We visited T.J.’s home state of Wisconsin before pro football’s training camp for two days of filming that you’ll see on this site over the coming months. Here’s a snippet of our Q&A with the newest member of the Six Star family.
Q: Tell us about spending the off-season at home?
“I come back to Wisconsin, where I have an apartment 20 minutes from my parents and five minutes from (my brother) J.J.’s house. Being able to spend a lot of time with them while having some time to myself is a wonderful thing. I can train whenever I need to and see the people I truly love, like my family, friends and girlfriend. That’s why I love coming back here.”
Q: When did professional football become your dream?
“Probably after college.
As a young athlete, I just wanted to be the youth football star, and as I grew older, I wanted to make it to the next level and play on the varsity team. Then, once that happened, it shifted to getting a college scholarship. Then, once I got to college, I wanted to be the starter, and once that happened, it shifted to becoming a professional.
It wasn’t something that in second grade, I said I wanted to be a professional athlete. It just happened along the way.”
Q: What did you have to do to take the next steps along those tiers?
“It helped to have the blueprint from my brothers (J.J. and Derek) being in professional football long before I was. So, I had a true understanding of all the work that needed to happen behind the scenes.
Today, especially with social media, you see the bright lights, commercials and magazine covers, but don’t necessarily see the hard work that goes into it. It’s all about putting your head down, going to work and being committed to your teammates and your coaches.
If you do that, I don’t think anything can stop you.”
Q: As an athlete, how do you balance having fun, being competitive and having football as a job?
“I don’t think it’s hard to balance having fun and being competitive in football, because if you’re not having fun, stop playing! If you aren’t having fun in any sport, or anything in life, then why are you doing it?
That’s why I absolutely love being in professional football – because it’s the best job in the world. I wake up and live a life that so many people can only dream about, and that makes me want to work harder and be that much better.”
Q: Tell us a bit about when you started to take diet and nutrition more seriously as an athlete??
“My diet didn’t really take shape until my junior year of college. Until that point, I was trying to put on weight in any way possible, whether it was drinking chocolate milk, microwaveable mini pizzas right before bed – anything to keep the weight on.
Once my junior year of college hit, I started taking nutrition a lot more seriously and saw the dividends almost immediately. Now, as a professional, I’m ramping up my nutrition, sleep and hydration constantly to make me a better athlete.”
Q: Advice for high school football players looking to gain weight?
“I think if you’re a senior in high school and trying to put on weight, first and foremost, you have to eat. You have to eat as much healthy food as you possibly can, but I’d also tell you to indulge, because that’s an age where you can pretty much eat whatever you’d like and it doesn’t add on like it does later in life.”
I’d also advise you to hit the weight room as well. What you’re doing in there is, essentially, breaking down your muscle tissue. So, if you don’t replenish, you don’t refuel the machine (yourself), and if you don’t do that, you aren’t going to gain weight, get faster or get stronger.”
Q: Tell us about your journey into using supplements?
“Early in high school, I never took any supplements, and in college, I started to use some of the protein shakes that they provided for us. Once I got into the pros, I began exploring more – trying to take the best supplements that would help me take my game to the next level, while doing so safely. Six Star Pro Nutrition and I have partnered as a result of that exploration, and their whey protein has been huge for me, especially post-workout.”
Q: You had 14.5 sacks last year. How, from a technique standpoint, do you pull that off?
“If you want to get to the quarterback as a defensive player and make sacks, and you don’t necessarily have top-tier talent, I think you have to watch a lot of film, pay attention to how great players do rush the passer and try to mimic that as best as you can.
Use practice to practice. A lot of players go to practice these days and try to be perfect. That’s the exact opposite of what you’re trying to do. Go to practice, try new moves, try new things and see if it works for you.”
Q: How much of football is preparation vs. instinct?
“I think when it comes to playing in a professional football game, so much of it is preparation, but so much of it is also instinct. Being a defensive player is a lot more instinctive than an offensive player, simply because we don’t know where we’re going to be on every play. But, I’d be kidding you if I didn’t say that I studied very hard throughout the week on so many things that fans don’t really know about that go into preparing for a football game.
Q: Such as?
“Everything from snap count, to looking into certain feet to know if it’s a run or a pass, to knowing a guy wiggles his fingers, to signal if it’s going to be on one or on two. So much goes into knowing what to do on the football field that becomes instinctual through habit.”
Q: What’s it like to walk out of the tunnel on game day?
“To walk out of the tunnel on game day is one of the best feelings in the world. I think it will be a lot different this year without the fans, or as many fans as we normally have. But, to go out into a stadium and to know you’ve put all your hard work and effort to prepare for that week, and to let it all out – showing everyone what you’ve been working on – is one of the best feelings in the world.”
Q: How important is the recovery process for what you do on the field?
“Recovery is just as, if not more important than the actual process to perform. If you can’t recover properly or don’t dedicate the proper time to it, you’re not going to be able to perform the next week.
It starts with getting the basic 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Some people can go off seven, while others need the full nine hours. Staying hydrated as much as possible to keep your muscles as loose as you possibly can. Stretching. Rolling out. Staying active in the weight room to keep your muscles moving. Just finding out what works best for you.”
Q: Any non-traditional workout or recovery tactics you’ve implemented into your training?
“I am such a cut and dry guy. I work out. I sometimes do dry needling, cupping and massage. That’s about it.
I don’t think there’s any secret formula to success. Someone always told me that if you get bored in doing the little things, then you’re not meant for success. I think each and every day, if you do the same thing, it can get you to those great places. But, so many of us can’t do the same thing every day to get them to that point.”