Panthers RB, Tyrell Sutton Interview
Tyrell Sutton played running back for Northwestern University. He earned playing time all four years while he was there. TS entered the 2009 NFL Draft, but went undrafted. He signed a UDFA contract with the Green Bay Packers and during the preseason he played very well, but was still cut by the Green Bay Packers. He then signed with the Carolina Panthers. He returned kicks, ran the ball, and also caught passes out of the backfield. This interview was conducted in the early part of the 2010 NFL season. [UPDATE: He is currently a member of the Seattle Seahawks and fighting for a roster spot.]
Strauss : So, Tyrell, why do you make it important to connect to the fans?
Sutton : I recently got twitter due to the fans who watched The Daily Stew Show on UStream. Thank you to all of you who watched and convinced me to get it! I think it’s important because they are the ones who are not caught up in the business side of it. Not to mention, I never know how it could unsuspectingly help someone else. Just saying “hi” or answering a question can brighten up someone’s day. Twitter allows me to be as close or as distant as I want to be. It gives the fans a peak into what I’m doing and / or thinking, to a certain degree.
Strauss : What was your favorite NFL team growing up?
Sutton : My favorite team(s) growing up were the Dallas Cowboys (go figure, I know haha) and the Green Bay Packers. I had team coats of both teams. I had the Dallas Cowboys coat for about 7 years because my Mom bought my brother and me NFL coats (San Francisco for him), and they were so big that they dragged on the ground until we grew into them. Needless to say we did not need coats for a long time.
Strauss : Who was your childhood star? Why?
Sutton : My older brother TJ was my childhood star because everything that I have done is because of him. It was like having my own personal celebrity or NFL player in the house. I could pick his brain about anything and everything! I, pretty much, am a plagiarist of my brother because everything I did, he did; with the exception of playing in the NFL. Anything he did that I liked, I could copy, and anything he did that I didn’t like I could ignore. He was the best example because I would follow his lead, veer off course, but then come right back to it. I did everything he did up until college. That was when the path became my own. I played every sport because he did it. It was a great thing until he had to go to college because I was used to him being there with me / for me for everything. When he left for college, I went into depression because I didn’t know what to do without him. I stopped coming out of my room and I wouldn’t be able to eat some days. I would go to his room in the morning before school, forgetting he wasn’t there. I would even just go sit in his room and on his bed because I didn’t know what else to do. I must shout him out because despite being 4 grades older than me, he just received his college degree. He could have easily said forget school and not finished, but he did and I’m extremely proud of him for mustering up enough courage to ask me, his younger brother, to pay for his tuition. Which I was more than happy to do, considering he is one of the major reasons why I am where I am today. So thanks for all the good and bad things you did TJ. Love you!
Strauss : If you could meet anyone in the world, who would it be and why?
Sutton : I’m not sure who I would want to meet. I have never been star struck or hard-pressed to meet anyone. If I had to say someone I think it would have to be Arnold Schwarzenegger. I know it sounds funny but my Dad reminds me of a black Arnold Schwarzenegger hahaha. My Dad used to be a body builder so that is where that reference comes from. I have seen all (if not all most) most of the movies he has ever made. Arnold may be a little bit bigger than my Dad haha.
Strauss : When did you see your first live NFL game? Who played? Who won?
Sutton : I saw my first live NFL game my senior year in high school when Gerard Warren (defensive tackle for the Cleveland Browns at the time) invited me to a game thru one of his activities where he looked thru the papers and invited an athlete who had an outstanding game of the week. I actually ended up winning that honor a few times and got to sit in his skybox every-time. I can not remember who they played but I am sure that they did not win haha.
Strauss : What is your favorite song to listen to before a game?
Sutton : All throughout high school and part of college I always thought that I had to go out on the field angry to be ready to play. I would listen to “Til I Collapse’ by Eminem because it describes how I have played the game and how I will continue to play the game. Over the years I have been loose when going out to the field (especially being around DeAngelo and Stew). Since Eminem has so many great songs I had to switch it up. Now I will listen to “Stay Wide Awake” by Eminem before I go out for pre-game to hype myself up because its like saying, “Don’t sleep on me because I’ll get you (on the field) (Can’t speak for Em haha). Right before we take the field to actually play the game, I calm down by listening to “Gravity’ by John Mayer because its like telling everything negative to stay away from me and not drag me down.”
