at quarterback, but I was no good. That lasted a day. Then they moved me to tight end. I was a tight end for two days and then coach moved me to defensive end and my number went from 88 to 98. My first day of practice I got run over by an All-American running back and it turned a light on for me because i didn’t want that to happen again. I’m not a quitter, so I wasn’t going to quit.

So how did you end up playing college football instead of college basketball?

Mincey: I started getting bulky because I was lifting so many weights. I knew I had a better chance in football, so I kind of stuck with football, even though I was good in basketball, and it worked out.

What schools were you considering in high school?

Mincey: My main focus in high school was just to graduate. That was success. If you saw what I came out of, you would understand. Late in my senior year, when schools started showing interest, I started thinking about playing in college.

Florida was actually recruiting a running back on our team, Jimtavis Walker, and another player on whatever team we were playing, and they discovered me because I happened to have a breakout game.

My friend committed to Florida, and I ran into one of the coaches and he told me I could do the same. I originally signed with Jacksonville State out of Alabama, but something in my heart told me to follow my dreams and go to junior college.

They sent me some bus tickets and I jumped on the road to Kansas and Coffeyville Community College. My mama cussed me out at first because she thought I was throwing away a scholarship.

How did you end up at Florida?

Mincey: I had a childhood friend down there. I knew I was going to Florida. Nobody believed me, but I knew it.

When did you start thinking seriously about the NFL?

Mincey: I was fairly decent at Florida. Don’t forget this was only my fourth year of playing football. I was a standup end -- it was like playing strongside linebacker -- so I didn’t know anything about using my hands or getting off the ball.

So did you think you were going to get drafted?

Mincey: I knew I had a chance. My agent told me I had a second- or third-round grade -- and it was valid. I had my hopes high, but I didn’t have them so high that I had a letdown on draft day. I was frustrated that so many teams were calling me and not doing anything. I had one team call me and ask me for another player’s number. The New England Patriots called me in the sixth round, No. 191.

What was your experience like in New England?

Mincey: I’ll respect coach (Bill) Belichick until the day I die. I remember him asking me about my father, who was a former drug addict. I remember going home one time and my daddy said he talked to Bill Belichick for a good long time. I listened to him, but I didn’t believe him. I went back to New England and he called me into his office. I thought I was going to get cut, but he told me he talked to my father and I was like, “Wow."

When I got released, he told me the truth. He said he loved my energy and I had some guys ahead of me like Roosevelt Colvin, Mike Vrabel and Junior Seau just signed, and I was playing linebacker and I barely knew how to play defensive end.

You went to the Super Bowl with Denver last season. Why sign with Dallas?

Mincey: Denver had signed DeMarcus Ware. The Cowboys needed a defensive end and they wanted me. As a player, it feels good to be wanted. You play harder and you do what’s right when you feel wanted.

What do you love about football?

Mincey: It’s like putting music together. You have the strings then you add the horns. It’s like a symphony, a physical symphony. It brings blacks and whites together. We don’t care about race, color, religion, straight or gay, it’s all about winning.

How would you describe your football journey?

Mincey: It has been a roller-coaster ride. I have been defying all odds and the good Lord has been on my side the whole time. Anytime something bad has happened, it has been for a better purpose, and it has been strange that I could actually see the better purpose and take it in stride.