GIOVANI BERNARD, MARGUS HUNT and SHAWN WILLIAMS
MH: “Tere hommikust.”
Gio, what’s your biggest asset?
GB: “Probably just personality and versatility that I bring to the team. I’m a well-rounded a guy; a guy that wants to be on the field at all times. I never want to come off the field, even when I’m tired, I really don’t want to come off the field. A guy that you can plug into really any type of situation, and I’m going to try my best to get the job done. So just a guy that’s well-rounded. A guy that’s committed to the team and wants the team to win.”
Margus, what was the hardest thing to learn about the game of football?
MH: “Well first you have to learn the entire language of the game and then you go from there. You go for the actual defensive language. Then you learn the position and all the things with it. Fortunately for me I was just a blank piece of paper for the coaches to use, so they just pretty much did whatever they wanted.”
So you don’t have any bad habits to break?
MH: “No. They did a really good job of really working with me and getting me up to speed and really teaching me what to do out there.”
Was your initial exposure to the game of football from the Madden video game?
MH: “Yeah, after we had the tryout with Coach Jones (June Jones of SMU), I flew home for Christmas. So my friend got Madden to kind of get more of an overview of what the game is about, because it’s just all a glimpse of the game itself on TV when I was in Dallas for one year.”
What did you learn from playing Madden?
MH: “Just the overall view of it; the defense, how it works. You can kind of see where the guys are going.”
Shawn, are you going to become the president of the Georgia Bulldogs alumni association here in Cincinnati?
SW: “Yeah, I’m going to have to work my way up to that point. But yeah, we’ve got a lot of guys from Georgia here. I’ve spoken with
Have you ever had a chance to talk to
SW: “At Georgia my freshman year, I had a chance to play with Geno (Atkins) a year and two years with A.J. (Green). And both of them are just awesome guys to be around, great locker-room guys. You know that when they come to work, they’re coming to do whatever they can to help the team win. They’re just going to sell out and give it all they got.”
Giovani, do you welcome the comparisons to shorter running backs like Ray Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew?
GB: “Whenever you’re compared to somebody that’s already in the league it’s definitely a blessing. I’m definitely going to welcome it. But at the same time, I’m going to be my own player. I’m going to be the person I’ve been since Day 1;
Margus, do you emulate your style of play after anyone?
MH: “Not particularly. When they started teaching us, it was a brand new defense for that year. It just went from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so they took everything that they had from the Pittsburgh Steelers, so we watched a lot of their film and a lot of their technique. Over the years, I kind of went with what felt really comfortable for me and what I knew had worked.”
Are there skills and techniques used in the shot-put and discus that you use when playing football?
MH: “Um ... yeah. I don’t really think it’s just those two events. I think it’s the whole spectrum of track and field; doing all the sprints and everything, plus all the lifting and everything I had to do to get myself powerful and explosive.”
Did you play any other sports besides track and field?
MH: “Yeah I did. I did soccer, played some basketball, swimming, cross country, skiing.”
Out of all of those sports, which did you like the best?
MH: “Track and field. I did enjoy basketball as well because our No. 1 play was the alley-oop (laughs).”
What’s it like to win a gold medal, even at a world junior level?
MH: “It’s incredible. I mean to stand on the podium like that and hear your national anthem with high competition like that; it’s definitely a huge blessing. I’m really grateful to have had that opportunity.”
What is it about the Georgia defense that allows its players to translate so well into the NFL, as evidenced by the number of UGA players here in Cincinnati? Is it coaching? Schematics?
SW: “I think it’s coaching, first and foremost. You can run whatever scheme you want, but you’ve got to have great coaches. That’s one thing we had at Georgia — great coaches. They did a good job explaining to us what needed to be done and putting us in the best possible situation to be the best. That’s what we did at Georgia.”
Shawn, what is the biggest asset to your game? You made all of the calls in the secondary, so is it that cerebral aspect, or is it more physical?
SW: “I understand the game a lot. I’m a student of the game. I don’t know. I just go out and play hard and play football. It’s what I love doing.”
Do you feel like you need to prove that you can play in coverage?
SW: “I feel like I’m going to show people that I can cover. At Georgia, we were successful with me playing down in the box, so that’s what we did most of the time. But that doesn’t mean I can’t cover, just because you’ve never seen me do it. Once they see me do it, they’ll understand that ‘he’s good in man coverage.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s one-on-one with the tight end or one-on-one with the slot, I’m capable of doing it.”
Margus, you’ve played in different defensive schemes at SMU — a little bit in a 4-3 defense, and a little bit in a 3-4 defense. Do you think those experiences will help with your transition to the NFL?
MH: “Yeah, I believe so. With our defense at SMU, we ran a bunch of different fronts. They were moving me around a lot. They really helped me develop. I didn’t really have a problem with it, I was just happy to be out there and playing (laughs).”
How well do you play the piano?
MH: “(Laughs) Well, I just took one semester of it. I can play one song. And a couple other songs, but just the beginnings.”
How long did it take you to learn that one song?
MH: “It took me about ... to fully play it, about a month, maybe.”
What was that piano recital like, with all the little kids around?
