Interview with Atlanta Falcons Fullback, Ovie Mughelli
This past weekend, while attending Chris Webber’s Bada Bling in Vegas, I conducted an interview from my hotel room with newly signed Atlanta Falcon fullback, Ovie Mughelli. With all the controversy swirling around Flowery Branch, Ovie has taken the initiative to let his play do the talking on the field. Being a new Falcon, he doesn’t feel it’s responsible to comment on Michael Vick’s situation because of the federal investigation and all the uncertainty surrounding what has become a dark era in Atlanta professional sports. His thoughts remain positive and he hopes his upcoming season optimism will resonate with Atlanta fans. He thoroughly enjoyed his time as a Baltimore Raven and has his heart set on becoming one of the best fullbacks ever. His punishing linebacker devastating blocks gave former Raven, Jamal Lewis huge holes to rumble through in helping the Ravens become one of the most feared teams in the NFL because of their close knit spirit and fourth quarter clutch play. Poised to enter medical school after college graduation, Ovie, through NFL teams unexpectedly contacting his coaching staff and athletic director, chose to take on another challenge and play in the NFL.
MT: Describe your mindset coming out of high school as you began your college career at Wake Forest.
OM: I was just out having fun. I would like to say that I was the best, but I wasn’t as confident in high school as I was in college and now in the pros. I didn’t even work out like I was supposed to in high school. I just went off raw talent. It’s hard for me to tell the kids to do just that. They have to put in the work. One thing I always told myself was anything you can do I can do better. I played both ways. I played running back, linebacker, wide receiver, defensive line–anything and everything. I was the leading linebacker while also being the leading rusher. I did whatever it took to help the team.
MT: Were there other players with more talent playing with and against you that didn’t make it?
OM: Oh yeah. I was in a private school league. Whenever I won an award–player of the week–the public school players would be mad and jealous. They would say that I didn’t deserve to win because I played against inferior competition. There definitely were some players in the public school league that were great athletes with some serious talent. I believed to my core that I could go toe to toe with any of those guys–they didn’t. They characterized me as the Black kid at the White school who just got lucky because he played against lesser competition. Yes, guys were a little bigger and a little better in public school. When I lined up against any of them, I dominated because no one had the determination I had to go out there and win.
MT: When did you realize that this could be an NFL dream?
OM: Not before my junior year in college when agents were approaching me and my athletic director relayed to me that scouts and teams were asking about me.
I was like, who me? Really? Then I was like, OK, this might be an NFL thing. I knew it would be a hard journey to get to the NFL so I still went out there and had fun. It was never like I gotta get to the NFL! I gotta make these plays to get that check! No one took Wake Forest seriously because it’s a basketball school. People would say that Wake Forest ain’t no big thang. Ya’ll ain’t a football school. Ya’ll suck at football and yada yada yada. The worst thing people could have done was give me a reason to try and prove those people wrong. Don’t tell me to go left because I’ll go right. I don’t like people telling me what I am, who I am and what level I could go to in anything. This all didn’t really hit me until my junior year, so in my senior year I played with a different type of focus to get it done.
MT: Tell me about being the primary ball carrier and the transition into becoming a blocking back. Instead of running through the holes, you now make the holes and never get the credit you properly deserve.
OM: That’s a great point. I just wanted to play. I just wanted to play football. I started all through high school and I didn’t want to go to the bench period. I had to get back to the versatility that got me into college. I still had the anything you can do, I can do better attitude. Coach needed a fullback. I knew I could do it because I was a big tailback in high school that happened to be fast. I didn’t have blazing speed and there were guys smaller who were scatback type of runners that could shift gears. When they asked me to play fullback, I said sure. If I played fullback, I was going to be the best damn fullback around. So, I kind of did it out of necessity. My first year I grew from getting enjoyment scoring touchdowns to getting enjoyment from watching other players score touchdowns because of my blocking. I loved flattening and just dominating people during the game. There is this mind game you play with the linebacker as a fullback. Once you get him to fear you, or try avoiding you, you got ’em! It’s like an animal hunting its prey. You watch the stages of them being defeated. They either avoid you and try to cut you because they don’t want to hit you up high. You could see them squinting their eyes because they are just trying to get through that contact on a particular play. Some just straight up close their eyes. I get an enjoyment out of finding their weakness and exploiting it to my measure.
I became a key reason why we won games in college, so I began to enjoy being a fullback.
MT: How does the vision change from being a tailback to engaging the linebacker as a fullback? What is that first contact like?
OM: Well, tailbacks run away from guys unless it’s a short yardage situation and you get your head down to make the play running through somebody. As a fullback, you have to love contact–thriving on contact. Contact is where you live. That’s where you make your home. You are low in your three point stance. You can’t see as well. The lineman’s butts are three, four feet from your face. You have to react a little quicker than the tailback. He has seven yards and I have four to five yards to figure out what’s going on. You have to be agile to change directions in case the defensive end slashes this way or that way. You have to roll with it, see them coming down and you have to make your way around because the linebacker might be scraping. It’s a more physical and violent world at fullback a couple of yards up. Alot changes.
