LeCharles Bentley: You grow up envisioning yourself scoring the winning touchdown, but no one enjoys the idea of game-winning block. But it’s necessary

Interview with former Ohio State Buckeyes, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns offensive linemen, two time Pro Bowl selection and one of the most respected O-Line coach.

LeCharles Bentley. II European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic. Düsseldorf, 2018. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

First & Goal met with LeCharles Bentley during the Second European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic by Llanos Performance in Düsseldorf where he was the key speaker. LeCharles Bentley is a former NCAA and NFL athlete, who was a member of Ohio State Buckeyes, New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns.

He earned the Rimington Trophy as college football’s best center, was recognised as a consensus first-team All-American, became an Ohio State University Hall of Famer and during his professional career was a two time Pro Bowl selection. He retired from NFL after playing four seasons due to consequences of a serious knee injury. LeCharles Bentley is the founder of his own brand that includes, among other things, the OLP facility — the world’s first invitation-only training club designed solely around the needs of NFL offensive linemen — and one of the most respected O-Line coaches.

 

— First of all, how was your stay in Düsseldorf so far?

— That was fun. Obviously, it is not the first time for us to be here. But it’s always good to be back and see how the game is growing nationally. See how the players are evolving. And it never ceases to amaze me how everyone just keeps growing and learning and loving it more and more.

— As it’s not your first time on such kind of camps in Europe, what do you like most about them?

— I think passion. Passion for the game. This is a market there. If you play this game, you play because you generally love it. There’s truly nothing more fulfilling. If you’re someone who loves the game, who respects the game there’s nothing more fulfilling to see people have such a pure love for football. I think at times myself I can become a bit sceptical and jaded about it because football is such a big business and there are many factors that are business factors that can affect the game. It can impact on how the players approach the game. And how they do or don’t respect the game. I understand why that is. But at the same time, there is nothing more enjoyable to be awhile with people that truly love and respect football. And that’s why I think that this market is personally so enjoyable to be a part of. Because this is just that element of myself that I can kinda get out and get refreshed and rejuvenated. It keeps that fire going to give back.

LeCharles Bentley and Erol Seval. II European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic. Düsseldorf, 2018. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

— Is it right for all amateurs or is that something you see only outside the United States? Is there any difference?

— There’s a huge difference. In terms of development Unites States has a system for developing players. It starts at the Pop Warner and goes to college, and very, very lucky few make it to the National Football League. There is s system to that. That system has been establishing for many years. But here that system isn’t at place. And you have young players with so many other options that are impacted by their region’s interests — it could be handball, or soccer, or whatever other sports may be more contiguous to that particular region. You grow up probably being more passionate about that, but then you discover this cool thing on american football and you really get into it. But typically that happens late. So the commonly called amateurs at home are still way more advanced than amateurs here. And that just goes back to the infrastructure. You know, you don’t have the infrastructure here yet to really develop players from youth levels all the way up.

— Have you ever seen players here that are talented enough to possibly potentially make their way to professional football in the United States?

— I think there’s always an opportunity to define that talent. Personally, I’m not looking for that talent. So that’s not something that has been all of importance to me. Are there players that can play at the highest level from this region or other regions? Yeah! Of course. But that doesn’t just happen because you’re just big and fast and strong. There’s so much more that goes into being an NFL athlete. And I think that is something that globally we have to respect: the men in the National Football League are the best in the world at what they do. There are 32 starting left tackles. That’s it. No more. There are 32 starting centers. That’s it. No more. And those athletes that are in those positions genetically have an advantage from a developmental standpoint in terms of the infrastructure they were growing up in. They were probably going to the best high schools with the best supplements, the best nutrition, the best college program, and they have the best genetics. And boom! They are in the National Football League.

But it would be disrespectful to those players to think that you can just go to the different region, say here, and just pull the guy off the street that hasn’t played before and say “You’ll be in the NFL now”. Can you? Probably not. You have to be a very rare athlete. Is it possible? Absolutely. But I think for myself I have too much respect for the players that are actually in the National Football League, to believe that someone who doesn’t have those advantages and opportunities they have can pull that off.

