Four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha showed up at MF‘s New York office looking nothing like a superstar NFL athlete, which makes sense for a guy that’s still a mystery to most casual fans. Wearing jeans, sneakers and a hoodie, without being flanked by a publicist, he was practically anonymous. Maybe he’s just used to it. He’s widely considered to be the best defensive backs in the game, yet some can’t pronounce his last name (HINT: try Ahh-Sum-Wah.)
After earning nearly $30 million in the first two years of the three-year deal, the Raiders recently voided his contract, surprisingly making the star cornerback a free agent right in his prime. And while Asomugha can’t negotiate with teams until the NFL’s owners and players union reach a new collective bargaining agreement, just about every team in the league will be interested when that times comes. So we jumped on the chance to find out how Asomugha plans to stay on top of his game this off-season.
Did you have a sense when you signed that contract, that you might end up leaving Oakland? There was a huge salary number due for you this year.
I knew that something could happen, but you know, you’re never sure of it or planning for it. I knew that once it came to that point, a decision was going to have to be made.
On the field, lots of opposing QB’s are so intimidated by you that they won’t even throw to your side of the field. How do you stay focused mentally when teams are going the other direction no matter where you line up?
You always stay focused in the game, because at any point they can come at you. And it’s happened to me before. That one moment where you’ve gotten into a routine, that’s when they try to catch you off guard. I don’t think you can ever get bored or lose focus as a competitor.
You’ve been considered one of the best CB’s in the league for the last five seasons. Year in and year out, how do you stay on top?
I think it’s just the amount of hours that you put into whatever it is that you do. I’m one of the guys that thinks you have to spend a lot of time at whatever your craft is in order to sustain it, and in order to get better at it. If you have those goals, you have to continue to focus your attention on them. You can’t just think things are going to happen.
How are you approaching this off-season in terms of training?
I’ll be in Los Angeles. That’s my home—that’s where I’m from, where I was raised. I always go back to L.A. and train. It’s all about feel for me, it’s all about how my body feels, what I feel I need to work on as far as speed, agility or strength. A lot of times guys go out and the plan is to work out with another 30 guys. And some guys feed off that, whereas I feed off a smaller group, mostly just friends, because I’m a little more focused when I do it that way. And I’m a big time basketball fan, so I’ll always shoot hoops during the period between now and March.
Asomugha at MF headquarters in NYC
You’ve been dominant for so long. Do you remember back when you first realized you were on a different level than those around you?
In high school, my dream was to go to the NBA. But when recruiting came around, the letters for football compared to basketball were like 25 to one, and my one wasn’t from Duke. I just loved being a part of the sport, and it wasn’t something that I really took that seriously. It became a business when I got to the NFL and realized I wasn’t as prepared for it as I thought I was. In high school, you can just go out there and play. In the NFL it was so much more mental. It was probably about my second or third year in the NFL when it clicked and it was like, you have a chance to be great, you have to hone your skills.
What did you do differently?
My focus changed. The first couple of years in the league it was just go out and play and have fun. It was just making a lot of young decisions as opposed to being focused in my profession. At the time I wasn’t playing much because we had two cornerbacks, Charles Woodson and Philip Buchanon. I was the guy that comes off the bench and runs down on special teams. And once I was thrown into the starting lineup, it kind of hit me. I can’t party and go out and do all that stuff like that anymore. I felt like I had a responsibility to everyone to show up.
Did you learn anything from Charles Woodson when he was on the team? He’s enjoyed a career resurgence in Green Bay, and he’s a big reason the Packers are in the Super Bowl.
When he was in Oakland, the stuff that I learned from him wasn’t really “X’s and O’s” football type stuff. The stuff that I learned from him was just about the swag that you have to have when you’re on the field, that confidence in the way you move. I sat back as a young guy and just watched that, and it helps having that type of internal confidence when you go out there that you’re the best. It was like nothing ever fazed him on the field.
You did say you’re interested in returning back to the Raiders if that’s something that develops, is that right? Certainly the door isn’t closed there.
Right, the door is not closed at all, and obviously when we go into free agency anything can happen and all doors are open, pretty much, for me. So yeah, that door will never be closed for me.