MT: Who is that linebacker that challenges you the most?
OM: I have to say Ray Lewis. He challenges you mentally and physically–even emotionally. If you let him get into your head it’s over with. Practicing against him and learning how to handle him helped prepare me for any and every linebacker throughout the league. Once I learned how to take on Ray Lewis and not get pushed back, to a stalemate, to actually pushing him back, then I knew I was going to be alright in the league.
MT: Good transition into my next question. You are going from a veteran laden franchise. Steve McNair, Ray Lewis–two great examples. What was it like playing in Baltimore and having two Hall of Famers on both sides of the ball? What did that time teach you as a man and more specifically as a football player?
OM: I would say four Hall of Famers. You can’t forget that I played with Jonathan Ogden and Deion Sanders. Playing with all those guys is wild! It teaches you everything–from football to everything involved in manhood. It was something that I would never take back. I would have taken less money to just be around those guys. There are teams around the league where you hear constant bickering, egos getting in the way which led to no team unity. The Ravens didn’t have that. We had team leadership in Ray at all times. We had responsibility. The coaches didn’t have to police us, we policed ourselves. Coach Billick often told us that it was our team and he meant that. He said it had to be our team for us to truly want to win and knock everybody else down. We were brothers. That’s the mindset we had to have. I wanted to make a key block or pick of a first down just to help the defense get their proper rest on the sideline more than just to help us win. That’s the type of team we had over there. I wanted to even do it more for the players than the coaches. We were a family. With that in mind, everybody was just out there fighting and clawing a little bit harder. There were other teams that had team tension and because of our togetherness we had what it took to beat those teams. That’s what made us understand the discipline that it takes to be a man. Guys went to sleep on time and got up on time. If we saw our teammates out late at the club we would simply say that we have practice tomorrow or a game in two days. Don’t be out there doing things that you shouldn’t be doing because you are not only hurting yourself, but also the team. Guys weren’t afraid to say that or listen to it being said to them and do the right thing.
MT: The Ravens had a lot of close games last year. It seemed like you would be down for three quarters and all of the sudden Air McNair is out there doing his thing. Talk about his warrior mentality. I don’t think he gets the proper respect he should as a leader.
OM: McNair definitely doesn’t. When Steve McNair rolled into town it changed everything. Everybody was reinvigorated and energized–from the janitor, to the owner of the team. There was just an all around buzz when people began talking about Steve McNair. We knew he had a track record of excellence and being a supreme competitor–a fiery one at that. He hates losing. He hates losing. He and several of my teammates had tears in their eyes when we lost to the Colts in that close playoff game. Steve does not get the credit he deserves. He is a leader on offense like I’ve never seen. We had Ray on defense. He was a mainstay. We had a couple of quiet leaders on offense. Steve was loud, very vocal and stood head and shoulders above everybody on offense. Just seeing his eyes in the huddle in the fourth quarter and being a part of that was things your dream about as a kid. With those eyes, he would say we’ve got to get this first down! He knew we were very capable of doing so and watching it come to be was like magic. It was like being at a magic show and being amazed. He was that magic and we also became that magic because of him. I would look at film and came to truly appreciate being a part of that. It is something I’ll treasure as long as I live.
MT: Is it safe to say that there is some bittersweetness leaving those type of guys?
OM: Oh yeah. You always miss the players and their personalities. I got along with most of my teammates. I’m going to miss them as well as the guys behind the scenes and the front office. I’m in Atlanta to help this team get back to the playoffs and into the Super Bowl. It’s a challenge I’ve had my whole life. I’m looking forward to this one.
MT: I know you don’t want to talk about Michael Vick’s situation. Just say he’s in there at the start of the season, what type of chance do you have in the NFC?
OM: With Michael and his football abilities, anything can happen. I want to show the NFC, the NFL and the fans that the Falcons are going to be a force to reckon with. We have Joe Horn, the rookie we drafted in Jamaal Anderson, and with the addition of myself and this coaching staff, we have the tools to get that job done. The fans of Atlanta are just starving. They can’t wait to get into another playoff run and that’s what we are trying to give them.
MT: Who are some of your inspirations as a fullback? Do you go back in time and pull some things from past greats or do you compare yourself to players like Lorenzo Neal?
OM: Great question. I actually try to pull things from all the fullbacks. I’m a fan of a lot of fullbacks. Guys like Mack Strong and Sam Gash. I’m a huge Mike Alstott fan. He was my first fullback mentor or hero. I got to meet Mike for the first time last year when the Ravens played Tampa Bay and also got to meet Lorenzo when the Ravens played San Diego. We beat both. I got a chance to tell both of them that I had been watching them for a while and they haven’t received the respect they’ve deserved for the longest time. They are now getting that respect at the tail end of their careers. I just wanted to tell them that I have respected them and in a sense be like them. Not only be like them but be better than them. They know that they wanted to be the best and I want to be the best fullback I possibly can be.