— So if people here generally don’t have the opportunity to get on top, from your perspective how do you see their motivation and love for this game?

— That’s a good question. Here’s the thing about football that is, in my opinion, the most important part of it. I think the whole NFL thing, playing in the NFL — it’s all overrated. It’s overblown. It’s like everyone wants to win a lottery. Not many people are gonna win the lottery. Does that mean you just stop leaving your life? Does that mean that you’ll decide that life doesn’t worth living anymore? Will you lose your aspiration and dreams and hopes because you didn’t win the lottery? No!

The NFL is for the lottery winners. But that’s not the standard of what the game is supposed to represent. That’s just the highest level of performance. The game itself is bigger than that. The game is about developing yourself as a person. It’s about seeing how hard you can push yourself, it’s about teamwork, it’s about leadership, it’s about developing and seeing how this game can impact your life. That’s what football is about. That’s what football is truly for.

It’s a tool for life. It’s not a tool to get to the NFL. It’s just not. It’s a tool to see who you are as a person. So when you look yourself in the mirror and you know each and every day that you’re giving your best effort you understand that when you’ve had those hard challenges in the game you are much more prepared for the challenges life is going to treat you. You know how hard it is to be at the fourth-and-one? It’s hard as hell to be at the fourth-and-one. But you know what? You have to go out there and do it. You know how hard it is to get your ass kicked and then go back for the next play and then line up against and risk with your ass kicked again? That’s hard to do. But that’s life.

That’s gonna be tough in life when things are not going the way they are supposed to go. Maybe you’ll not get your promotion when you want it. But would you stop going to work? No! You gonna go back in there and work harder. And give another opportunity to see what can become of your life and see what can you become as a player. And that’s what football is about. That’s the beauty of this game. All other stuff is just irrelevant. Making the money, going to the Hall of Fame and the Pro Bowl and the NFL is irrelevant. And If anyone is playing this game because they want to play college or just because they want to get to the NFL — don’t play it. If you want to discover who you’re as a person and if you want to become better at life — play football.

LeCharles Bentley. II European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic. Düsseldorf, 2018. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

— A little bit about your story and your background. How did you start playing american football?

— I did start at a high school. The high school in the United States starts with the ninth grade. That’s when you’re 15 years old. That’s when I started. I didn’t really want to play football. I just played because all other kids looked like they were playing good so I decided that I’d try to play to. And the rest was history.

— Was it your conscious choice to become an offensive lineman?

— No! (laughs)

— Because usually big guys don’t have much choice…

— Yeah, o-line and d-line. I played linebacker for one day. And I was horrible. And on the next practice, I was told to go down with the guys that have sevenths and sixties on their jerseys. That didn’t look fun but if I wanted to keep playing football that’s where I had to go. And I eventually, you know, developed the love for the position and for the game. But of course, o-line was not where I wanted to be. I wanted to tackle people, make the big catches and that type of stuff. You know, you grow up envisioning yourself scoring the winning touchdown but no one enjoys the idea of game-winning block. No one cares about that. But it’s necessary.

— But do every lineman grows up with that kind of feeling that they want to show up in the stats but have to do other things?

— Yeah. There are very few offensive line athletes with that being their first choice. That isn’t being something you love obviously but I think it is something you grow into. For the most part, it’s understandable because football is that game where if you go to a picnic with your family or a family event and there’s football there, what would you do? You start throwing that. You start catching that. You’re running routes. You play a little game with everyone and everyone is running around and tackling or throwing the ball. No one is blocking. Nobody says “Hey, you wanna be the left tackle?” The left tackle says “Can I play wide receiver?” So that’s the beauty of the game. That’s how we kinda start developing the love for the game — it’s by actually by picking the ball up and just throwing it around. So that makes sense.

