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March 8, 2012

GameOn, an hour-long IMPROV session with LB Luke Kuechly, QB Ryan Tannehill, and others

by Max Strauss

I participated in an hour-long improv session with J.J. McDermott, A.J. Love, Luke Kuechly, Ryan Tannehill, and Chris Manno. Our host was Steve Shenbaum of GameOn Nation. Check out the interviews that were conducted before the 2012 NFL Draft. There are interviews with NFL Draft Prospects Luke Kuechly and A.J. Love. In addition to that, there is an interview with former Hofstra wide receiver, and current free agent wide receiver, Chris Manno.

GameOn Nation was an experience like no other. I went into the day not knowing what I could expect from the IMG Academies that were located in Bradenton, Florida and expecting to learn behind the scenes about some players that were coming up in this year’s draft class.

What the majority of fans believe is that most players should take a public speaking class in order to help their communication skills when it comes to the pressure of dealing with the often times, very brash, sports media. GameOn Nation is exactly that.

This is about how much I knew I was getting myself into:
-GameOn Nation was established by Steve Shenbaum, a former actor, in order to establish and create seminars to help players and teach athletes improv in order to help better their appearance in front of the media and in front of new people.
-GameOn Nation is based on IMG Academies campus in Bradenton, Florida.
-I was expecting to meet Luke Kuechly and possibly Ryan Tannehill. When we actually started, five players showed up.
-Besides Kuechly and Tannehill, in the room with us, was J.J. McDermott, A.J. Love, and Chris Manno.
-I had to participate in improv games and simulations with athletes throughout the entire day.

If you’re asking me if I was nervous to be playing improv games with athletes like Tannehill and Kuechly? I would be lying if I said no. I was pretty nervous, but not because of that. I was nervous because to be completely honest, I don’t know college football like I know professional football. I’m not called college interviews. I’m called Pro Interviews, for that exact reason. I still did research on the guys, and really enjoyed hanging out with them for the hour and then doing interviews with them after.

Nothing like improv… I watched young student-athletes play improv games, the soon-to-be D1 college players, to then, soon-to-be NFL players participate in all of these improv games.

After the improv, I conducted interviews with three of the five players that we did the improv games with. First was with Boston College LB, Luke Kuechly (Drafted 9th overall to the Carolina Panthers). Second was with former Hofstra WR, Chris Manno (Recently signed with the Carolina Panthers). Third was with USF WR, A.J. Love (Signed as UDFA with Minnesota Vikings), and Southern Methodist QB, J.J. McDermott.

I didn’t get to do an interview with QB, Ryan Tannehill or QB J.J. McDermott, but I will say that what I saw from Ryan Tannehill while participating in the improv games was something else. Both Tannehill and Kuechly were very smart, very instinctive, very clear, and let me add, hilarious. J.J. McDermott showed that he was very confident and also came up with some great things in the improv games. The seasoned veteran of these games was obviously Chris Manno, as he knew what to say, and when to say it, and how to say it. GameOn Nation founder, Steve Shenbaum preaches ridiculousness and to laugh with people and not at people in order to make sure the games are fun, productive, and to help the players in the long run. We played one game in particular, where he had to hint the other players at a ‘secret word’ and that really made me think about how some players can’t get what they want to say, but it was games like this that I think help the players in the long run during interviews with media and team interviews.

Here is the interview with former Boston College LB, Luke Kuechly. He was drafted recently 9th overall to the Carolina Panthers. Click HERE to listen to the audio interview with Luke Kuechly. [Keep in mind this was done before the 2012 NFL Draft.]

Strauss : How did you start playing football?

Luke Kuechly : I think it was something that I have always wanted to do. Ever since I was young enough to play, I did. I started in the fourth grade.

Strauss : What was high school football like for you?

Luke Kuechly : It was good. I played a little bit of everything whether it was linebacker or tight end. When I played linebacker during my junior year we won the State Championship. I kind of played safety during my senior year. I was all over the place.

Strauss : Where did you play at?

Luke Kuechly : I played at St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Strauss : Why did you choose Boston College?

Luke Kuechly : I think the biggest thing for me was that I wanted to go to a strong academic school. That was first and foremost. It was a small school right outside of Boston. There were a couple guys that went to the same high school and played football there, and I felt comfortable with them.

Strauss : What was the hardest transition for you when you playing college football?

Luke Kuechly : I think it was just going from my home which I was very comfortable with to a going to a new situation. You didn’t know anything or anything that surrounds you. You don’t know anyone. It’s got new people, and new things. You got to get used to it.

