With the fame of being a professional athlete, typically comes the ego. Not for Jacksonville Jaguars starting guard Uche Nwaneri, or Chukwu as he is known by those close to him.
Nwaneri, who is a fan favorite because of his willingness to connect with fans, can be found on Twitter, Facebook and the Jaguars’ message boards rubbing elbows with fans. He says that “a lot of athletes today are seen as arrogant” but he sees himself as a normal guy.
He took the time to chat with The Jaggernaut about the lockout, the offseason and his love for spaghetti.
The Jaggernaut: You are one of the few players in the NFL who is very into fan interaction. Why is that important to you?
Uche: Honestly for me I have always felt that being able to connect with people on the most basic level is important. Not just because I am an athlete, but as a person. People are meant to interact. Getting to know people from different backgrounds has always been something important to me. It is fun to interact with people in the city; you are able to be seen as a regular person. A lot of athletes today are seen as arrogant, I have always felt like I am a normal guy.
J: Being big into social media, would you ever call out an official on Twitter or Facebook if you were mad about a call?
Uche: Not necessarily, just because as a lineman I can only do my job. I can’t complain for the receiver. I am a realist; I will make comments or call things out as I see it in just everyday life. I’m not afraid to get on Twitter and say something people may not like to hear.
J: What are your thoughts on the Jaguars fan base as a whole?
Uche: I really think our fan base is a solid fan base. We have a lot of really good fans. For a team as small as we have, we have a dedicated fan base. We are a young team; we are just starting to pick up steam. The economy hit us hard in 2008 that affected a lot of people in Florida in particular. I never looked at it as we have bad fans; a number of things in the country affected the fans in a number of different ways. Everything lost attendance, clubs were packed in 2007 and in 2008 everything shut down.
J: What are your thoughts on the lockout?
Uche: Right now it is a complicated situation. It is a dispute over a lot of money and there is a lot of egos involved and a lot of factors that are going to be looked at on both sides to find a complete resolution to it. It’s sad that as professional athletes and businessmen, we haven’t been able to solve this in a better fashion. But at the end of the day we have fans, and some people only have that to look forward to in the fall. Baseball went through the same thing and they lost a lot of fans. Me personally, I see it as an obstacle that we can overcome it’s just a matter of when.
J: What info have you been hearing on the CBA negotiations?
Uche: It’s hard to say, you hear things on ESPN and that’s where a lot of players get their info. We also get emails from our player reps and it’s hard to tell what’s going on. The players’ side is saying we are not close yet. We have billionaire businessmen who run our teams and it’s hard to think they are going to give us a deal where they don’t have some kind of advantage. That’s business though. As players, we are looking for a deal that is fair to us. At the end of the day we are on the field and that’s 100% risking our health. There are hundreds of players who have disabilities years after the game and they have no healthcare, and they have no source of income and the NFL isn’t trying to help them. We want a deal that will benefit us now and those who have paved the way for us now. We don’t want any more money; we just want a fair deal.
J: Do you think a deal will be reached in time before training camp starts?
Uche: I hope so, but we will see. I am tired of looking into the crystal ball. Every time I look we hear “We are close” for the last month.
J: Is there anything specific in the new CBA you are looking for personally?
Uche: One thing myself would be lifetime medical.
J: What are your thoughts on the possible rookie wage scale?
Uche: I think that’s a point that a lot of players wanted to get to even before the CBA. These guys haven’t played a down football in the NFL, but you’re willing to give them 50 or 60 million dollars, while guys who have sacrificed themselves for their teams and the league make a half or a third than them?
J: How do you feel about the progress that has been made during the last five days?
Uche: I think it is good to hear there is progress being made. Any progress is good progress.
J: What have you been doing in your free time because of the lockout?
Uche: I have been working out with Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Tony Pashos and Drayton Florence. I also have been working on my tattoo parlor/salon in Atlanta as well.
J: I know the players have had some organized workouts. Who organized the player workouts?
Uche: Dave [Garrard], Rashean [Mathis], [Aaron} Kampman were big into organizing them. It is something we as a team thought was needed to have guys out there in a team structure. Those guys did a great job getting them together and getting them organized to help keep football in our minds.
J: What kind of stuff did you guys do?
Uche: We did a lot of drill work. As lineman we did some sled work and some takeoff work. I know the quarterbacks and wide receivers have been doing a lot of 7-on-7 with the defensive backs. Obviously it’s not OTAs, but we are doing our best to keep football fresh in our minds.
J: What are your expectations for the season, whenever it starts?
Uche: My expectations are to get over the hump and get to the postseason. Last year we were a click away, and then we ran out of gas towards the end. It is a matter of time and we feel like this is our year.
J: What is your personal goal this season?
Uche: My personal goal is to get to the Pro Bowl. Last year Sporting News had me starting on their ballot and that was real humbling. I want to been seen as an elite guard.
J: What are your thoughts on the front office trading up for Blaine Gabbert?
Uche: Honestly, I didn’t think much about it when it happened. But I understood the point. It wasn’t a pick saying Dave can’t get it done for us. But it’s a pick that says he isn’t going to play forever. If it was a perfect world, he should be sitting on the bench for the first 2-3 years while he learns the league. A perfect situation would be like with Phillip Rivers sitting behind Drew Brees, and he is an elite QB now because of it.
J: Over the course of the lockout, what has been your most expensive payment, and how do you plan to pay it?
Uche: Honestly I think guys who are veterans weren’t really affected by the lockout. If everything was going normal right now, we would only be making like $500 a week. We make about $19,000 during the offseason and in the grand scheme of things that’s nothing, it’s not even an eighth of a paycheck during the season. For me I have a financial advisor who helps me budget my money.
J: What do you want to tell fans that are angry about the lockout?
Uche: Just hold on, it’s coming. Football is not going anywhere. You should be mad it’s taking this long for guys to get serious and start talking about things. But football is going to be here. You are going to see the Jags and 31 other teams as well.
J: What would you say to some college players who weren’t drafted and are still waiting?
Uche: Keep doing what you’re doing. You can only control what you can control. Be patient and keep working out. When their number is called they are not going to be able to have an excuse to why they aren’t ready. They will just move on and call the next person.
J: Which teammate and opponent brings out the best in you?
Uche: Any defensive lineman I go against. I make it a point to dominate any player I go against. Obviously I have guys in the backfield who are counting on us too.
J: Who is the best trash talker in the division?
Uche: Courtland Finnegan isn’t the best, but he talks the most. And he doesn’t always back it up, remember what happened with him an Andre Johnson?
J: Favorite food?
Uche: Spaghetti. My mom makes the best in world, every time I go back that’s the first thing she busts out. I love it.
J: Favorite vacation spot?
Uche: Man, I had a great time in London. Costa Rica was real nice too. It’s hard to pick just one.
J: If you could be doing anything else besides playing in the NFL, what would it be?
Uche: I would be an entrepreneur. That’s what I want to be when I get out of the league, especially with Inkaholics.
J: Tell me about Inkaholics.
Uche: Inkaholics is going to be a high-end tattoo parlor. We will have a coloring salon part too called Inkblot. We actually have a building in Atlanta that we are building out right now. It is basically an extension of my love for art and a fusion of trendy attitude of people my age when it comes to tattoos and hairstyles. I have always been a fan of tattoos and I have always been a fan of art. I love the creative nature of it. Tattooing has been around since the beginning of time, and it is never going to go out. Inkaholics is really something that going to be different, and bring tattooing into a new age.
Look for Uche’s personal blog, exclusively on The Jaggernaut when the season finally starts.