— When did you realise that you can become a pro athlete? When did you start to put an effort into it?

It probably… Huh… I think there were phases for myself. Because I did start relatively late, I really wasn’t in love with the game. I was more like an interest.

So when I first started I had to even see if I could make it through the practice. Okay? Then if I could make it through practice then could I make it through conditioning? And I hated conditioning. And once I kinda got comfortable there it’s, well, can I start? And I became a starter. Okay, I kinda got that, but what about varsity football? Man, those guys are big, those guys are strong. I don’t know if could play varsity. But then eventually it became varsity and I became a starter there. Then you start seeing older players get scholarships in college. You think, like, wow, those guys are the great players, so big and so strong, they are amazing. I wonder if I can be one of those players too. And then you start setting yourself to your goal: “I wanna play college football”.

But it’s not immediately “I want to go to Ohio State, I want to go to Alabama”. It was “I wonder if I good enough to go to a smaller school”. And then you get pretty good, you get more confident, and you say “I’ll go to a big school”. And then I start thinking “I wonder if I can play for the Ohio State”. Those guys are so huge, those guys are so good and so strong and blah-blah-blah. I wonder if got there, can I play? Eventually, I did go to the Ohio State and the first thing I thought when I got to the door was “Am I ever gonna play there?”

Now, you have goals, but when you look who you are, there’s always gonna be a little voice in the back of your head saying “Hmm, can you do this?” So yes, I was in the Ohio State but I didn’t know if I could become a great player in college until I kinda got into it. And the next thing I know — I’m a starter. Wow, I’m starting! I wonder if I can get All-Conference. I wonder if I can become an All American.

And when I starting hitting those goals, there’s NFL thing. I wonder if I could do this. Now, all the time I’ve been playing it was kinda back in my mind but you just don’t say it “I wanna go to NFL” without checking some boxes along the way. So finally around my junior year of college, I thought “Maybe I can do this NFL thing”. And I looked at coming out of the school a year earlier. And I was fortunate to have our coach that was very connective with a general manager of a team at that time. And he had me sit down with that GM to kinda get an assessment of where I was at and what’s the true prospect to be an NFL player. So that general manager told me “You should probably go back to your school and get your education”… Wow!…

So at that moment, I wasn’t even sure if I can play in the NFL. Because here is the general manager who actually picks the NFL players told me that I should get back to school and get an education, to focus on that. Oh, man… But I didn’t stop. Kept working, kept getting better, my last year I had my best season. And sure enough, I ended up being drafted. Great! I’m in the NFL now. Can I play here? That was my first question. Am I good enough to be in the NFL? Doesn’t matter what I did in college and in high school. I’m here and I got drafted so I think I can be here but am I good enough? I didn’t know until my first game. And I started. I’m now an NFL starter. I wonder if I can become an All-Pro. I wonder if I can be one of the best who can do it. And that’s kind of a process I went through.

Maybe it is different for other people but I think some people that say “Yeah, when I first put my helmet on I wanted to in the NFL and I knew I was gonna do it” are a lot full of shit. I think that’s a lie because it’s one thing to say that you want to do something but it’s completely different when you’re honest with yourself and you acknowledge that little voice saying “Can you really do this?” I heard my little voice all the time. I still hear it at everything I do in my life. “Can you do it? Are you good enough?” And I have to convince sometimes to myself that I am.

And I think that goes back to my original point about the game. The game has helped me overcome that. As I said I had my butt kicked when I play the game but I had to go back there and line up again and just keep going and keep going. That’s what the game is giving me. It helps me kinda lower the volume of that little voice of doubt in the back of my mind. So I knew I wanted to go to NFL, I had some boxes along the way that kinda put me on that track. And even when I got there I wanted to make sure that I can stay there, because I wasn’t sure that I belong there. And even when I got to my first Pro Bowl I was scared that I was never gonna get to another one because maybe I was gonna get exposed next year, but then I go to another one. And then maybe I wasn’t good enough to keep playing and then… That’s how it works.