Strauss : What was the easiest thing?

Luke Kuechly : Just playing football.

Strauss : Who was your coach while you were there?

Luke Kuechly : Frank Spaziani.

Strauss : Did you meet him during recruiting or when did you finally get to meet him and talk with him?

Luke Kuechly : I met him during recruiting. It was good to put a name to a face and to see how a coach coaches. It was good to meet him before and I kind of knew what to expect. When I got there, it was exactly what I thought.

Strauss : What was it like starting as a freshman?

Luke Kuechly : It was different from high school. It’s a higher pace game, there’s more going on, but I always say that there were guys around me who helped me transition. I can always thank those guys for helping me, and I think that without those guys, it would have been more difficult.

Strauss : Do you have a favorite memory from your time at Boston College?

Luke Kuechly : I think the time we spent with all of the guys was I think the biggest thing. You just form great relationships with guys on the team because you go through so much with them. That was the biggest thing that I took away.

Strauss : Who was your best friend on the team?

Luke Kuechly : Jake Sinkovec.

Strauss : What position is he?

Luke Kuechly : He’s a fullback, kind of like an H-back now.

Strauss : You played with Mark Herzlich. How does your playing style differ from his and how does it compare?

Luke Kuechly : I think that we’re the same and that we’re very different at the same time. I think both of us spend a lot of time on preparation and getting ready for the game and knowing what to expect. He’s a little bit different. He’s a little bigger than I am. He’s got a little more size. I think we both love playing the game. We both love watching the game and taking everything in, understanding concepts, and stuff like that.

Strauss : What separates you from any other linebacker in this class?

Luke Kuechly : I just think that I love playing football. It’s one of those things that it has been my top priority ever since I was in college. It’s still a top priority for me.

Strauss : What has been the key to your success so far?

Luke Kuechly : I think it being a top priority. I put everything I do into football. I think everything I do is based around how it would affect me playing, and it’s something that I take seriously, and something that I love doing.

Strauss : You just experienced the NFL Combine. Everyone sees the drills on TV. What was the rest of the combine like?

Luke Kuechly : It’s busy. It’s a lot of get here, hurry up, and then wait. You wait at different things like at the hospital. You get shuffled around.  You got to be at the right spot at the right time. It’s busy. There’s a lot going on, but it’s a good experience, but I’m kind of glad it’s finished up, and behind me.

Strauss : What are you most looking forward to during this upcoming NFL Draft?

Luke Kuechly : Just figuring out where I’m going to be. That’s the biggest thing.

Strauss : Thank you for taking the time.

Luke Kuechly : Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Have a good one.

Here is the interview with former Hofstra WR, Chris Manno (@Mann_O_Steel17) where he was a teammate of Marques Colston. He went undrafted, but was with the Kansas City Chiefs for a brief stint. He recently (March 23) signed with the Carolina Panthers. Click HERE to listen to the audio interview with Chris Manno. [Keep in mind this was done before the he signed with the Panthers.]

Strauss : Where’d you play college football?

Chris Manno : I played at Hofstra University in New York.

Strauss : Tell me your story.

Chris Manno : I graduated in 2008. In half of 2009 and 2010, I played Arena Football. I did fairly well. I came down here last year to train with the Combine class, and from there, I got a tryout with the Chiefs. I guess I did okay at the tryout. They offered me contract, and I spent a little time with them last year.

Strauss : Going back to your Hofstra days, they don’t have a football program anymore?

Chris Manno : They don’t have a program anymore. They cancelled the program. I actually played ball real late. My senior year of high school was my first year. I walked on over there actually. I earned a scholarship. I actually backed up Marques Colston from the Saints, so when I was a baby that was who was in front of me. I learned a lot from him, and when he left, I slid right in. I guess the rest is history.

Strauss : You played your senior year of high school. Why did you decide to join the football team?

Chris Manno : Actually, I was always a baseball kid. I played ice hockey growing up too. Two of my best friends were on the football team, and one night, we were just hanging out. They knew I was athletic, and they asked me if I wanted to play in what was called The Passing League during the summer. It wasn’t flag, but it was run the team’s plays, no contact or anything. I went out there and played and I scored six times on the starters. Coach asked me to play. From there, I played.

Strauss : What position did you play in baseball?

Chris Manno : I played shortstop always. I was going to go to college and play that actually, but I fell in love with football.

Strauss : Were you recruited to play baseball in college?

Chris Manno : I was talking to teams when I was in the tenth and eleventh grade. I stopped playing baseball my senior year so I could train and get a little bigger since I was a scrawny kid in high school.

