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Collected Wisdom: J.D. Runnels, former Oklahoma football player

J.D. Runnels has a 5-year-old son and reflects on his early days in football, his time at OU, his feeling on Hard Knocks and whether or not he would allow his son to play football.
by Ryan Aber Published: January 18, 2014

photo - J.D. Runnels celebrates after the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) beat the Oregon Ducks in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl college football game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., Thursday, December 29, 2005. By Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman.
J.D. Runnels celebrates after the Oklahoma Sooners (OU) beat the Oregon Ducks in the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl college football game at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Calif., Thursday, December 29, 2005. By Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman.

The first day of pads was pretty intense up in the NFL. I remember looking over in the first day of pads and seeing on our defense, we had Tommy (Harris), Mike Brown, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Nathan Vasher, Peanut Tillman. There were like seven Pro Bowlers over there. I was like, ‘This is pretty impressive.' Ron Rivera was our defensive coordinator and Lovie Smith sitting over there. It was pretty humbling having all those guys looking at you.

Making it to the Super Bowl in Chicago and celebrating on Soldier Field was the high point in the NFL for me. It just felt like that town had a burden off their shoulders. They hadn't been there since '85. It was pretty special.

I don't watch Hard Knocks anymore. I made the comment that somebody was telling me that Zac Taylor was on it that he coached at the Dolphins or something like that and I tweeted about it and somebody said, ‘Yeah, he was on Hard Knocks a couple weeks back.' Being in it, it's a cool show and all but it's pretty obvious the more you see the more you realize you don't know what goes on. There's so much. They can't cover everything. They can't be there 24 hours so they can't show you all the great plays. They can't show you all the bad plays. They're not going to show you what the owner doesn't want you to see. Having been there, you lose interest, especially being put in that predicament with the coaches and being cut on the show. For me, I know how well I had been playing. I'm glad they showed some highlights of me. You have to realize at some point that it's not all about talent and it's hard to come to that conclusion. I feel confident with people knowing that I didn't get cut because I (stink) basically. That's why I don't really don't particularly watch the show but I also don't hate it. I feel like a little bit of it is political when teams make roster decisions — who they have their money invested in and who's healthy at the right time and things like that.

When football started dying down, I had to figure out what I wanted to do after and I didn't know. It started with personal training but a lot of what I did was just training women. I got a couple of Carl Albert kids that were willing to drive down to Norman a couple years ago and start with me and it got me back in football and now I'm back in full swing with my gym back in my hometown.  I just try and be really community-based and it's paying off. It's going really good. It's going better than I ever could've imagined, not just financially — for myself personally and just building a relationship with a lot of the kids around here that do have a chance to play college ball. It's just been really special to me.

Having played fullback worries me. It worries me a lot about my later life. I guess the big thing is a lot of people — people are going to make judgments about the (concussion) lawsuits and things like that. In my opinion, whether you work in a factory and get lung cancer, whether you work wiping windows on tall buildings and fall — whatever happens, if you're going to have a lifelong industry, especially in an industry that produces as much profit as the NFL does, they should do everything that they can for the players. It's sad that as a society, we look at entertainers as people who make a lot of money; you look at these players who get that high salary and almost forget that they're human. You forget that they have a family, that no matter what, they've earned that more than likely. I had to play for 18 or 19 years before I got a sniff at the NFL. That part kind of (stinks) but everybody's going to have their own opinion and there's mine.

I guess I would let my son play football if he wanted to. I've come a long way on that. Back in the day, right when he was born, I said, ‘No, absolutely not.' The way football's going, 10 more years and it's going to be a lot softer as it is now. It's not going to go back to being as violent as it was when we were in the I-formations with two tight ends. We'll see. If he wants to do it then I'll look at it then but it probably won't be tackle until high school.

by Ryan Aber
OU Athletics Reporter
Ryan Aber has worked for The Oklahoman since 2006, covering high schools, the Oklahoma City RedHawks, the Oklahoma City Barons and OU football recruiting. An Oklahoma City native, Aber graduated from Northeastern State. Before joining The...
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