LeCharles Bentley. II European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic. Düsseldorf, 2018. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

— One of our import players in Russia from the United States said that a lot of talented players don’t get to, for example, NFL draft because they can’t handle the system of college football and this system is made in the way to eliminate a lot of players. Do you feel the same about it?

— I don’t think the system is designed to eliminate players. I think the system is set up in a way where players eliminate themselves. Because college football is difficult. And it’s not just difficult from the on-the-field aspect. College football is the players’ first step to the business of football.

There’s a difference between the game and the business of football. College coaches a there to make money, universities are there to make money — a lot of money. And the players go into with the idea that it’s just a game: “I’m gonna play football, I’ll have a good time as I did in high school and as I did in Pop Warner”. Nah-Nah-Nah-Nah… You’re now a part of the business. Because your coach has a family. Your coach has a mortgage. Your coach has a wife and kids to feed. Which means you are gonna be a part of making sure that that coach can keep his family happy and comfortable and moving forward financially. And if you can’t do that then the business has to remove you. Because the coach doesn’t want to lose what he has. And that’s something that shocks players. I think it’s intimidating the players, it’s a hard period for them to swallow. All of a sudden the game goes from being fun to something that produces that pressure — that people are depending on me. Yeah! And if you’re not built for that then you’re not built for NFL.

It is what it is because it is just a higher level of business. You’re now being paid to perform. If you get paid to perform, you’re damn right there’ll be a pressure. You have to perform at a high level. And in college, you’ve been given a scholarship. And the coaches have jobs, that’s their jobs, that’s how they maintain their livelihoods. You have to perform. I think that’s something that sours a lot of players, because you go from that idea of high school football like “fight for the coach, win for the city” and “Go Tigers” or whatever your school have been… It’s all funny games. You’re playing because you loved it, you’re playing with the guy next to you, your friend that you grow up with, who you’ve thrown the ball in the backyard… So this is a love affair. But then you get to college and it’s… business.

— Can you tell a few words about your Buckeyes team, what made it special for you?

— Ohio State is where I grew up. I grew up there as a person and definitely as a football player. It was special to be a part of such pedantry and tradition, to leave a legacy… I can’t lie, it’s pretty cool. It still surreal to me that when I go back to university I see my pictures over there, I see trophies and everything that represents what I did during my time there. But then you look and you see people like Chris Spillman, Artie Griffin, Eddie Jordan, Orlando Pace and Korey Stringer and you being mentioned in the same conversation with those players who were like gods to me… It’s surreal.

But I think the best part about Ohio State for me was, as I said, I grew up there. My last year with Jim Tressel was the most formative year of my life. He really forced me into the position where I learned about my ability to lead. I was never the type of person that wanted to lead anything. I was a person who had work and did what I had to do but if you don’t do what you have to do I don’t give a damn. That was you but I was gonna do my part. But coach Tressel saw something in me and realised that I can help people. If I was able to see beyond just what I wanted and see more of what can I do serve, what can I do to help, I was always afraid: man, if I give too much of myself, of my energy to people, I’ll have nothing left to myself. But what he saw was a person who had more than enough to give. And not just to the point where I can create myself but I can help other people become much better then they can ever become. I never realised that until I was with him. That was a transforming year where in life I’ve set the stage for where I’m at today. That was probably the most special part about my time in the Ohio State.

— A lot of people particularly mention the transition from college football to pro football in their careers. What was the hardest part of that transition for you?

Confidence. Confidence was probably the most difficult in that transition. And believing that you belong there. I mean, it’s NFL. Players used to have more respect for the game in terms of that level versus now — young players now think that “Oh, it’s inevitable, I’ll get to the league”. Doubted! It’s really difficult. But for myself, I went to the league with a very deep respect for the men that were there. And I wasn’t sure I belonged. That was a hurdle that I really had to get over to show that I can do that. Show to myself, show to the league that I belong there. That was a big step to get over and eventually I did, obviously, but that wasn’t easy.

