The Kansas City Chiefs have not filled the void created by fullback Tony Richardson after he left in 2005 and current Chief Chris Manderino intends to change that in 2008. Chris signed with the Chiefs back in April and he was kind enough to come by and answer a few questions for us. I can't thank him enough for not only giving up his valuable time for this interview but also for giving us such fantastic and insightful answers.
You graduated from California in 2006 and spent some time on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad before making your way to Kansas City. What's the day to day life of an NFL practice squad player like?
Day to day life as a practice squad player can be very challenging both physically and mentally. It is physically challenging because you must give great physical effort all the time and make sure that you are putting your best effort forward because the guys on the other side of the ball are relying on you to give a good simulation as to what to expect on game day. Also, because you are practicing another team’s plays, you don’t have the same chemistry and execution as a unit as you do with your own offense. It seems to be most challenging for the offensive linemen to correctly execute the schemes. This can lead to breakdowns on the line of scrimmage and thus mismatches in the backfield (i.e. a running back on a defensive tackle) which can take a toll on the body and become frustrating because it doesn’t allow you to completely execute your responsibility.
Outside the physical aspects is the mental and emotional roller coaster you go through as a practice squad player. In Cincinnati, although I was the back-up fullback, I was still on the practice squad. Simply because of the "numbers game" they had there, as far as roster spots were concerned, they kept an additional TE instead of two deep at FB. So although I was a practice squad player, I had to remain keyed in to what the offensive game plan was each week because if something were to happen to the guy in front of me, I would be activated for the game and expected to step in and perform.
Also, as a practice squad player, you know that you are available to become activated by any of the other teams in the league. It is mentally tough to be thinking about whether you will be activated the next week with either your own team or another one throughout the league. You have to try to keep from getting distracted because it is your job to perform your role in helping the team prepare to win. It is mentally tough to be watching on the sidelines on game day when you prepare all week long and do not get to play. All in all however, you have to remind yourself of the many talented players out there who are not with a team at all and be thankful for your opportunity take full advantage of it.
As a four-year college starter who walked on to the team, what were your expectations when you initially tried out to be a Golden Bear?
Coming out of high school I was labeled a "Tweener." I had started at QB and LB my junior year and then started the season as QB and LB my senior year but then got moved to Tailback because that is where my coaches felt they needed me to play in order to put the team in the best position to win. I had tremendous success and accolades both as a team and as an individual by the end of my high school career; however the scholarship offers were not coming the way I thought they would.
I got a lot of attention from some smaller schools, but it was always a dream of mine to play big-time Division 1 football. I grew up hearing stories of my dad’s playing days at Michigan State and had desired to one day play at that level. Outside the interest I was receiving from the smaller schools, I had other options to either go to a junior college for a year or two or be a "preferred" or "recruited" walk-on at several different major college programs.
My final decision was between Cal, UCLA, and USC. I chose to walk on at Cal because it just seemed right. Despite being a walk-on, I felt that they really wanted me there and felt that I could make a contribution to the program. I remember that once I was at Cal as a red-shirt freshman, I would look down at the stadium from the practice field above each and every day. I would look down at the stadium and think to myself that all my hard work would be worth it if I just get the opportunity to be on that field and play in front of the thousands of people that would be there on game day. I achieved my dream much sooner than I had imagined and found myself starting my first collegiate football game as a red-shirt freshman for the University of California, Berkeley.
My expectations at first were to hopefully be playing on special teams my first and second year and then be in a position to compete for the starting job by my junior and senior year. I was playing a new position- fullback, so I thought it would take me a little while to adjust to the new role and to also put on the necessary size and strength to be a starter. It turns out I far exceeded all the expectations I had and achieved want I initially desired much sooner than I dreamed I would. I earned a full athletic scholarship after just one year at Cal and was also the starter at fullback. This inspired me to make new expectations and goals and is part of the reason why I now have the opportunity and privilege to be a player in the NFL.
Fullback isn't a stat heavy or limelight intense position. What motivates you as a fullback to better yourself?
As a fullback you must take a lot of pride in what you do. You have to be physically and mentally tough and you have to find joy in doing your part to contribute to the ultimate goal of WINNING. As a fullback, I am motivated by seeing my running backs excel. When they have great games and seasons, it usually means that I have done a good job in helping them attain good statistics. Also, as a fullback, you encounter many one on one matchups. I am motivated by competition. Each play, I am motivated to compete against my opponent and to dominate him so that he does not make a play on the ball. Mostly I am self-motivated. As a fullback, I have a job to do just like everyone else on the field.
It is not personal accolades that I seek but rather the respect of my teammates and coaches and knowing that I did a job well done and thus proving my worth as an essential part to the team as a whole.
What football moment are you most proud of?
The football moment that I am most proud of is earning a scholarship as a walk on. I had many people stacking the chips against me and telling me how difficult it was to walk on and try to play let alone earn a scholarship. I made it my personal vendetta to prove them all wrong. I felt that it wasn’t up for anyone else to determine what I could or could not do, but rather was up to me to decide.
Needless to say, achieving this goal did not come without hardship and turmoil. Several times throughout my first year at Cal, before achieving this goal, I felt like giving up and that all the hard work may not be worth it. I was working my butt off with no guarantees of what the future held. Fortunately, I pushed through the tough times and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. It reminds me of something that someone once told me, "Anything worth having in life, is worth working hard for and worth waiting for." We all want results NOW, NOW, NOW, but it is not the end result that makes it all worth while but rather the journey in getting there.
How has your experience in Kansas City been? Have you done anything quintessentially Kansas City yet?
I’ve had a great experience in Kansas City thus far. I have only been here about a month or so, but I immediately had a good vibe about the city. Most people seem to be very friendly, the city has a lot to offer as far as things to do, and the guys on the team were all very receptive and welcoming. I found a great place to live on the Plaza which is nice because when I’m bored I can get out and walk around because there are a ton of places just a few blocks away.
As far as doing anything quintessentially Kansas City, I have had KC barbeque from a few different places, tailgated and watched a Royals game, walked around statue park at the Nelson Museum, been to Power and Light District, and checked out the Harrah’s Casino. I still have many things that I want to do and see including checking out the Body’s Revealed exhibit, going to the river market to get groceries, finding a nice Kansas City Girl to go on a horse buggy ride through the plaza with (haha) and whatever else KC has to offer…I’m open for suggestions.
If you weren't playing in the NFL, what would you be doing right now?
If I wasn’t playing in the NFL, I’m not sure EXACTLY what I’d be doing right now. Some options may include getting my MBA, traveling the world and maybe even playing football abroad, working in real estate or in investment banking, growing and running the company that a friend of mine and I have started, or a combination of some of these things. Not to sound that I don’t have a plan or outside options because I know I do. I have a great education, have done many things outside of football to continue building my resume to which I credit the Chiefs for the emphasis they put into their Player Development sector. I have taken advantage of several of the programs they have to offer and they have proven to be extremely beneficial.
I don’t know what I’d be doing and I’m glad that as of right now I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to play in the NFL so that I don’t have to make that decision right now.
Many, many thanks to Chris for taking the time to let us get to know him a bit better. AP wishes him the best of luck in his career.