Strauss : What is your favorite movie of all time?
Sutton : That’s a tough question because I love too many movies. I’ll go by genre, which is simple because its either comedy, action or other (to me) and name a couple… Comedy – Superbad, Coming to America, Stepbrothers, Bad Santa, The Hangover White Men Can’t Jump, Role Models… Action – V for Vendetta, Enemy of the State, Scarface, State of Play…Other – Bamboozled, The Wiz, Sarafina!
Strauss : What is your favorite snack food?
Sutton : It’s between Twizzlers, Nutter Butters or Nutty Bars. I could eat those all day if they weren’t so bad for me haha.
Strauss : What is your favorite type of pie?
Sutton : My Mom’s sweet potato pie is the best in the land!!! Let’s not mention her pound cake. Her pound cake is so good that she made one for me in college and Rasheed Ward’s (my best friend) family took it home and then asked me to ask my mom to make another one just for them!!!
Strauss : What is your favorite TV-Show?
Sutton : Again, too many to name haha. I own all of the That 70s Show and Everybody Loves Raymond as well as House. i repeatedly watch the syndications of the Fresh Prince, My Wife & Kids, Saved by the Bell (at the stadium with Gary Barnidge after the lift before we run) and Everybody Hates Chris.
Strauss : What is your favorite meal?
Sutton : My favorite meal is anything Italian. But my favorite home-cooked meal is cube steak, rice, gravy and biscuits. Best meal in the world by my mom. Don’t like to set salad. It’s nasty haha.
Strauss : What is your favorite video game?
Sutton : My favorite video game has to be Heavy Rain because the first time you pay the game it is a test of your morals. It’s completely interactive and you must pay attention to everything that happens in the game, including the environment.
Strauss : What was your favorite class in school?
Sutton : My favorite class in school was math. I loved doing math, until I got to college and I took a class about math in the environment. It dealt with infinity and counting flowers and things of that nature. It turned me off of math for that year haha.
Strauss : What is the one thing you can’t leave your house without?
Sutton : I would have to say my iPod. The music that I listen to usually depicts the type of mood I’m in. For example, John Mayer would be me in a relaxing mood. Eminem, Ludacris or T.I. would be me in a general mood. But certain Eminem songs show me in a bad mood; for example “Stay Wide Awake” from the Relapse album.
Strauss : How long have you played football?
Sutton : I have been playing football since I was 8 years old. My brother, TJ, is 3 years 3 months and a day older than me, but he was 4 grades ahead; so before I could ACTUALLY play, I would go to all of my brother’s practices and do everything except the hitting. I ran the hills with them, the conditioning and everything else you could think of. So in a way, I’m conditioned to play with guys older than me.
Strauss : Did you play any other sports in high school?
Sutton : I also ran track and played intramural basketball. I actually played one game on the JV basketball team. I stopped after one game because I was bad haha. I air-balled a free throw and figured I should just lift in between the time it came for track season. But along the way, I somehow became pretty good at basketball and joined the intramural team and we were the first team to beat the teachers in a really long time. I ran both the 110 high hurdles and 300 hurdles and was a part of the 4×1 team. I went to state in the 110 high hurdles my freshman and senior year.
Strauss : What is your favorite sport to play other than football?
Sutton : I love to play basketball. I remember playing intramural basketball at Northwestern where we played against one of the most known teams at the school. The best plays came by me because the other team had a fast break and I sprinted down the court and blocked a wide open lay-up. Kinda LeBron-esque if you will hahaha. And the other came when I made a lay-up at the end of the game and was fouled but made the free throw to put the game away. We beat the best team in the intramural league, but we lost the next game.
Strauss : When did you realize that you were going to play football in college and in the NFL?