— Where there people who questioned that confidence?

— Of course!

— Or maybe you were the biggest questioner for yourself…

— I probably was, but it didn’t help that at times you would have certain coaches or maybe teammates that would say things to kinda plant little seeds of doubt. And when you’re at that level and you’re hearing these negative comments from people that you have respect for. Because you’re here, you’ve seen that and you should know what’s it supposed to be like and you should know what an NFL player looks like. When the most people make comments that are negative that makes you feel that they are telling truth. Because, as I said, they are supposed to know. That’s the hard part I had to overcome, stop listening to other people and start trusting to myself.

— During your time in the NFL who was the toughest guy, you played against?

— Chris Jenkins. He played with the Carolina Panthers. I think he was the best player I played against. He was unique because he was big, strong and explosive. And he was smart. That’s a really difficult combination to work with. We played with the Panthers twice a year in that division and that was always one of those butterfly days when you knew there’s gonna be a great matchup. I have respect for him as a player.

— How were you preparing for him when you knew that this toughest thing is coming up?

— I think you have to have respect for everyone you play against but you can’t fear them. When you have that respect it pushes you to tell of yourself and training, your sleep habits, your eating patterns, the way that you practice, the way that you study. So you put so much into the tank that you know that you’re giving yourself the best chance to be successful. That’s where the confidence comes from. And knowing that you never gonna get outworked. So if I know that I never gonna get outworked I should never get outplayed. It goes back to how you approach the game. A lot of respect for everybody, utmost respect for Jenkins, but Jenkins was never gonna to outwork me so I never expect him to outplay me. That’s how I approached it.

— All that you said before sounded like steady ascending but we know the further story. How do you explain to yourself what happened?
Note: After a breakup with Saints LeCharles Bentley joined Cleveland Browns but torn his patellar tendon on the first day of training camp with his new team. During treatment, he got a staph infection in the injured knee that threatened his life and put him at the risk of amputating leg. After multiple surgeries and more than two years of rehabbing LeCharles Bentley decided to retire due to the bad condition of his knee. He played only four full seasons in the NFL.

— Football happened. That’s just called what it is. You play this game to get hurt. Let me be clear here. It’s inevitable. Doesn’t matter who you are, doesn’t matter what you do, eventually, you’re gonna get hurt. But what I didn’t sign up for was an infection. That was something you don’t anticipate. But that was the curveball that was thrown my way and that derailed my career. But even with all that I wouldn’t change anything about my career, about the way my career ended. And in fact, that was the best thing that ever happened to me. I wouldn’t be here today hadn’t I gone through what I dealt with throughout that time period. So I’m thankful for it. Once again, I was able to deal with it how I did because how I approached the game. I always knew that if just kept going, just kept moving forward edge by edge, that will work itself out. For me, it just got to the point where my love for the game, my respect for the game — it was gone. I didn’t have that desire to put myself back out there and not be the best that I can be. I respect football too much. So it was best for me to move on and do something different where I could have more of an impact to add value.

LeCharles Bentley. II European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic. Düsseldorf, 2018. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

— We talked about the transition from college to pros, but the second thing that almost every player talks about as the toughest one is the transition from pro football to retirement. How did you handle that? Was it hard to find a thing to do after retirement?

— No, for me it wasn’t hard. The challenge was just being comfortable with knowing that I was never gonna play football again. But I had done all that I could to be the best that I could become that I had no regrets. There was nothing left anyway.

