Giants’ Reggie Ragland on Jalen Hurts, friend’s tragic death
Ahead of Sunday’s clash with the rival Eagles, Giants linebacker Reggie Ragland tackles some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.
Q: Please describe Jalen HUTTS, a fellow ex-Alabama Crimson Tide player.
A: That’s little bro. My senior year we’re in the bowl game, and the early enrollees can come and practice with you. Everybody was like, “Who is this kid with these dreads playing quarterback?” He was acting like Deshaun [Watson], I kid you not. He had kept it, and he was running, and he did a dead leg on me — I was like, “Who the hell is this guy here y’all?” (chuckle). And everybody’s like, “Hell, he’s quick and can move.” His dead leg’s able to stop at any time and make the tackle pass you, so he has a helluva dead leg. And ever since then, man, I’ve been proud of him, facing all the adversity he’s faced, and then putting himself in the position that he’s in now to keep being successful. He’s a good dude, too.
Q: Which kind of problem is he facing on Sunday?
A: He can throw and he can run, and he’s smart, so he’s gonna put his guys in position, and he makes plays, that’s the biggest thing in this league, you gotta make plays, and that’s what he does. We have to do an excellent job stopping him and keeping him in the pocket. We can’t let him get out of the pocket, gotta keep him in the pocket.
Q: Describe your high school friend Dez Dennis.
A: He was a true brother and a true friend. I was never in trouble because he kept me safe. Everybody had the chance to be successful playing sports. He made it a point of telling everyone. So ain’t nobody gonna let him do nothing around us. He ensured that I was treated as friend.
Q: Since your first year in high school, have you known him?
A: Just moved to Bob Jones [High School in Madison, Ala.], and the funny thing about it like when I first met Dez (chuckle), he looked me up and down and said, “Man, you ain’t really that damn big.” Ever since then, me and him were locked on to the hip, like his mom is like my mom and his little sister’s like my little sister.
Q: Tell us about how it felt for you to learn that your second year in Alabama was ruined by the news of his death from a car accident.
A: I damn near broke my hand when I found out ’cause I punched the wall so damn hard in my dorm the day before we played Tennessee. And I had a test, so I still went and took the test, but I didn’t care if I passed or failed the test. That was always the first number I dialed when I returned to Alabama. … Knowing I couldn’t call him, and then seeing him in that casket … it hurt me to my soul. I couldn’t even go to the viewing. We just saw him at the funeral the next day, but man, everybody was just devastated, ’cause Dez meant so much to everybody. Do you know that there is one person to whom everyone gravitates? Dez was this person for everyone. He is a person I remember almost every single day. He is always in my thoughts. … His favorite thing to do was play football. Just before getting in the wreck, he knew he would get another opportunity to play with Colorado State. I had just talked to him for like a couple of days before then, and he was so excited, you’d hear it in his voice and everything.
Q: Also, he was a linebacker.
A: He wasn’t as big as me, but he had heart. He led our team in tackles ’cause everybody used to run away from me so everything would funnel towards him and he would go make every play.
Q: Would you say he would have made a good pro-athlete?
A: It was a good shot. … He wasn’t scared of nothing.
Q: Robbie Clark.
Robbie is autistic. My parents taught me that I should never judge someone because they have disabilities. One day we were in kindergarten, and I don’t remember this, but like his mom tells me this story all the time. My mom was called by Robbie’s mother one day, after which Robbie and the other children were picking on Robbie. Robbie never got any attention the rest of that time. Robbie knew me because they knew I would be a troublemaker. Robbie’s a great person, he loves Disney. Robbie could talk about Walt Disney and all things Disney. To this day, I am still in touch with him.
Q: What is your field mentality?
A: Anything you need to do it. Make every tackle — pretty or ugly.
Q: You seem like you’re too sensitive and too nice a guy to play inside linebacker in the NFL.
A: I’m the youngest of seven. Trust me, ain’t nothing sensitive about me (chuckle). Even though everybody loves to call me like a teddy bear … everybody loves to call me “Unc” ’cause I like older music. It’s just something about this game for me. What happens off the field? I want to be known as the nicest guy, but when I turn on that film … it’s just something about me that clicks ’cause I just love playing the game. This is probably due to being beaten up with my older brothers. There are five of us and we have one sister. That must be because of them.
