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April 5, 2017

Jason Peter interview

Blackshirt legend, an All American in 1997, a first round draft pick in 1998, number 14 overall, Mr. Jason Peter, how are you doing, my friend?

JP: I’m good, how are you, Adam?

AC: I’m doing great, and I just want to dive right into it, because I know you’re a passionate guy and I’ve been looking forward to this interview because of that. I want to talk about when you were playing at Nebraska, because there’s a lot of teams with a lot of talent, and you won 3 rings while you were there. What made you guys so good and set you apart from those teams that had talent like you guys did?

JP: I don’t know if there was any one thing. It was the big things, clearly leadership. As it is and as it was, I think it’s an area that Nebraska has struggled with in, let’s say, the last 5-10 years, is finding that vocal leader, teams that can police themselves -- not to say that a head coach like Tom Osborne doesn’t have any impact on how the team is run, but coaches don’t need to be worried about the little things. Back then, you had to answer to a force that was probably more intimidating than having to deal with Coach Osborne, and that’s your peers. We all came from different walks of life, in different parts of the country, but we had one thing in common, and that was that we wanted to win National Championships. We did everything full go, as you can imagine. You hear stories about NFL scouts that would come in and watch practices and they were just kind of nodding their heads. They would shake their heads in disbelief, going “How do you guys go this hard during the week and still have enough left on Saturday?” Coach Osborne wanted to create an environment that it was gonna be the toughest competition and the hardest work that we were gonna have during the entire week was gonna be at our stadium, against our own team. That way, on Saturday when we played, nothing physically, mentally, could equal what we had already seen during the week.

AC: Now, you had yourself, your brother, Christian, Grant Wistrom, a lot of intense personalities, a lot of good, hardworking attitudes on that team, and I have to ask: Who’s better, you or your brother, because I heard you guys used to get in fights over your stats, and who was playing better than the other one. Who was the alpha leader on that defense between all of you guys and specifically, you and your brother?

JP: Between Christian and I, we never -- we fought, but there was one person throughout my entire playing career that intimidated me to the point where, when there was that look in his eye, it was like “Ok, I’m not messing around.” It was Christian. He was a big part of teaching me and guys like Grant, and a lot of those guys that played during those years.

AC: Do you have any stories that you can share from you playing days at Nebraska, from the intensity, to the attitude, maybe something happened in the locker room, on the field, just kind of an insider story that maybe people haven’t heard before?

JP: Well, some people may have heard, but I’ll share it anyway. Christian and I -- Nebraska had just played Oklahoma and he had started to play more in the weeks leading up to that game, and he played really, really well. That game was kind of his coming out party. And, the head got a little too big, at least in my eyes, and I think it was the off season at this point. We’re heading down to the stadium, and we start doing what brothers do, telling each other “You’re a piece of garbage” and “Nobody likes you” and this and that, and he’s telling me that I should transfer, and that “You’ll never be anything, you’ll always be my little brother.” I said something along the lines of “Your game is garbage, you’re living off 3 or 4 plays in an Oklahoma game.” Something along those lines. All of a sudden, boom. He slams on the brakes, and that look that I was talking about earlier? He had that look in his eyes. He pulled the emergency brake up and jumped out of the car. I locked the door, because he came around and tried to open up my door. He goes back around, gets in the car, and we just start throwing blows at each other.

At this point, traffic has started to back up to at least 15-20 cars. I get out of the car through his side. We’re out in the middle of the street, just swinging on each other, and he’s got me up against the car, giving me body blow after body blow. He was gassed. You know, Christian was about 300 pounds, and I could see he was fading. He went for the knockout shot, and I think I ducked and caught him with one up in the nose. By that point, we were both so tired and we saw that traffic was backed up and we were acting like a couple buffoons. He caught up with me, we both walk in, and we got blood all over our shirts, his shirt’s ripped, my shirt’s ripped, and we walked up to where the D line was eating. You can imagine the laughter that was coming from all of our brothers.

AC: Real quick, I want to talk about the current Huskers, but quickly, you played in the NFL, first rounder, played for the Panthers, then you wrote a book, Hero of the Underground; My Journey Down to Heroin and Back. I read up on this book before the interview, and the guy who wrote it said “He (meaning you, Jason) writes like a soulful badass of self-destruction, big money, endless drugs, we’re lucky he’s alive to tell this story.” Basically, the guy was just in awe about how honest you were, and the story itself. Is there anything you’d like to share for the folks at home who haven’t read the book, what’s in it or anything they might find interesting from it?

JP: It follows my life at Nebraska and the highs of winning those championships, and going into the NFL and really dealing with injury, which was something that I never had to deal with at Nebraska, or prior to. I never had a surgery, or anything major like that. Following my first year down there, there were three or four different body parts that they could have operated on. My neck being one of them, and both of my shoulders. Ultimately what we decided to do was operate on my shoulders. It was a repetitive thing for the next four years, until one day, they’re saying “We can’t clear you to play football, anymore. You’re going to end up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.” That was it. During those four years, a lot of people think that I was some guy who decided I was going to start doing drugs. That’s not how it got started.

It started because I was taking pain pills to stay on the field. At first, you start taking them as something to recover from after a game, but then it becomes that, plus I need some again when I get home at night. Then, it becomes I need them to get up in the morning as well. Then, before practice. It becomes this cyclical thing, and when you leave the NFL and lose all that structure, for me it was that time. Time was deadly for me. I had nobody to answer to, lot of money, and it was a deadly combination. Ultimately, for a lot of people it’s deadly. Coming to grips with how my career went, you know, I expected to play 10-12 years and go into the Hall of Fame. That was my mindset when I left Nebraska, and it just didn’t go that way. So, it was going through that, and then finding my wife, having a couple kids, and just being able to be OK.