I think when a lot of former players have an issue with transition regarding of a game — it is in the back of your mind that voice that I was talking about starts to hunt you again. It starts asking you questions like “Did you really do your best? Did you give all you could? Did you really respect the game?” And generally, there’s gonna be some “No”s in there. And when there is “No” in your third year, the fourth year, the fifth year you can come back and do better the next year. But eventually, time runs out. And so now you can’t ever get that thirst clinched. It’s over with. And then regret creeps in. So now you start spending so much time regretting what you didn’t do, what you didn’t become, what you wish you could do differently. That’s when a player becomes bitter. Once you get to that point, now the transition becomes much more difficult. It becomes more difficult to see the value that you can add to other peoples’ lives and to your life outside of the game. It becomes more of a challenge take the tool that the game was giving you and apply them to life because you stuck in this fork of “Ah, I wish I would have… This didn’t happen to me… It wasn’t fair… I wish I go back and do this differently…” That’s not how it suppose to go.

That’s why so many players struggle post-career. Some will say “I miss the locker room”, some — “I miss the routine”. I think that’s surface level. But when you really start to peel back the onion you get down to the core of it, it’s regret knowing that there are some things you knew you should’ve been doing differently that you didn’t. And now you wish you could change that but you never can.

— Can you tell about your OLP training center and how it came to today’s condition?

— We got to where we are at OLP through work, through innovation and a true desire to serve the game, to serve people. That’s the recipe. It’s quite simple. I started this thing ten years ago and I wanted to bring something to the game that was going to help players. And through that, we’ve evolved.

To say now, we’re not a training center. OLP is not a gym. OLP is a place of innovation, research and development. That’s what we do. We’re fortunate enough to work specifically on the o-line market but we are innovation, research and development company. We work with high-level professional athletes but they don’t go to OLP to train. They come to OLP to work on their development on the field and off the field.

The football stuff is easy. But developing an athlete, developing a person is a bit more of a challenge. We work really hard educating coaches, educating players on not just how to become better on the field but how to take the best parts of the game and apply them to your life. That’s what OLP is about. We look at the LB (LeCharles Bentley) brand in general which the OLP is a part of, and it’s gonna be digital side which is our social media and our website, it’s gonna be an equipment side — we’re going to design the equipment specifically for the needs of o-line athletes, we have consulting side where we can add value to college teams and partly to the National Football League — that’s another element of an LB brand. And we have OLP which is the innovation, research and development aspect where we’ll actually touch athletes on the physical part of their development and growth. So it’s an umbrella. There are many little bubbles underneath that umbrella which OLP is one part of that entire ecosystem.

— Am I right that players who train in OLP do it all year round?

— Yes, it’s a year-round deal.

— How their offseason routine differs from what they do during the season?

— In spring it’s more about training, mobility work, focusing on the nutrition, trying to get the body to the state of readiness. Once they have done that they get more into the season and now it becomes about the implementation of your skills. That’s going through studying opponents, being aware of your flaws of developing, being aware of how you’re training, how you’re sleeping, how you’re eating — those are elements that we manipulate with the players to out the course of the season. That’s how our calendar works itself out. Once the players get back into the actual facility itself, then that’s when we can now begin to dissect what happened in season from the training side, nutrition side, sleep side, performance side and start to correct and adjust and it’s an ongoing process. it’s never always the same thing for everybody. And that’s how we continue our cycle with our players.

— Is it wrapped up into sort of complete methodic or it’s a sort of ongoing process that’s always adjusting?

— Yeah, that’s a process and there’re some systematic components in terms of teaching. The Drive-Catch, the 8 Angles, the Pressure-to-Pressure — those are gonna be our stables because that’s the performance system itself. But when you start getting into the development of the athletes — that’s living and breathing organism that’s always evolving and changing. The principles are always applied to that. But how those principles show themselves in the performance that’s gonna be an impact on sleep, nutrition, training, injuries, personal life and we have to manage all of that to make sure that on Sunday the principles show up on a high level. It’s not just “Here’s the principle — don’t do it”. No, it’s not that simple. You now have the principles but let’s now begin to manage all that goes into it on a year-round basis.

— What’s your relationship with a coaching staff of the teams? We know about the case of TB12 and their arguments with the coaches on players who go to the outside facility for rehabbing or training. Are there any difficulties with getting trust not only from players but from their coaches?