Q: Off the field you’re a teddy bear, on the field you’re a what?
A: Yes, I’m a gorilla. (Laugh).
Q: How is it to play for the New York Giants
A: There’s nothing like having that N and that Y on your helmet, and going out there in front of them fans.
Q: What do you think of Sunday’s Michael Strahan’s jersey retirement?
A: The beast. Growing up, I loved Michael Strahan. He was always on the cutting edge, making plays, being vicious, and leading. Then you hear the stories of his character, who held men accountable. I’m excited for him and all that he’s accomplished.
Q: Describe defensive coordinator Patrick Graham.
A: Intelligent as a whip, great guy. He enjoys old-school Rap.
Q: Coach Joe Judge.
A: Great dude. All the stuff you hear about Coach Judge, man, it’s really not true, he loves guys that work hard and want to be successful.
Q: Kenny Golladay.
A: A silent killer. He don’t talk much, but all you gotta do is throw that ball in his way, he’s gonna go get it.
Q: Shaq Lawson.
A: Intelligent and crazy.
Q: Crazy how?
A: Shaq is the most important thing.
Q: How does winning the two Alabama national championships compare to winning Super Bowl LIV in Kansas with the Chiefs
A: I’ll probably say my favorite moment was winning the national championship my senior year ’cause I actually got to play the whole year and I was up for all the accolades and everything like that, so it made it much sweeter being it my last year at Alabama with my guys. The national championship was my first year. All I did was kickoff. It was a moment I wanted to just be there. Winning a Super Bowl, I’m not gonna sit here and lie — it still really hasn’t hit me yet that I won a Super Bowl. Being around everybody that I grew up around, like, “Man, wow, you won a Super Bowl?” And like my dad even cried on the field. My family was more than excited to see me win the Super Bowl. It’s crazy as it seems.
Q: Name Patrick Mahomes as your teammate.
A: Patrick’s a great guy. He’s Superman on the field, but just getting to know him as a person, he’s even a better person. He’s always looking out for his guys. When I have a question, I always know where to go. Patrick and me still speak every now and again.
Q: Andy Reid.
A: Andy Reid is my favorite coach. He’s truly a player’s coach. He’s always available to talk about any issues you may be having in your life.
Q: Steve Spagnuolo.
Q: I found him mentally challenging and made me better. He always asked you questions about your personal life.
Q: Name the third-and-goal for Tom Brady on the 1-yard-line in the AFC Championship Game following 2018.
A: I knew we needed a play, ’cause they’re about to go 14-zero on us if I don’t catch that. I regret not getting the ball out of the endzone. Everyone was encouraging me to stop and run. But losing that game … it hurts to be so close to your goal, and then you just lose. We had ’em up against the ropes towards the end of the game, we had every chance and every moment, but we just didn’t capitalize on it. That’s why you gotta have some type of motivation, and so the next year, that was our whole goal is to get back and win the whole thing.
Q: Which linebacker would you pick if you had the ability to choose from all of NFL’s past linebackers?
R: Ray Lewis, my childhood favorite linebacker, was the one I grew up with. But I’ll probably have to say Dick Butkus, for the fact that if remember correctly, I think his team was like the worst team in the league, and he still was the MVP of the league as a linebacker. … My favorite player was Rolando McClain because me and Rolando live probably like 15, 20 minutes away from each other … then he went to ’Bama, too.
Q: Who would you choose to go head-to-head with if there was a running back from the NFL?
A: Probably “Sweetness,” Walter Payton. He was that man. Everyone loved him for everything.
Q: Your thoughts about Rex Ryan, former Bills coach and who purchased you in a 2016 deal before you tore you ACL?
A: I wish I’da truly got to play for Rex. Rex is an excellent dude, regardless of what people may say. His defense was made to fit me and my game. It was clear that he wanted to incorporate me in the defense, making it more manageable for me.
Q: How was the experience of meeting President Obama at The White House?
Q: This was incredible. It was a surreal experience for me to be able to hold his hand and shake hands with the first black president of America. I told everybody I made a promise to my mom that I get my degree, and he was like, “Just because he’s big does not mean he’s not scared of his mama.” It’s on YouTube somewhere.
