In last year's draft, the Arizona Cardinals selected a running back with the 240th overall pick(7th round), expecting nothing more then the small back out of Pittsburgh to compete for kick return duties. Instead, through training camp and the preseason, the running back - LaRod Stephens-Howling - became a fan-favorite(he was voted ROTB's ST POY) and earned his spot on the team's roster. He was a pivotal special teams player throughout the year, showing he could return kicks, defend in return coverage, and even down punts inside opponents 20-yard line. Near the end of the season, LSH started to receive more reps on offense, and he's expected to see more playing time next year.
I was recently able to talk with Stephens-Howling, and I want to thank him for taking the time to talk to Revenge of the Birds.
ROTB: To say you've been through a whirlwind may not be the right word. You were taken in the 7th round of the draft, had to fight your way through camp to make the team, and then became the Cardinals special teams ace this year. Can you describe what your first season in the NFL has been like?
LSH: My first season in the NFL has been a dream come true. I've always set goals for myself, but I've been able to make an impact in my first year like I would have never imagined.
ROTB: Did you experience any rookie hazing when you first joined the team? Which players are you the closest with?
LSH: When I first got to the team I had to do some little things like carry some equipment off the field and one player had me carry his playbook from all of the meetings and to away trips. The craziest thing was when Beanie and I had to sing a song in front of the team meeting. We sang "If I Ever Fall in Love" by Shai. I'm definitely closest with the running backs on the team.
ROTB: What was the playoff atmosphere like at home and on the road in New Orleans? Did you feel more pressure/nerves in the playoffs and why?
LSH: Some of the older guys tried to inform me that everything was going to turn up another notch in the playoffs, but that was an under statement! The atmosphere of both games was one that I've never played in before. Especially our home playoff game, it felt like the hype from our fans had taken over our team.
ROTB: Many Cardinal fans have tried to come up with a nickname for you. So far "The Hyphen", "the Howler" or simply "LSH" have been used. Is there a certain nick name that you would prefer to be called or that teammates may call you?
LSH: I've been asked this question a lot, but I'm pretty cool with most of the names I've been given so far so I have no preference. If I hear a bad one I'll let you know.
ROTB: Tim Hightower is only in his 2nd NFL season, but we've seen him on the sideline talking and helping the rookies. How beneficial has Tim Hightower been and what is the most important thing he's taught you?
LSH: Tim has been a big help to me since my arrival in Arizona and he is very beneficial because the things that he helps me with he has just been through last year so he can relate better. The most important thing Tim taught me was in the summer and it didn't have much to do with X's and O's. He told me if i wanted to accomplish something, to write it down. That night I started writing things down, and it had worked very well for me.
ROTB: In 2009 you were considered a "Jack of all trades" because of all that you did for the team. What's one reason for the success you had this year?
LSH: I think the biggest reason for the success that I had this year was the influence that coach Spencer and the vets, like Sean [Morey] and Jason Wright had on me in specials teams. They did a great job teaching the different positions and helping me feel comfortable on the different units.
ROTB: Who has been your idol/inspiration/hero and why?
LSH: My family and my city has been the biggest inspiration to me because i have been able to witness first hand that nothing is ever gained without having to work hard for it. I think that is how I developed the "no excuses, go get it" attitude.
ROTB: Obviously there was another rookie running back drafted the same year as you in Beanie Wells. What has it been like learning along side another rookie and how do you see the running game improving next year?
LSH: I really enjoyed working and learning beside Beanie because we were able to help each other deal with things that were thrown at us as rookies in the league. I think our running back group is solid all around and we are always fighting to get more chances to prove that. Hopefully more experience means more opportunities for us.
ROTB: What was the biggest hurdle you ran into during your rookie year and what sort of goals have you set for yourself in the future?
LSH: The biggest hurdle was keeping your mind and body into it for the whole length of the season. As a rookie I was not used to such a long season, which was turned out to be longer than two college seasons. My goals for next year is to stay consistent with my work outs, eating, and body rehabilitation in order to endure such a long season.
ROTB: Finally, what are your plans for the offseason? Do you stay in Arizona or will you be traveling anywhere?
LSH: My plan for the off-season is to go back home to Johnstown, PA and spend sometime with my friends and family. I'd also like to travel somewhere outside of the country.
Again, big thanks to LaRod for taking the time out of his day to talk with us. I look forward to seeing even more out of him next season.