— That’s been a process that’s grown over the years but at the same time, it’s not the thing I was worried about. I don’t work for a team. I serve our athletes. There’s a big distinction there. I know what the business is looking for and I know what the business can take off a player. I know how the business can help a player and I know how the business can hurt a player. I don’t play that game. My job is to make sure that I can help a player to navigate the waters. If you can get the player to be an asset to the team that now serves the greater good of the organisation. What if I become someone that is more focused on keeping an organisation happy I can’t serve what matters most — and that’s the athlete. So our goal all the time is to make sure that the athlete is in the position to be a value. If your coach doesn’t like that you’re going to the OLP but you’re a good player, it doesn’t matter. But if your coach doesn’t like that you’re going to the OLP and you suck, then maybe you have a problem. That’s why we have to work very hard to make sure that all we want to be done is done at a high level.

But I think a mistake that many people on this side of the fence in terms of working with athletes make is you can’t serve two gods. Either you gotta work and serve the athlete or you gotta serve the organisation. And unfortunately, the goals of the organisation sometimes can be exactly or not exactly in line on what is beneficial for the athlete. So I don’t play that game. I’m very respectful of the sensitivities of some organisations or some coaches, I understand it, but I don’t ball down to that because they don’t write me checks. They don’t add value to what we do. My concern has always been and will always be that of serving the athlete.

— But do someone sometimes questions what you do?

— I don’t listen to that. If I’d listened to them we wouldn’t be where we are. People will always have something negative to say about anything that you do. Quite frankly, I don’t care. It does not and will not impact the mission. Coach just come and go. Some coach at one team doesn’t like us. Hell, he has to worry about keeping his job. I’m not getting fired. That’s the difference here. That coach could get fired and be somewhere else, be out of the job. When people start to get overly concerned with we’re doing they lose focus on what they need to be doing and they put themselves in a vulnerable position. So I don’t allow that type of energy to enter the building. We ignore it, we do what we suppose to do and stay focused what’s important. What people think, what people say, it has no relevance to what we do and how we go about doing that.

LeCharles Bentley. II European Offensive Line Players & Coaches Clinic. Düsseldorf, 2018. Photo: Leonid Antsiferov / First & Goal

— Does the business of an o-line player 10-15 years ago when you were playing differs from what they do now?

— When you say «the business”, what do you mean?

— I mean the way of playing on the field, the way of training and approach to the routine.

— That’s a great question. Yes, the game has definitely shifted for all of the o-line players. Number one, on the field defenders, are bigger, faster, stronger than ever. That presents an entirely different set of challenges. Off the field, the role of social media plays, the role that media in general plays definitely impacts players and their development. It used to be one point in time when a player had a bad practice and it was kind of just in-house — you go look at the film and fix that, come back and life goes on. Now if you have a bad practice it’s all on social media. And everyone says that you suck because you just had a bad practice. Players see that stuff. That’s definitely something that plays a role in their development. The business side in terms of making money, the opportunities for making more money than ever, that makes more pressure than ever. The training and the development are much more advanced now because the game demands that. The teaching in the detail has to be higher now than that was ten years ago. So yeah, that’s definitely a big shift and players have to adapt to it.

— Do you like the way football is changing right now in terms of the new rules and attention to the safety?

— Ab-so-lutely. The game must evolve. The game must be safer. The steps that have been taken to achieve this are the steps that need to be done. And if there’s anyone that says that the game is soft, that the game isn’t tough anymore, how about this. How about you put a helmet on and go out there and play. And then you tell me the game is soft. You tell me that the game isn’t as violent as it used to be. That’s a complete crap out. With that said the players now have to be put in the position where their safety and longevity is on top of mind. It has to be the utmost importance. And that goes throughout coaching to training and the overall development of our athletes. And I think that the steps that have been taken have been well needed. And I applauded. And we have to do more.