Q: Name one inspirational or motivational quote that you find most inspiring.
Q: Tim Duncan: The best is good, the best is great, but you should never stop working until your best is greatest and your best is better.
Q: What is your driving force?
A: My parents, and I couldn’t see myself not being successful.
Q: Do you fear failure?
A: Fear of failure. As a child, everyone expected me to do this or that. I couldn’t imagine being in my hometown being this type of guy growing up and then failing, and then the only thing you hear is when you walk past people: “Aw man, that’s Reggie. He coulda been this, he coulda been that.” That always drove me, even when I was in school. I always tell people I wasn’t the smartest, but my effort got me through everything.
Q: Tell us about your mother.
A: Most beautiful woman on the planet. My father was the iron fist and my mother was the pillow. … If it wasn’t for my dad always consistently pushing me and always reminding me of situations of what he went through growing up, and situations of other people to always keep me level-headed, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now, and that’s where I really got my mental toughness from. Seeing my mom and my dad get up at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, my mom going to clean warehouses and stuff like that right before she goes to be a cook. My dad brought me with him to paint when I was about 7/8 years old. My dad saw something in me that I didn’t see at an early age. He was like, “Do you want to be out here all day with me painting?” … And I got little tears coming down my face. And he was like, “OK then, always make sure you get your grades and always work your tail off.” Have you seen the movie “King Richard” with Serena Williams and Venus of how their dad Richard brought them up and like him having a plan? My dad said that he saw a future and had a plan to get me into sports. That movie really hit home with me ’cause like my dad really pushed me to be something that he seen before anybody else seen in me.
Q: Describe your late grandfather.
A: My dad and him are identical. My grandad did not play. My grandad was a man who loved hot dogs and Pepsi. He was my man, he was my dog. He is my best friend. He got to see me graduate college. That’s probably my biggest achievement, seeing him get to see me graduate at least.
Q: Your mother’s diabetes.
A: My brothers told me, like my mom liked to keep stuff away ’cause she knows I’m gonna worry about ’em. My dad had a stroke a month later. That’s another reason I really buckled down when I was at Alabama, like seeing them two go through that, I knew I had to really get my s –t together and go play and give myself the best opportunity. … I was about to go back and check on them, especially when I found out my dad had a stroke. And my mom called me halfway on the way home, it was like: “Baby, me and your daddy are gonna be all right. You get your butt back down there and you focus on school, and you focus on your football.” And that’s all I needed to hear.
Q: Three dinner guests?
Martin Luther King [Jr.]Jennifer Lopez is my first crush on a celebrity woman; Muhammad Ali was also my first.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
Q: What is your favourite actor?
A: Denzel Washington.
Q: Favorite actress?
A: Angela Bassett.
Q: Favorite singers/entertainers?
A: Luther Vandross, Mary J. Blige.
Q: What is your favorite meal?
Q: An Instagram quote from you beneath a photo of you in a Chiefs jersey: “I don’t look like what I been through.”
R: I mean it like having to deal with all the pain and suffering, including tearing my ACL during my rookie year. It’s like losing my friends and going through so much family stuff, in order to come out on top.
Q: Name the one obstacle that you have had to conquer?
A: I’ll probably say when I was at ’Bama, and everybody was telling me before I went to ’Bama, “You shouldn’t have went to ’Bama, you’re not gonna get to play, there’s too many superstars, there’s too many five-stars,” including myself. And then in the back of my head everybody telling me that I’m not gonna play — I’m gonna play. When I finally had my chance, I took it. That’s how it’s supposed to be.
Q: Are you feeling like you are on the verge of greatness?
A: Always. There’s so much that I still want to accomplish. I’m 28, but I still have way more life to live. If it’s in football, it’s in football, but if it’s not, I was made to be successful, and that’s what I’m gonna be.
Q: Do you have any messages for Giants fans
A: Please keep hanging in there. We’re gonna turn the corner. There is a plan, but we have to go do it. It’s easier said than done, I know this city is all about producing. And I know one thing about me: I’m never gonna give up and I’m never gonna quit.