My path to the pros

The three-time Super Bowl winner didn't start playing football until high school. Icon SMI

The beginning

I didn't even start playing organized football until high school. I did play baseball and basketball around fourth or fifth grade, mostly in church leagues. Where I grew up, in Eastover, S.C., there was a weight requirement for youth football, and I was always too big to play with kids my age -- I remember my shoe size was always two years ahead of my age. My dad didn't want me playing with the older kids, so I just played backyard football with friends from the neighborhood. They would come over on Sundays, and we'd be outside all day.

The middle school days

I have to say one of the best times for me as a kid was playing baseball. I was on the Eastover Bears in sixth or seventh grade. We sucked, but it didn't matter. We turned our hats backward like the pros and just played. It's funny: I do remember telling my mom when I was young, probably in the sixth grade, that I was going to play pro football and take care of her. I just knew from the start that's what I wanted to do. When I was that age, people weren't saying, "He's going to make it to the NFL." I was slightly above average as an athlete but was also the youngest in my class and didn't develop until later than everyone else. I was just the perfect example of a late bloomer.

The high school days

I stuck with basketball into high school [Lower Richland High; Hopkins, S.C.]. I had opportunities to join AAU teams but never had a true passion for the sport. I did it to stay in shape and work on my athleticism. When I was a senior, I dropped basketball and focused on football. That last year of high school I started training with Ken Taylor at a gym in Columbia to get stronger and work on my form; I was still a pretty raw prospect even going into college. I've continued to train with Ken in the offseason during my NFL career.

I played at a smaller high school, so I never really knew how I compared with other guys who were talented enough for major schools. (I did play with Jonathan Goodwin, who is a 49er now; we played next to each other on the line and played on the basketball team.) My senior year, I was selected to play in the Shrine Bowl [South Carolina's all-star game] and realized that I had what it took. That's when major colleges came knocking; it seemed like I had a different coach at my house every night for dinner. Georgia had shown interest in me as a junior, before all the other schools came calling, so I signed there.

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