Sutton : I don’t actually know what age I realized I would play in college and the NFL. Those types of dreams have so many variables and low success rates. But I do remember telling my brother that the first job I would have would be playing in the NFL.
Strauss : If you weren’t playing in the NFL (or after retirement), what would you want to do?
Sutton : I remember at one point in time, my cousin Ashley and I wanted to become doctors and work together. She was 2 years older than me. I am not completely sure as to what I want to do after football is over. Maybe something in social work because I want to work with kids. Maybe not so much as be a football coach because I would not be too patient haha. But maybe in their daily lives because I would want to be a positive influence to so many kids out there who don’t have anyone to turn to. So many parents are still kids themselves and I want the actual kids to understand that, like me, they don’t have to be in the streets to occupy their time. When I was growing up, my Mom kept both my brother and me occupied in sports so much that we never thought about the streets at all. Not to mention that she was the Queen of Discipline haha.
Strauss : What impact did your high school coach have on your career?
Sutton : He had a huge impact on me because he was always there for me when things got tough for me. I have the the hardest conversations with my running back coach, Bernie Factor. I still to this day talk to him about everything. His conversations and words of wisdom got me thru some of my toughest days in college.
Strauss : Describe the hardest change between the jump from high school to college.
Sutton : Going to class willingly. In high school it’s mandatory that you go to school. In class if you don’t feel like getting up and going you don’t have to. Granted some classes took attendance, but just knowing that the parents aren’t there to tell you to get up or tar you to school is a big difference. It forced you to accept responsibility, become independent and make your own choices.
Strauss : Why did you choose #19 while playing at NorthWestern?
Sutton : I actually didn’t choose #19. It wad given to me because I asked for numbers 20, 21 and 7 but they were all taken. 20 because it was my high school number. 21 because it was one of my numbers when I played pee-wee football. Finally 7 because it was my brother’s college number. They gave me 19 because it was the closet to my first two choices.
Strauss : What did you learn from your first head coach at Northwestern, Randy Walker?
Sutton : I learned that you have to play the game until the clock says 0:0 because that’s the only time the game is really over. I also learned to pay attention to details. He really emphasized that it’s about the little things. He understood that every team gets the same amount of scholarships and types of athletes but it’s about the little things that make the biggest difference. His best quote was “no one is gonna throw you a pity party. They ain’t gonna give you extra points at the start of a game for nothing.”
Strauss : What is your best memory from Northwestern?
Sutton : My best memory would be the entire 2005 season. Just being able to say that I stepped on the field with 4 great group of senior classes. People always say that freshman are too young or immature to play college ball as soon as they step on campus. But I proved that no matter the age, if you can play, you can play. I say that because not many people play as true freshman, so they only get to go against guys in practice. But I got to actually play with a lot of players at Northwestern who are legends at Northwestern, including once Carolina Panther QB Brett Basanez.
Playing in the 1st game ever of my freshman year is the greatest thing because I was a freshman and I didn’t know how I would adjust to the game. I entered the game around the 2nd or 3rd quarter against Ohio University nervous as I could be. The first play was an option pitch from Baz and I thought I was going to get killed because I was finally going to get hit by someone who was not a teammate and really could care less about the end result. Once I put a move on the 1st guy and made him miss and realized the hits weren’t much harder than high school, I calmed down and just played ball.
Also, can’t forget about the comeback win against Iowa that year where we were down about 12 points with about 3 minutes left. The Iowa players (particularly Chad Greenway) were dancing, laughing and celebrating on the sidelines as if they had already won the game. Where I come from and what we preached at NU was that ‘the game ain’t over until the clock says 0.” I scored a TD and we recovered the onside kick. Baz threw the winning TD pass to Ross Lane and we did the impossible: scored 2 touchdowns in less than 2 minutes and won the game.
Strauss : What can you expect from playing D-1 football?
Sutton : Expect the days to be long and the work to be hard. Just like the NFL, there is always someone to compete with who is trying to take your spot. Also, expect the coaches to be hard on you to get every ounce out of you.