Strauss : Were you a big fan of football growing up?

Chris Manno : Always. I always loved to watch. I always played in the streets too. I just never played organized because I was always busy. I was on three baseball teams. I was playing hockey. I guess New York football which it stinks to say, I hope it changes because I think it’s kind of behind.

Strauss : Just because the weather sucks…

Chris Manno : No it’s not even that. New Jersey is always very good because they always have three or four teams in the Top 25 in the country. People just don’t take it seriously. It’s a big Lacrosse town. They play baseball and lacrosse. Football is kind of overlooked I guess. So adjusting to all the guys because in high school it was, ‘Chris. Run a post. Run a go.’ I didn’t have read a defense. I was athletic.

Strauss : So you walked on at Hofstra…

Chris Manno : Yes. I walked on.

Strauss : Did you earn a scholarship?

Chris Manno : After my freshman camp, I have a cool story. This is my redshirt freshman year. My birthday is at the end of training camp. We usually start the season right around then. August 28th is my birthday and it was our first game that year. They actually gave me a scholarship that day. It was first game, scholarship, birthday, and I had my first touchdown, so it was pretty sick day. I was also the cover of the school newspaper. It  was a huge week for me.

Strauss : What was the best part about Hofstra?

Chris Manno : The best part about Hofstra was that it was close to home. It was only about forty minutes away, so my family could watch me play. When I got there, we threw the heck out of the ball. As a receiver, that was awesome. But by the time that I was ready to play, we changed the offense which sucked a little. I guess that I got to learn two different styles of offense which is cool and prepped me for now. It was probably the Division I program in that area at that time without going six hours away to Syracuse or Buffalo or Rutgers which was two and a half hours away. It was cool. It was good football. We have guys floating around the league now. I was playing against Victor Cruz and Joe Flacco.

Strauss : Are you next?

Chris Manno : If they give me a chance, I’m more than happy to jump in.

Strauss : Looking back on Hofstra, do you have any moments that stick out that have literally changed your path and passion for the game?

Chris Manno : By the time I got to Hofstra I made that decision up. I was told by a lot of people in high school that when I told them where I was going that I would never play a down there. That was kind of my moment where I was like, ‘Alright cool. I’ll change that.’ But by the time I got to college, I was in work-mode. I had to catch up because I was a little behind with the football.

Strauss : How long was Marques Colston there when you were there?

Chris Manno : He was there my first two years. My redshirt year and my freshman redshirt year.

Strauss : Did you see in him what everyone sees in him now?

Chris Manno : He was always so physically gifted. He’s like 6’4 1/2, 230. You normally see kids that are 6’4 and they look dangly. That kid had everything. He was coordinated and body control. His approach to everything was like a perfectionist out there. He would run a route six times if it took him six times to get it right. He was really good with the film studies. That’s the stuff I got to pick up from him. Physically, we’re different kind of receivers. There were other guys that I was taking pieces of their games from, because I’m never going to be 6’4 1/2, so some of the things that Marques is able to do are not really my strengths.

Strauss : What are your strengths?

Chris Manno : I’m super quick. My forty is very good. I’m in and out of my breaks quick. I catch the ball good with my hands. I think I’m tough, so I don’t mind blocking at all. I’ve also been hit enough times so I’m cool with it now.

Strauss : Why would a team want to take a chance on you?

Chris Manno : I think I bring a good attitude to a team. I’m willing to contribute in any way. Besides being a receiver in college, the whole time I was a Special Teams captain so I contributed in all of the Special Teams. I can do a lot of different things, and a lot of receivers get that diva-tag. I was the gunner on punt team. I was the missile guy on the on kick-off team. I was the punt returner and kick returner. I was the holder. I could bring a lot of different things to a team. I feel like I can affect a lot of different parts of the game, where I feel a lot of guys just stretch the field. I’m capable of doing a bunch of different things.

Strauss : Thank you for taking the time. I appreciate it.

Chris Manno : I appreciate you. Keep doing your thing.

Here is the interview with former USF WR, A.J. Love (@AJ_Love_). He went undrafted, but recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Click HERE to listen to the audio interview with A.J. Love. [Keep in mind this was done before the 2012 NFL Draft.]

Strauss : How’d you start playing football?

A.J. Love : It was pretty much one of the number one things to do down here in Bradenton. You are playing a sport to be active, and it’s been called a retirement community. There are a lot of either older folks or younger folks, so you are either playing football, baseball, basketball, or just something to be active. Sports was it for me, and a lot of my family members. That’s what all of my older cousins were doing and that’s how I got started with it.