There are a lot of bad fullbacks out there. Some people think that if you are a big body and just run forward and knock somebody down then you are a good fullback. That’s not the case. Being a truly good fullback, it takes a lot of skill, a lot of agility and a lot of versatility. You just don’t see it very often. When you do you have to take notice. Along with the guys I’ve mentioned, Mike Carney is another. When we both worked out in Phoenix two seasons ago, we said to each other that we are gonna make it. We are going to show the league how to play the position of fullback. This past year, he and I tied for second team All Pro. He’s doing his thing in New Orleans and I will be doing my thing in Atlanta. Since we are now in the same division, it’s going to be a serious competition for the Pro Bowl. Mack Strong went last year for the NFC, so we all are going to have a healthy competition.
MT: There’s a trend going on right now with fullbacks getting paid. I’m sure you are glad to be a part of that. Why is this happening now?
OM: Fullbacks have been busting their butts for a while. It’s one of the hardest and violent positions and also the lowest paid until the last couple of years. Fullbacks and kickers…wow! I don’t know who made those salary figure decisions. I’m happy that I can be an example of how hard we work. I’m very blessed with the contract I received from the Falcons.
I will show them and the fans of Atlanta that I’m worth every single penny.
MT: The Ovie Mughelli Project is an admirable endeavour. What are your goals and aspirations for something that is rare in this day and age of a me first society? Do you also have a web site?
OM: Yes, I have a personal web site and also one for my foundation, The Ovie Mughelli Project. The Ovie Mughelli Project is basically trying to improve the quality of life of youth in my hometown of Charleston and my playing city of Atlanta and eventually giving back to my home country of Nigeria. I have a real soft spot for kids and youth in general. This sounds corny, but the children are indeed our future because they will be running the country eventually. The faces of some of these kids are so sad. So many of them don’t have hope. They just have low expectations of themselves because they don’t know any better. It’s not that they are bad kids or they don’t want to be something in life, they just don’t think it’s possible. Going to college is so far fetched that it just seems ridiculous to them. They gauge their lives off of the lack of success of their parents and expect the same life for themselves. We teach them their foundation should be education that can lead them to do anything they want to do–whether it’s sports, specialists like doctors, lawyers, engineers or an architect. Other careers in marketing or advertising–anything they want to do. We stress that it has to start with education which gives them an advantage. Some just want to blow it off and say they want to be Michael Jordan or John Elway and it’s not going to happen. We talk about proper eating. We talk about helping the environment. Americans don’t really focus on the environment because there are so many other problems so we try to make it their focus. People are worrying about their next meal and forget about recycling. The youth have least to do with the polluting of this planet but are going to be affected the most. Those kids are going to be living in a world where they are going to have to wear masks on certain days and are going to have to check the weather to see how the air quality is going to be on others. They are going to have to deal with it.
MT: Great point. Do you feel that athletes should give back or is it a personal decision?
OM: I think we definitely should give more back. It takes nothing to give of your time. It’s so easy to give your energy and money to those that are less fortunate. To whom much is given, much is expected. These guys have to understand that it’s a privilege to play in the NFL. We have to fight enormous odds to get where we are, so when we get here we should be proud and bring somebody up with us. You can’t just revel and enjoy everything that comes with the NFL. Do something positive and help someone else out. These kids hang on every word we say. We can teach kids what parents can’t, teachers can’t or coaches can’t. It’s our duty to be role models and do whatever we can to affect kids in a positive way. That’s what I’m trying to do with through my foundation.
MT: You also have some acting aspirations correct?
OM: I definitely would like to dabble and see just how far it could go. It’s just like this NFL thing. I don’t want to be forty years old and saying to myself what if I tried harder? I want the Pro Bowls, the Super Bowls and the Hall of Fame. I will give it my all on the field. It’s the same thing with acting. I took theater in high school. I see other entertainers and sports figures doing very well acting. So just like my high school mantra: Anything they can do, I can do better, I definitely want to be the best and dabble in acting when I finish in football.
MT: There’s a fullback out there right now in high school sitting on the end of a weight bench exhausted and sweating after a serious workout, but still doesn’t have the confidence to get him to that next level. What would you say to him if you walked into the gym and saw his head down discouraged?
OM: I would definitely tell him to not be discouraged. Fullbacks are not a dying breed. We are here to stay even though some teams don’t fully utilize our skills. There is definitely room for fullbacks in the NFL. Work your butt off!
MT: What type of workout would you tell him to use to maximize his skills?
OM: To concentrate on your legs instead of your arms because you block with your legs. You engage with your arms but you move bodies and create holes from the ground up through your legs. You have to practice your craft all the time and let the coaches know that you can do it all. Coaches will pigeon hole you into just being a blocking back. I can catch, and I can run. I’m very athletic. I led the Ravens in special teams tackles a couple of years ago. You have to make sure you get it in your coach’s head to use you in every way possible so you can show colleges that you have that versatility that they are looking for and be that big tailback that can catch the ball out of the back field and do it all.
MT: Thanks Ovie. Good luck to you this year. Keep shining.