MH: “It was funny. It was my teacher’s recital. Since she got a degree also in teaching the piano, she invited some of her students. She told me, ‘I would be honored if you would come and play.’ So I go over there, and all of her other students are six-year-olds. I thought I’m going to have time in between and everything, because I was the last one to perform. So I just sat down and sat back, and all the first parts went through in like two minutes (laughs). So I had a rush. I went up the piano. I’ve never been that nervous in my entire life (laughs).”
Did you pull it off?
MH: “Yeah. It went really well.”
What was the song?
MH: “It’s called ‘Expression,’ by Helen Jane Long. It’s a British artist, I believe.”
Do you think you’ll keep playing piano?
MH: “Yeah. I’m hoping to keep it up, if I have time.”
Giovani, a few people earlier were comparing you to former Bengals RB James Brooks, because of your similar ability to run pass routes out of the backfield. Did you work with wide receivers on your route-running, or was that something you developed on your own?
GB: “It’s just something I did on my own. As a football player, you want to be well-rounded. Being able to run routes out of the backfield, being able to be in the slot, being able to run wide receiver routes as a running back, it’s just something you have to do to help the team win. I was able to play a lot of sports when I was younger. I was able to get involved with cutting and all that kind of stuff, so it came natural to me. Getting in the open field and running a receiver route, that’s kind of basic for me. And by the way, I’m learning so much about this guy (Hunt) right now (laughs). He’s a track and field star. Gold medal. I’ll ask him questions.”
For the first time in 50 years, a running back wasn’t taken in the first round. But how does it feel to be the first running back taken?
GB: “It definitely feels good. You’re obviously shocked to be the best in your class. Kind of in that case, I kind of was. But at the end of the day, because nobody (running backs) was selected in the first round, I feel as if a lot of the running backs in that class were underdogs. When I was at the Combine, I had a chance to talk with a lot of the guys. One of the guys was Le’Veon Bell (running back, Michigan State), the guy that went after me. Me and him, we have a close relationship. He’s a guy that’s still seen as an underdog. They just think he’s a big guy that can’t do much, but he’s definitely a gifted athlete. So I definitely feel awesome, but at the same time I feel like we all have something to prove. We all have a chip on our shoulders. We all want to show everybody that we are a gifted team, and that we may not have been selected in the first round, but we are where we are and we’re happy with everything.”
Margus, in college you played with and against guys who have been playing football since they were very young, yet here you are as a draft pick in the NFL. Do you have to pinch yourself?
MH: “Yeah. It’s been a weird roller coaster ride, to say the least. Six years ago, I was sure I’m going to be at the Olympics in 2012. You never know what life is going to bring you, you just go with the decisions at hand and just work your butt off and keep going.”
Was there one person in particular that swayed you to try football at SMU?
MH: “Whenever I was lifting, the football team would be in there with me and the coaches would say, ‘You need to try out, you need to try out.’ Eventually I became interested and felt that there could be a chance to get a scholarship and stay at SMU because I didn’t want to leave. Eventually, that’s what happened.”
Initially there were some hard feelings at home, weren’t there?
MH: “Absolutely. Some people called me a national traitor. Track and field is something they’re very proud of. This was something I had to do for myself and now they understand.”
Was there anyone in the London Olympics who you competed against?
MH: “There was an Estonian guy who I know pretty well. There was also a Lithuanian guy who I worked out with in 2007. He elevated my game — not just in track and field, but overall. He showed me the effort that it takes to be a professional athlete.”
Did you ever think about leaving SMU and going elsewhere to pursue track and field?
MH: “Yes. There was a point where I considered going elsewhere, but I really didn’t want to leave SMU, so I went with football.”
Who are Estonia’s greatest sports legends?
MH: “There was a weightlifter who broke 55 or so world records — but weightlifting is pretty easy. There are a bunch of throwers. We have a great throwing background. Also a decathlete won a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics.”
Because of your background, were you a celebrity in Estonia?
MH: “Yes. That was a problem. When you come from a country with 1.3 million people, there’s a lot of pressure to win in the Olympics. I had to get out.”
Do you think your success in football has lessened the resentment in Estonia?
MH: “Yes. They finally saw the bigger picture. American Football is becoming more global.”
Did anyone from Estonia contact you after being drafted?
MH: “I’ve gotten a lot of emails congratulating me. They’re very proud of what has been accomplished. Only a few Estonians have ever done this.”
Have you ever been to an NFL game?
Have you had any formal English classes?
MH: “I took three years in high school, but I wasn’t the best of students. Most of my English is from my travels. At times I had one-on-one classes with teachers. I had the sense that this was something big and that I had to get on it. Most of it was learned by being thrown into the environment.”
What other languages do you speak?
MH: “My native language, which is Estonian. I did take German for nine years, but I can’t speak a word.”
The internet says marinated bear is a popular dish in Estonia. Have you ever eaten that?
What’s your best shot put throw?
MH: “16 pounds was over 60 feet.”
How about the discus?
MH: “203 feet.”
During the NFL Combine, did you have the chance to meet Ezekiel Ansah?
MH: “We were in the same group, but I really didn’t spend a lot of time with him.”