At this point in his career, Kellen Winslow Jr. should have been well on his way to showing the NFL and its fans the best tight end skills they’ve seen in decades. With a Hall of Fame father, a strong-willed mother and a record-setting college career at the U, Kellen had the pedigree and the background to make NFL history after the Cleveland Browns chose him sixth overall in 2004.
But things went wrong. In the final minutes of his second professional game, Kellen broke his leg trying to recover an onside kick. He spent months rehabbing his leg and training his body so he’d be ready to tear through opponents when he returned for his second season. Then things got worse. Riding his new motorcycle in May of ’05, he had a terrible wreck, injuring himself so badly that he jeopardized his career—one that had barely begun.
Instead of crying “why me?” Kellen chose to focus solely on recovering from his early bouts of bad luck. And in 2006, when he returned to the field, he took some meaningful first steps toward fulfilling his destiny. The 6’4” 250-pounder hauled in 89 receptions for 875 yards, proving he’s one of the NFL’s elite when healthy. To learn how he remained focused, strong and intense through the ups and downs of his highly publicized life, we got him talking one-on-one.
The Real K2
STACK: After an amazing career, your father was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. How have you dealt with the high expectations resulting from this?
Winslow: I have dealt with this since I was a kid. People would say, “Your dad’s a Hall-of-Famer. He’s this; he’s that.” But I’ve always wanted to be the best player ever. It sounds cliché, but that’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do, and I’m living my dream. I’m here.
My dad helped me out with the pressure, too. He didn’t want me to play football; he actually wanted me to play basketball so I wouldn’t experience that pressure. But my love was with football. My dad didn’t have to tell me much though, because this is what I wanted to do, and I can handle the pressure.
STACK: Has creating your own identity—apart from your father’s legacy—been difficult?
Winslow: We have the same name, so it’s tough to create my own image. I just try to be myself and let whatever happens happen. He’s a legend, and I’m just trying to be right there next to him.
STACK: How has adversity helped you become a better athlete?
Winslow: When I got hurt in my accident on May 1, 2005, it changed my life. I got hurt in my second game as a rookie, then rehabbed and finally got back. I got a motorcycle and got hurt again. It went as bad as it could early on, but I believe everything happens for a reason. It has all made me a stronger person and a stronger player.
STACK: What is one thing about you most people might not know?
Winslow: The perception people have of me is not how I really am. All I ask is that you don’t base what you think about me just from Sundays. I’m fun to be around, and I make people laugh.
STACK: What advice can you offer a high school athlete based on your experiences as one?
Winslow: Cherish the moment. High school is the most fun you’re going to have [playing]. It’s pure—not for the money or the fame. It’s just you and your boys going out and playing. I still watch my high school highlight tape to relive the memories.
The Recruiting Process
STACK: When did you know you had a chance to play big-time college ball?
Winslow: I always knew I was going to play professional football. I never really thought about college football, because I wanted to jump straight from high school to the pros. But when I started to get letters, I got excited. Letters don’t mean that much, but once you get that scholarship—whether it’s full or partial— you know you’ve got a chance.
STACK: Do you remember what college coach called first? Who else came knocking?
Winslow: Yeah, the University of Missouri. That’s where my dad played. They offered me my first scholarship, but I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to follow my dad too much. I eventually narrowed it down to the University of Washington, USC, UCLA, Michigan State and the University of Miami.
STACK: How did you make your decision?
Winslow: My dad and I weren’t agreeing on what school I should go to. I wanted to go to Washington; he wanted me to go to Michigan State. So I just thought, “I’ll go to Miami.” It worked out for the best.
STACK: Do you have any horror stories from the recruiting process?
Winslow: Yeah, my father and I got into it pretty bad. And he got me, I’ll say that much [laughs]. We argued a lot, because I was trying to be grown up and make my own decisions. But he was just looking out for my best interest.
STACK: How do you build chemistry with your teammates off the field?
Winslow: We play a lot of Madden and NHL 2K7. [My teammates] come over my house, eat pizza and play video games all day. Everyone says they’re the champ, but I am the champ. So anyone who wants to come see me, let me know. Even just hanging around the locker room here, we’ll just talk about life and things. That’s one thing I’ll really miss when I’m done playing.
STACK: Do things ever get competitive between you and your teammates on the field or working out?
Winslow: Charlie [Frye] and I are very competitive, but Braylon [Edwards] and I are the most competitive players on the team. We don’t say much about it, but I won’t let him beat me in anything—and he’s not going to let me beat him.
STACK: How do you get yourself amped up to work out or play?
Winslow: I listen to 50 Cent all the time; he’s my boy. Ludacris is another one that gets me going. Sometimes before games I listen to Metallica, but most of the time it’s 50 or Luda.
STACK: How do you get yourself to the competitive, intense state you’re known for?
Winslow: Something just comes out of me on Sundays. I don’t want anyone to beat me, and I take it personally. I think I get that from my mom; she’s a really intense person who doesn’t take any crap. My dad’s more of a laid back gentleman—a great player, but on the gentleman side.
STACK: When did you begin training?
Winslow: I was about 13. My dad had me doing push-ups and sit-ups. I wanted to get into the weights, but he wouldn’t let me yet.
STACK: What is your least favorite element of your current training regimen?
Winslow: I don’t like training my abs that much, but you need a tight core. It’s the most important part of your body as an athlete.
STACK: On the flip side, what do you like most about your workouts?
Winslow: I live for squatting. I think that’s so important because it [works] so much of your body.
STACK: When and how did you learn the greatness of Squats?
Winslow: I really didn’t squat until college. A lot of people don’t squat right, so you need to learn how to do it first. [What] I learned at Miami [about squatting] has worked wonders for me.
STACK: A lot of Miami alumni go back in the off-season to train with Coach Swasey. Do you?
Winslow: I haven’t been able to go back as much as I’d like because of my injuries; I’ve had to spend a lot of time rehabbing. But I will definitely be down there doing some training this off-season.
STACK: How do you mentally prep yourself before a monster workout?
Winslow: I truly believe that I can handle any workout. All my doubters out there keep me motivated. This saying right here on my arm, “Without struggle there is no progress,” really keeps me going, too.
STACK: Towards the end of that tough workout, how do you get yourself through those last reps?
Winslow: I imagine there’s someone next to me training. It’s usually Jeremy Shockey, and I’m always beating him [laughs].
Kellen’s Core Circuit
Hanging Knee Raise
- Hang from chin-up bar with overhand grip
- Bend knees and pull them up toward chest
- Slowly return to start position; repeat for specified reps
Winslow: Avoid swinging and stay stable.
- Assume position on Back Hyper machine so body forms 90-degree angle
- Raise upper body until chest is parallel to floor
- Lower to start position with control; repeat for specified reps
Winslow: Come up explosively, but lower down slowly. Keep your stomach tight. You’ve gotta work your back.
- Lie with back on floor, holding physioball between ankles
- Keeping arms and legs straight, raise upper body and legs until hands meet physioball directly over waist
- Lower with control; repeat for specified reps
Modification: Pass ball between feet and hands at the top of each rep
Winslow: I try to keep my core tight by flexing it, so there’s no wobbling. I want to keep the movement crisp.
Physioball Reverse Crunch
- Lie with back on floor and legs straight, holding physioball between ankles
- Bend knees and draw them toward chest; pause
- Return to start position with control; repeat for specified reps
Winslow: Keep your stomach tight the whole time.