Strauss : What was high school football like for you?

A.J. Love : High school was great. I enjoyed everything. It went by really quick, but I enjoyed it though.

Strauss : What was the best part about high school football?

A.J. Love : I think best part of high school football was probably the rivalry. Southeast Manatee rivalry, that we had across the county. That was probably the best thing.

Strauss : You were recruited by how many schools?

A.J. Love : I didn’t count, but as far as Division I programs, I was recruited by about ten DI programs.

Strauss : What was the whole recruiting experience like for you?

A.J. Love : The recruiting process was crazy because I really didn’t know a lot about it. I was just learning as it went on, but it went pretty smoothly. I had a few schools that I was looking at. My best friends and I were being looked at in package deals. I was honestly not even thinking about staying in Florida. I was thinking about going to Iowa or Iowa State because those were the two schools that wanted me and my friend Adrian as a package. Then USF came on late, and I just decided to stay close to home so that my family could come see me play.

Strauss : What was redshirting like?

A.J. Love : It was a big learning curve. It was humbling to say the least. When you get to college, everybody was the best guy on their team or everyone had certain records or was the captain. All of that [high school] stuff goes out the window, and it’s an even playing field. Then you got to start from the ground up once again. It was just a big learning experience for me.

Strauss : You played at Raymond James Stadium which is a professional stadium and very cool. Now that you’re going to be in the NFL, you’re still going to be in a professional environment. What do you think that’s like knowing that you’ve been on a professional field and adjust a fan base like the loyal Tampa area?

A.J. Love : The stadium, that’s for the fans. What’s for me, it’s inside the white lines. As long as it’s one hundred yards, it’s good for me.

Strauss : Do you have a favorite memory at USF?

A.J. Love : Being ranked #2 and just having the success that we had midway through the season to actually get to that. Also, the first Bowl game that I was apart of and that I played in El Paso. I got my first touchdown in that game. It was my freshman year and we lost pretty bad to Oregon. Those are my two favorite memories.

Strauss : You said that you lost that game. How has that made you a better athlete facing the adversity early on in your collegiate career?

A.J. Love : It just gave me the desire to just work. We lost by about twenty points to Oregon which is when they had the running back for the Panthers [Jonathan Stewart] now. They were stacked to say the least. Stewart ran all over us. It just inspired me to keep working hard and to never be complacent and things like that. You can always get better.

Strauss : Now you’re transitioning to the NFL life, what have the last months been like for you?

A.J. Love : It’s just been full of hard work. I was just trying to focus on anything I can think of to get myself physically and mentally ready for the next level whether it’s working out or talking to people who have been there before and doing pretty much anything that could possibly benefit me.

Strauss : Who is someone who you have talked to that has influenced you and helped you out?

A.J. Love : They have a couple of guys here. Randall Cobb is here and I’ve spoken with him a few times. I spoke with my former teammate, Mistral Raymond who plays with the Vikings. I’ve talked to Jacquian Williams, who plays linebacker for the Giants and they just won the Super Bowl. Then, we have a lot of guys here in Bradenton like Mike Jenkins, Fabian Washington, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. I’ve talked to people who I know are already in the NFL and other people who I have come across.

Strauss : What was your main focus in getting your degree?

A.J. Love : I just wanted to plan ahead. Football is short-lived. On average, it’s only three years, and you could go to fifteen, and have a great career or something like that. But you never know, it only takes one play and your career is done. I am always planning for life after football, because even if  I do play another fifteen years, I won’t even be forty. I got the rest of my life and I have to do something.

Strauss : Talk about your success at USF. What was the most important thing that helped you succeed at USF?

A.J. Love : Just being determined. There is always going to be adversity. There is always going to be something that doesn’t happen according to plan, and just having the determination to keep going and wanting to succeed and want to get better. I think that’s what kept me going.

Strauss : Why take a chance on someone like you?

A.J. Love : I’m not just a football player. I’m a guy who is going to come out there and make plays and represent your organization well. I’m going to be a stand-up guy. You won’t have to worry about me getting in trouble or things like that. I’m a guy who’s going to make plays on top of that, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to win.

Best of luck to the careers of all the players that I met and that I talked to.

I ended up having a great day in Bradenton, Florida. Thank you Steve Shenbaum, GameOn Nation, and IMG Academies for being such great hosts to me. They were more than willing to adjust their personal and extremely busy schedules to fit me in.


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