Strauss : What impact did your college coach have on your pro career?
Sutton : The late Randy Walker was the only big time coach to offer me a scholarship to play running back. Some schools wanted me to play defensive back because they thought I was too small to play running back. He taught me to believe in myself and my abilities because it was what got me to that point thus far. But all of my coaches at NU taught me the importance of paying attention to details. As everyone knows, Northwestern doesn’t get the 4-5 star recruits that other schools get. So in order to “match the talent” we pay attention to every little detail because they knew it was about doing everything right. But the schools who do get those big time recruits, sometimes, get by on their talent and athletic ability alone and they don’t tar time to work on the small things, like starting behind the line or running THRU the line and not TO the line.
Strauss : What was the hardest workout for you to complete?
Sutton : It’s between German Volume Training or P90X. We did German Volume Training for a couple years in college, which consisted of all the major lifts (bench, incline, squat, cleans) being 10 sets of 10 reps. Not to mention we had approximately 45 minutes or so to finish.P90X is just tough in itself. Get the tape and find out for yourself haha.
Strauss : Describe the hardest change between the jump from college to the NFL.
Sutton : The hardest change, in my opinion, was being alone. In college it is truly a brotherhood and a family. After practice or games in college, you usually saw your teammates. Whether it was going out to eat with the other families or even at the dorms or house that you shared, you saw at least one teammate after the game or practice. In the NFL, after practice or the game, everyone goes their own separate way and you don’t see them until the next work day. Everyone has their own families and homes to go to afterwards.
Strauss : As you’ve grown as a player, how important has film been to your development?
Sutton : It has become extremely important because it’s the best way to learn the tendencies of the opponents. As you get older the body starts to wear down and you have to have any edge against the opponent. What better way to know what they are going to do before they do it.
Strauss : What do you look for when you watch film?
Sutton : I like to watch the play of the Defensive Ends, Linebackers, and Defensive Backs because I feel the offensive line (for any level of football that I have played at) will take care of the defensive line. Of course they will get thru, but, for the most part, it’s up to the offensive line to handle them. I watch the Defensive Ends to see what type of rushers they are; meaning when they take on the running back in passing situations will they try to bulrush, use the swim move, dip and rip move, spin move, etc. Same goes for the Linebackers as far as what type or rushers they are. I also try to see if if they give away any signs when they are blitzing the quarterback. Also, how they take on a block in running situations; if they will take on the blocks head on or do they try to use finesse moves. For the Defensive Backs I try to see their footwork to see if they will give away when they are blitzing or giving away what coverage they are trying to disguise. Lastly, I try to see how they tackle. Do they tackle high, try to take out the knees, or only hit hard when we are wrapped up.
Strauss : What is fellow Panthers’ running back, Jonathan Stewart really like?
Sutton : Stew is real laid back. He is quiet but he can be loud lol. He likes making fun of me. Reasons unknown hahaha. I’ll be over his place while he makes his beats and beat him in Madden and NBA 2K10. He now likes to come over my place and stay at my crib all night. I think he is lonely hahahahaha. He is the big little brother because I am older than him but he tries to act older than me and boss me around because he has been in the league long than me haha.
Strauss : What is fellow Panthers’ running back, DeAngelo Williams really like?
Sutton : DeAngelo is the big brother. He has to be the loudest person I know. You can hear him laughing from a mile away. Any advice, he is right there to give it. He likes to think he is the best corn hole player ever, but I proved that wrong in a head to head match hahaha. He doesn’t hang out with a lot of people, I am honored to say that he has taken me under his wing and let me in and around his family. He is truly an instigator, especially between me and anybody. He likes to try to make me mad because he likes to say that I am always angry. So he tries just to prove his point hahaha. Works half the time too. Had to get used to it lol. He is a great friend and mentor.
Strauss : What have you learned from both DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart?
Sutton : I’ve learned to play the game at a calm level. Before I met them I always thought that I had to be serious to be ready and completely locked in. They laugh and smile before the game and go out there and have fun. I am not by any means saying that they don’t care because they are 2 of the most competitive players I have ever met. They have just learned to stay calm and not get riled up and waste emotions before the game starts and while it’s being played.
