What's it like coming from a small town in southern Georgia, attending a small college and then joining one of the most prolific and popular teams in the NFL?
J.J. Wilcox has but few words: "It's different."
The Dallas Cowboys safety, now in his third year, is still adjusting to the enormity of playing for America's Team after spending his college days at Georgia Southern, even admitting that he got caught up in the lights and the fame as a rookie. But signs of improvement came quickly during a breakout 2014 season in which he recorded 89 tackles and nabbed three interceptions as the Cowboys powered their way to the NFC Playoffs.
With the first team workouts of the season about to begin, we chatted with Wilcox about his off-season training, the loss of Demarco Murray and his Steak & Shake addiction.
STACK: What's up, J.J.? Anything specific you're working on this off-season after your breakout 2014 season?
J.J. Wilcox: I work on everything. I want to get faster, bigger and stronger. For myself, I wanted to work on being a great safety. I'm still pretty young to the position. I didn't play it until my senior year of college. I'm going into my fourth year playing the position, period. I'm still learning, but my ceiling is high. I'm working on my angles, my backpedals, open field tackles. Sharpen up my tools.
Footwork is such a huge part of being a defensive back. Have you used any drills or techniques to work on that?
I stay on that speed ladder night and day. I go to YouTube and look at people and steal drills and different routines I can do to help my footwork. I stay in my leg bands, I've got bands on my knees and my feet, and just work on sliding and moving side-to-side. I use a lot of bands and ladders. Anything with footwork, I try to master it and put it in my everyday routine.
You've also been wearing these funky Powerhandz to help with hand speed. Tell me about those.
I got introduced to them last year. These gloves are one of a kind. I used them here and there during the last year and the off-season. They help with hand strength, hand speed, your grip. They help you build stronger hands. Even when you're running, they slow your hands down so when you take them off, it's like night and day.
Have any of your teammates started wearing them to train?
Yesterday when I walked in, Brandon Carr had a pair of the old ones from last year. I said, "Hey man, you need some new gloves." Pacman [Jones] uses them. Kelvin Escobar asked for some the other day. I'm going to get a box of them and hand them out, ask the guys how they feel about them.
Have you made any changes to your diet this off-season?
It's funny you say that, because I'm at the point now where I'm trying to lose a couple pounds and get lighter. The biggest transition from my rookie year to now is my diet and calorie intake. I was in college on a meal plan, so I'd go to the cafeteria and order a hamburger, chicken fingers and fries. Now I'm trying to lose weight, get lean, get faster. That's been a big key for me this off-season, losing weight and getting leaner so I can move around better at the safety position.
What's been the biggest change for you in terms of your diet?
I'm working on my calorie intake. I try to stay away from carbs after six o'clock. I eat a lot more lean meat such as grilled chicken, fish, shrimp, seafood stuff, salads. Even my snacks. I eat a lot of nuts. All I drink is water. Small key stuff like that. You can have one or two cheat days here and there, but you've got to limit those. Stay away from your breads, try to stay away from eating late night. That was a big issue for me. I get hungry late nights and go to Steak & Shake to get a double cheeseburger. But now I try to stay away from eating after 6 or 7 o'clock, and if I get hungry, just eat some nuts and call it a night.
How difficult has that been?
It's the toughest thing ever. It's the toughest thing other than playing in the NFL. It's a lot easier said than done. When you're sitting there and the stomach gets to rumbling and talking, and the commercials are all food. It's discipline. You have to know what you want to do and what you want to accomplish in this league. The great players know how to say no and have self discipline, so I try to work on that.
So, be honest, when was the last time you had Steak & Shake?
Last month, around this time, I actually did. Right before I started training. I took myself out, had my last Steak & Shake burger. Ate out pretty good. It was a good memory. In due time I'll get back around to it on one of my cheat days.
What are your goals for your third year in the league?
As a team, I want to win the Super Bowl. I'm a team guy, but every player has to self-evaluate and set goals for themselves and push themselves and help better the team. I just want to get better at every stat I had last year. I had three interceptions last year. Wy not go for five? I had 89 tackles last year. Why not shoot for 100? I always have to up my stats and study more film to be the best player I can be for the Dallas Cowboys.
How big was the transition from Georgia Southern to the Cowboys?
I'm from a small town in south Georgia where there's not a lot of fame and not a lot of lights. Then I went to a small school at Georgia Southern. It was different. You walk into an environment where you're one of the highest paid men on the earth, in an organization with a tradition of winning, and you have no clue until you walk through the doors. It's been a blessing to be here. It's been great.
You guys lost maybe the best running back in the league to free agency. What was your reaction to DeMarco Murray leaving?
It was different. I'm still young and new to the business side of it. I'm still in my college stage, which is brotherhood. But I understand it now, it's business. It was sad to see DeMarco go, because I know deep down in my heart our organization tried to keep him, and his teammates love him. He's a great guy, and he's going to be a great running back for the Eagles. He helped me. Going against a great running back like that in training camp every day upped my game and improved my skill level. It was tough to see him go, but I understand it's a business and I wish him nothing but the best.
On the plus side, you do get to tackle him now.
Yeah, in practice you might accidentally take him to the ground, but you know it's nothing intentional. But this time, it will be fun. But at the end of the day as long as we get our "W" I'm fine with it.
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