Justin Pugh growing into roles as veteran player and role model

NEWTOWN, Pa. -- Eli Manning is the longest-tenured player on the New York Giants offense by a wide margin entering his 14th professional season. After Manning it’s starting left guard Justin Pugh, who has been with the Giants the longest now that Victor Cruz was released earlier this offseason.

Despite still being on his rookie contract -- even though it’s a fifth-year team option worth $8.8 million this season -- Pugh is a seasoned veteran. He’s learned through trial and error, on and off the field.

It was evident again Sunday when he hosted his third annual Pugh Crew Summer Kickoff camp back home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, at Council Rock High School North. There were close to 250 campers and it ran like a well-oiled machine, with everything from 40-yard dash, to ball security, to offensive line stations.

“Three years ago we had no idea what was going on. We were at the other [Council Rock] high school. We didn’t have any of the sponsors set up. Now we have lunches, Ritas water ice for the kids. We have good coaches out here. Before it was my brothers and sisters. They’re still here helping out. We have the EXOS coaches, some of my Giants teammates this year and some of my college guys that I played with,” Pugh said. “So it’s fun.”

Rookies Adam Bisnowaty and Colin Thompson were among the Giants players lending a helping hand to their veteran teammate. USA Football, SKLZ, Fuel Up to Play 60, EXOS and the Giants helped make the event happen.

Pugh, 26, is no longer a rookie or young player. He has more career starts than any lineman on the Giants roster other than John Jerry. All 55 have come with the Giants.

This alone has him taking on more responsibility as a leader on a young line.

“I kind of know what to expect and it’s something that getting better with. Obviously the better you are as a leader -- you show it with example. I think that is the way I’ve always led and I kind of build off that,” Pugh said. “I think we have to set a good example. We have Brandon Marshall who has been around for a while. He’s a more vocal guy. You have Odell Beckham, who obviously is transcending the game with the way he plays. Guys are going to look to him because of his ability.

“So guys have that responsibility. And it’s realizing once you have that responsibility what to do with it. I think everyone is going to mature one more year under it and do a better job.”

Pugh said on the field he has three goals this year: Win the Super Bowl, make the Pro Bowl, and play all 16 games. Winning the Super Bowl is taking it to the next level. The first goal last year was making the playoffs for the first time in his career, which the Giants did after an 11-5 season.

The short-term goal-setting has become a staple for Pugh. He does it off the field too. This year setting up a toy drive in Jersey City and a Thanksgiving dinner are on the whiteboard that Pugh has at his house. It used to be next to his bed.

Pugh even gave the campers some homework. He asked them to write down some attainable goals of their own.

This is part of the message Pugh sends.

“I want them to have fun. I also want them to realize why we’re here. So I get them out here, run them around, teach them the fundamentals. I want to emphasize fun. It’s not a super-intensive football camp where I’m yelling at kids. I want everyone to have fun,” he said. “At the end, I want to emphasize the message I want to get across about goal setting, about nutrition, about surrounding themselves with good people. I think I can help with that message because I was in these kids’ shoes.”

It worked for him. Pugh is entering his fifth professional season and on the verge of a life-changing payday. All he needs to do is stay healthy. To prepare he spent his offseason in New Jersey, where he followed a program laid out by Giants strength and conditioning coach Aaron Wellman. This was different from last year when Pugh traveled to Los Angeles for a good chunk of the offseason.

Pugh knows this is a big year for him and believes he’s ready to thrive. Physically he’s strong. Mentally he’s sharp.

He's also indisputably a veteran now and knows what it takes to succeed as a leader on the field and a role model off it.