I think the game cannot get stalled in terms of its growth because of antiquated ideals of what the game is supposed to be. Everything changes, everything evolves. There were times when players had leather helmets. And you know what? They don’t leather helmets anymore. But there was a time when people at that era complained: “Oh, they don’t have leather helmets, they now have facemasks, players are soft”. No, the game evolved! That went from the offensive linemen can’t use their hands to now when you can do certain things you couldn’t do in the past. Then, defensive players — they couldn’t touch a wide receiver. Today they can but they used to able to beat them up. But the game is always evolving.

And for those people who have this idea of that barb-eared notion that players have to go out there and kill each other and play the game in a reckless and dangerous manner, my answer to them is you don’t respect the game. You’re one of the problems in the game. The people that are on the sideline talking about how the game is not violent, the game is not tough — you are the problem. You are the problem! The great thing about football is that football still gonna be here. And those people won’t be. There will be the new crop of players and the new crop of thinkers in the business that will take the game on the whole new level. And those people won’t be here. And they won’t even matter anymore. So you’re gonna go through these growing pains of having this chirping and people talking… But who cares? The game always takes care of itself.

— But right now we see that even players say that game is too soft…

— Here’s the thing on players. Players always evolve, players always adapt. That’s the reality of the business. You know, when you have players talking about the game is getting soft, talk to me in fifteen years. Much of that is youth. And with youth comes stupidity. They don’t know. They only know what they’ve been told, they only know the environment they’ve been raised in.

And that’s how the culture has to change. So yes, what you’re hearing from many players is just the importing what the culture is shoving down your throats. They don’t know any better, they don’t think differently, they don’t think at a higher level. So what that said if you want a win in the game that continues to evolve, we have to change the culture, change how players think, how players begin to value themselves more, to see the game differently, to respect the game more. Now we can change that. And now you’ll have less of players talking about the silly stuff that many of them say because they will understand that the game is bigger than you.

It’s about the next twenty years, the next thirty years, when your kids start playing football and their kids start playing football what’s game gonna be then? It’s now about today. It’s about twenty-thirty years down the road. If we gonna go back twenty-thirty years the game wouldn’t be here today. So we have to evolve. And I think that’s something that I said is critical to the longevity of football. We’re taking good steps to get it done. I’m one of the biggest supporters of the game being violent but I’m not one that’s gonna hold on to these ideals of what toughness is supposed to be and what the game used to be like in the days… That’s absurd. I’m a father of five boys, I would not want my boys to play in the way it was played twenty years ago. No.

— So what’s your vision of a game in twenty years from now?

— My advantage point of what I said, my goal is to standardise development where there’s a universal language, universal approach, where around the world everyone is on the same page about what’s best for the athlete, what’s best for the game. How to go about the development of athletes from A to Z.

And I’m not focusing on so much on the NFL, the NFL, the NFL… I’m focusing on the values that the game can steel in the young people. And giving the young people the best opportunity to truly discover who they are. And the only way that they are gonna be able to get to that point is for everyone around the world to get on the same page. And right now we’re not there yet. We’re not even there yet in our own country. But once we continue to take these steps from the safety, from the language, from the coaching, the teaching, the development, and we have to uniform the idea of what this game is supposed to be about, then that’s what I think we’re gonna see a game that becomes a truly international game where people in Romania, in Germany or in the Czech Republic has a standard.

When you start playing football there’s a system in place. You know why you’re playing that game. You know why you have to practice every day. You know what the game will ultimately give you. That’s the instrument and value. That’s the tool in advance to what we have in football that can truly… I know that sounds corny or a cliche, but I think that’s the game that can make the world a better place because it can make better people. And if we can make better people through this game, we’re rocking and rolling. We’re good to go.

But if we continue to allow this game to take from players, take from the participants, where’s the game in twenty years? You’ll have a bunch of former players who are beat up, they hate football, they hate coaches, they don’t want their kids to play, they don’t want to be involved in the game, they don’t want them on the television, you’re bitter, you’re angry. And the game dies. That’s what I don’t want to see.

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