Strauss : What is Carolina Panthers Coach John Fox really like?
Sutton : Coach Fox is extremely laid back. He is a down to earth coach and understands us as players. He can relate to us all while maintaining that head position. He is very easy to talk to because he is always making jokes and keeping the mood light in the toughest situations. But he also knows that when it’s time to work it’s time to work. Gives some of the best pre game speeches also.
Strauss : Who is your best buddy on the Panthers? What is a funny memory you share with them?
Sutton : I have a handful of buddies on the team including DeAngelo, Stew, Kenny Moore, Gary Barnidge, Mike Goodson, Tony Fiametta and Charley Martin. They all have different qualities to them but if I am not with DeAngelo or Stew, it’s usually Gary. We actually go to a lot of movies together since he is a huge movie buff. He is actually starting his own movie reviewing website with Dante Rosario (shameless plug hahaha). The funniest story I have was with Gary. At the movies, there’s always the part before where they have all kinds of noises to make it seem like interruptions during the movie. One noise was a baby crying and Gary yells out of nowhere “turn that baby off!” hahaha. Maybe you had to have been there but it was funny to me lol.
Strauss : Could you have predicted how far football was going to carry you?
Sutton : To some degree, yes and no, because there are millions of kids with hopes and dreams of playing in the NFL and you never know when or if the game will be over. But I remember telling my brother that my first job would be playing in the NFL. He didn’t believe me and thought I was being naive and it just so happened to be my first job ever.
Strauss : What three words describe your style of gameplay?
Sutton : Versatile, deceptive, and smart. I used these 3 words because I can play almost any position on the field if I was asked / needed to, example being when I started at Fullback vs New Orleans last year. I would say deceptive because most people do not expect me to be as good as I am because of the lack of size and speed but I make up for it in other ways. I used smart because I usually know what others responsibilities are on the field, especially in college. It’s truly an advantage and it slows the game down when I know not only what I’m supposed to do but others involved in helping me take care of my responsibilities.
Strauss : What is your favorite quote?
Sutton : It had to be one of these three: “Once you start something, you finish it.” by my mom.“Kids do what they WANT. Men do what they HAVE to do.” by Matt MacPherson, my college running back coach.“Hard work be beats talent when talent refuses to work hard.” by Kevin Durant.
Strauss : What is an experience that changed your life?
Sutton : Losing 3 close people to me in 3 years. I lost one of my best friends, Anthony Grimaldi in ’04, my high school track coach, Michael Beaven in ’05 and my college coach, Randy Walker, in 06. I keep to myself now and I have a tight knit circle of people that I trust.
Strauss : I’m hoping to major in communications in college, like you, what have you learned about the media? Is that what you want to pursue after football?
Sutton : I’ve learned that the media will do whatever to get readers and create stories because it’s what they do. Some have truth in them but sometimes you just have to take it with a grain of salt because it’s not the whole story. It’s only opinions. When it comes to analysts, some have never played the game so they get involved by critiquing and giving their opinions when they actually know little to nothing. But they can only go off what is given to them so we have to be careful, as people in general, about the way we portray ourselves or want the media to portray us. I would like to get into something with children after the NFL because I grew up with sports and it kept me on a straight path. Most recreation sports are being taken out of schools or the after school programs are being shut down. Not to mention, where I’m from, most of the pee wee football / basketball teams were their own separate entities but now they are run by either the city or have moved to the suburbs where the inner city kids can not travel too or it simply costs too much for them to play. So I want to try and give back to the youth.
Strauss : For someone aspiring to play football in the NFL, do you have any advice for them?
Sutton : I would say to never give up on the dream. Work as hard as possible and leave it all out on the field every time. Stay humble and always be willing to work for it because it’s always somebody else who is. “hard work beats out talent when talent doesn’t work hard”
Strauss : Thank you for your time.
Sutton : No problem. Sorry it took so long. And thanks for asking me. I’m honored.