It’s my 6th season in the NFL and every time I step out on the field I still get that same rush. I hope it’s not something that I’ll ever take for granted.
It’s been almost two years since I started working with the ethanol industry. It’s a natural connection for me. Growing up on a farm, I understand the importance of ethanol and the challenges the industry faces. Ethanol is clearly an underdog in the world of energy. Being an underdog is something I can relate to.
I grew up in Mount Vernon, S.D. – a town of 350 people – with dreams of playing professional sports in some way. The opportunities for a kid growing up in a small town playing nine-man football were few and far between – especially if the town is in South Dakota, a state that doesn’t get a lot of attention from big school recruiters.
For me, growing up on a farm was the perfect set-up – I was working, riding snowmobiles and playing sports. I wouldn’t change that for anything. Growing up a farm kid, chores came first – I was up early loading pigs and up late moving cattle. Those chores and the discipline and work ethic I learned has made me the person I am today and helped me in so many ways. Those lessons from the farm helped me through my education and even through football.
In high school, when the University of Iowa came calling, naturally, I was just about as excited as you could possibly be. To have somebody from a Big 10 school drive their pretty car down a gravel road to Mt. Vernon with snow drifts about 20 feet high on each side of the road was really a defining moment in my life. I appreciated them taking the time to meet me and my family and see what we were all about. Really, in the end, I believe that’s what allowed Iowa to offer me a scholarship. I wasn’t the fastest or the biggest or the best, but they knew I was going to put everything into that program.
I red-shirted my freshman year at Iowa and things were going great. I was recruited as a quarterback, but they quickly learned I couldn’t throw – something pretty important at the quarterback position – so they asked me put on 40 – 50 pounds. After my freshman year in spring ball, I won the position of outside linebacker. I beat out a junior and a senior and I thought I was in a position to really start my career. But 3 days later I blew out my knee. Naturally, that’s a huge set-back. Doctors said it would take 8 months to recover, but I made it back in 4 and a half months and played in the 2nd game of the season the next fall. It took a lot of hard work, but I was used to that because that’s how my parents raised me growing up in Mount Vernon.
That year, we had a great season and won the Big 10. I was able to stay healthy my sophomore year and it was a whirlwind after that. Before I knew it, after my junior year of college I was named an All-American. I didn’t know where the time went or how it happened, I just knew that it was happening and good things were coming.
People were asking me if I was going to leave school early and go the NFL. I really couldn’t believe it. But this was the first time I realized this could really happen if I kept working. But I had made a commitment to Iowa and I loved playing there, so I stayed at Iowa for my senior year.
The next thing I knew I was going to the NFL combine and was fortunate enough to get drafted in the 1st round by the Vikings. But the challenges weren’t over. During the first preseason game my rookie year I blew out my other knee. But I was able to come back again – and it’s all because of where I started.
After five years in the league, there are two goals that I have left that I’d really like to accomplish professionally.
Growing up a farm kid, chores came first – I was up early loading pigs and up late moving cattle. Those chores and the discipline and work ethic I learned has made me the person I am today and helped me in so many ways.
Obviously, I want to win a Super Bowl ring. My other goal is to play for an organization my entire career. I want to have a loyalty to where I play. It’s not about the money, but about the organization you play for and who you play with. The Vikings were the first ones to give me an opportunity. Loyalty is something that’s important to me and I see it in the ethanol industry as well.
I’ve learned a lot from my time working with the ethanol industry. It’s great to know the core of an industry – what drives it and what makes it go. In my time working with the ethanol industry, I see the enthusiasm behind it. As passionate as I am about what I do, I see the same in the ethanol industry. There is such a strong belief in what they are working for is good for the country. It’s incredible and it’s fun to be a part of. I’m certainly supportive because I know how it positively affects farm families – my family included. It’s sometimes hard to find positive things for famers today and this industry is doing that. And so much more.