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Jerome Felton: 'I’ve seen the highest highs... and I’ve seen the lows'

This will be Jerome Felton’s eighth training camp. And the guy who helped pave the way for Adrian Peterson in Minnesota will now do the same for LeSean McCoy in Buffalo.

Felton broke down his path to Buffalo in today’s News, from seeing his position vanish in Detroit and Carolina — and wondering if his NFL career was over after four years — to finally breaking through with the Vikings. In Buffalo, he sees no reason why McCoy can’t rush for 2,000 yards, too.

The 6-foot, 248-pound Felton could become the team’s best fullback since Sam Gash who, ironically, is the one who molded him into a fullback as the Lions running backs coach. At Furman, Felton finished as the school’s all-time leading scorer. He carried the ball. He scored 63 touchdowns. But into the NFL, he quickly realized his ticket to making it would be embracing the role of a lead blocker.

Gash was the coach who instilled this mentality in him. From there, Felton says he's been determined to prove there's still a great value in his position.

In addition to the story, here are a fee extra takes from Felton. Training camp begins today at 10 a.m.

How did Sam Gash instill the fullback mentality in you? “I’ve always been the kind of person that whatever’s it going to take is what I’m willing to do. To make the Super Bowl, to get to Pro Bowls, if that’s what I have to do, that’s what I’m going to do. I have no qualms about it. It was easy to work with Sam because I had that mind-set anyways. So just those technique things and having no fear and no hesitation. When I look at fullbacks today — and maybe why they’re dying a little bit — you look at college and you don’t see many fullbacks. They’re going to spread offenses. Then, when you get to the NFL, you have to switch somebody from a different position to play fullback.

“So one thing I see is guys hesitate or right before they get to contact, they kind of gather. With me, I try to run through. I don’t flinch, I don’t pause. I want to get to Point B faster than you do. So that’s one thing he’d always tell me. When you get your aiming target, run through it. Hit through the linebacker. I’d come to the sideline after banging my shoulder up or my ankle and he wasn’t trying to hear it. For a fullback, he’d say ‘Get back in there. You’re good.’ That toughness, that physicality, that mentality. I was a big NFL fan and I saw him play when he was with Baltimore and the Bills. I always liked his game.

“Once I know where I’m trying to go and where the runner’s trying to go, I don’t hesitate. I accelerate through my point. With Gash, that was the biggest thing. And working with Kirby last year, I worked on making sure I maintain contact. I’ve always tried to take something from everybody and I’ve been blessed to have some great coaches.”

How have you lasted this long in the NFL at your position? “I don’t let other people outwork me. I was actually training today and I was talking to another veteran and I was like, ‘You see young guys come in. A couple rookies show up late and stuff like that.’ Through hard work and always staying on top of my game, whether it’s through minicamps or offseason workouts or training camp, that I’m always prepared. I feel good. I just turned 29, going into my eighth year. I still feel strong, I feel athletic. I attribute a lot of that to hard work and determination. I always wanted more out of my career.”

In what ways did you crank up the intensity this offseason? “I don’t let myself get out of shape. A lot of guys take that first month or two off. But I’ll take a couple weeks and even those couple weeks, I’m at the gym riding the bike or lifting light weights, things like that. But I don’t take too much time off. I try to stay in shape the whole time. Obviously you go through OTA’s with the team and those things with the team, but I feel like I get into my best shape when I’m back in Atlanta training by myself, training with the guys I train with.”

How did everything come together for you and Adrian Peterson in 2012? “It was a perfect storm. Adrian came back from a torn ACL. So he had a lot to prove and I had a lot to prove. We pushed each other. Obviously, you have doubters. Can Adrian be the guy he used to be? And I had my doubters — what is this guy really about. We both were trying to both prove something that year. It was really cool to see him get better and better every week. Our first week, we played Jacksonville, he had 80-something yards but you could see he wasn’t there yet because a normal Adrian would’ve went for 200 or 300 against that defense that year. Each game, he got stronger and stronger and you saw it coming together. We hit a streak where every other game he rushed for over 200 yards.

“For a fullback, it’s a dream come true. Adrian is an athletic freak of nature. He hits the hole so hard and fast that you know if I can get my job done, he has a chance to take it to the house at any time. … We were chasing history. We had to win our last four games to make it into the playoffs. So it was a fun year. He was going after the record.”

You want to make sure the type of player you are doesn't go extinct in today's game. Do you take a sense of pride in that? “Most definitely. The NFL is a cyclical league and things tend to come back around. The more success that guys like myself, Darrel Young, the fullback from the Redskins, Anthony Sherman in Kansas City is a good player, even Cincinnati and New England have good ones. The more of us that can make an impact on the game and show when we’re on the field that there is a difference and a difference that you can really see, that’s important to me. That’s what I strive to do.

“Hopefully it does come back around. I’ll try to do my part.”

In Minnesota, you earned the respect of your teammates taking second in the Good Guy Award, but you also had a DWI when you first got there. Did your career flash before your eyes when that happened? “I know the mistakes I’ve made. But I feel like I can own my mistake and come back a better person for it. It took a lot to get past those and I have a lot of respect for the Minnesota Vikings to give me that opportunity. They saw me every day. They saw what kind of person I am in the locker room and things like that. So to get that opportunity to prove myself, that meant a lot to me. So I’ll always have love and respect for that organization to give me a chance to show what kind of person I am.

“I feel great about who I am as a person. Have I made mistakes? Yeah, I can admit that. I’m just glad I can show what kind of person I’m about. If my team respects me, that makes me feel good. Obviously, I hope I can make a good impact in the community.”

Was it a 0.92-mile trip to McDonalds? "It was a bad decision regardless. I could’ve walked. One thing is it’s important when you make mistakes to learn from them and be a better person for it. I can honestly say, that was the case.”

Are you hoping to take on a leadership role in Buffalo’s locker room? “Definitely. I’m going into my eighth year. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve seen the highest highs of being a Pro Bowl player and I’ve seen the lows of getting cut two times in a year. So I’ve seen a lot. I’ve seen what it takes to be successful in this league. I just want people to look at me in the huddle and say, ‘We know what we’re going to get from Jerome. If you can do that, if you can get that kind of respect from your teammates, I’m going to be a leader in the running back room. Obviously, we have one of the best running backs in the NFL in Shady. Fred Jackson has done it for a long time and Eric Wood. We’ve got leaders on the team, but I want to add to that and them to know they can count on me and they know what they’re getting every day.”

What type of personality do you have? How did you overcome getting cut twice in a year to become the guy in Buffalo? “I’m a laidback guy. I get intense on the field and stuff like that. I think one thing that separates me from people who haven’t made it this far. I just always thought that I could overcome and never doubted myself as a player, as a person at any time. I just knew that if I continued to work hard and I got that opportunity, that I could take advantage of it. I always feel like I give myself a chance by how hard I work. Probably to my  detriment sometimes — I’m hard-headed. If someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to make sure I do it. Sometimes, you can use that to your advantage. Sometimes, that’s to your detriment. So far, so good so I’ll keep the gameplan the same.”

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