AC: I’m with you. You get used to taking shots, body parts numbed; you got the Vicodin, all this other stuff, so I understand. Let’s talk a little bit about current Husker football, of course. What are your thoughts on the current state of Husker football and the program at the moment?

JP: I don’t know these guys like some of the staff that have been there, but they seem like their mind is in the right place, I think they’re willing to do things that maybe some previous staffs weren’t, in terms of recruiting and using social media. My concern, right now, is that that is what the program is almost about. It’s kind of window dressing at this point. You need it to be about wins and losses, and hopefully it’s more about wins. That’s what Nebraska football was always about. It was about winning football games on Saturdays. Not necessarily who has the best Twitter account, or can dominate social media, or even recruiting for that matter. What good does recruiting do if you ultimately don’t get any results out of it, you know? It’s finding the right guys.

I’m a big supporter of California kids. I think you need California kids, there’s a lot of good football players in California, but that cannot be the heartbeat of your football team. If you have California as the core, they do not understand what Nebraska football is really about, nor do they probably care the way that Nebraska kids do. I know that the walk-on program is different now, that times are different. But there’s still a lot of kids that want to come and play for Nebraska, and you gotta make sure that you keep the Nebraska kids in state. That was never even up for debate, really. If you played football in Nebraska, and you were a D1 guy, you were coming to Nebraska. I would like to see the toughness get back. I don’t want to hear guys running their mouths prior to bowl games, and then getting their ass beat in. It’s like, where’d that guy go? I would like to see better leadership. You step in that locker room, and you’re doing something that is bigger than just yourself, for something greater than just your own personal success. It’s about team success.

AC: Nick Gates, starting tackle for the Huskers, I heard you had some comments on this: He said that he didn’t realize how good the Tennessee defensive end, Derek Barnett, was going into the bowl game. I heard you had an interesting reaction to that. I have not been able to hear it yet, so could you share that with us?

JP: I just didn’t understand it. He was one of the guys that started to talk before the game, and he ran his mouth a little big. I don’t know if that’s the game you want to run your mouth, but anyway, he ended up getting beat like a drum. It was pretty bad. That other kid was a stud. But the thing was, that he comes out afterwards last week, saying that he didn’t realize that he was gonna be that good, and I’m thinking “What?!” How in the world do you go into that game thinking he’s not that good? He’s an All American. He’s pegged to go in the first round! What do you think, that they’re just letting anybody go in the first round? They’re just giving All American awards to guys that start and know how to put on a jock strap? I mean, this kid’s been balling for years!

AC: I’m with ya. I always had the attitude that I was gonna stomp a mudhole in this guy’s chest, walk it dry, then help him back up, stare him right in the eye, and do it again. I was never much of a talker. I’ll never forget, after my first sack, I celebrated, legit celebrated, I was exhausted. I don’t have energy for that. I gotta have energy to play the next 80 snaps. So, I’m with ya. I was never much of a talker, outside of my own team and in the locker room with my own teammates.

I have two real quick questions left. Bob Diaco. The new 3-4 defense. What are your thoughts on that, personally? I’ve seen the practices, seen some of the tape, I love the energy and enthusiasm. Some of the things you’ve talked about, I think he is injecting in. One of the things I love is that some of the coaches in the past have tried to get kids to buy in. I even talked about that. But when I read, that his attitude is either buy in or get out, as opposed to trying to get kids to buy in, I love that. What are your thoughts on Bob Diaco and the new 3-4 defense?

JP: Well, he’s a Jersey guy, so right away I knew that I would like him. He is an intense guy, as a lot of guys from Jersey are, but he’s got more of “This is what we’re doing. And you’re either getting on the boat, or I don’t have time for you. I want to coach guys that want it.” That’s the way it’s gotta be. The other guys? They don’t want to get on board, you don’t have time for them. If you’re not helping to paddle the boat, you’re slowing us down, and you’re gonna get kicked off.

AC: One final question. It’s kind of a two-parter. What are your expectations for the Huskers this year? On my last Fast Friday show, I gave my prediction for their final record. You can talk about the final record, or you can talk about the thing you’d like to see from the Huskers this year. So, I’ll leave you with that and however you want to answer it.

JP: I’m actually surprised at a lot of the expectations that a lot of people have. Thinking, now that we have this new quarterback that can run Langsdorf’s new offense better than what Tommy Armstrong did, we’re automatically gonna be two or three games better than what we were last year. For those people thinking like that, I think you’re gonna be in for a rude awakening. I think the offensive line has got a lot of work in front of them. Ultimately it comes down to the line of scrimmage, and that’s on both sides of the ball. I touched on the offense, and the defense, I was talking earlier today, the last time we had somebody who could get after the quarterback on a consistent basis, and someone was saying Randy Gregory. I don’t think Randy met the expectations. The last guy we got back to was you (Adam). We’re talking about Nebraska, that used to be Defensive End U. It was year after year with defensive lineman. We need to start dominating again on the defensive line. Do they have the guys? Yeah, I think they do. I think they have enough talent down there to certainly compete with anybody. Maybe Ohio State and Michigan are at a different level, but I don’t think there’s anybody else.

You shouldn’t get beat like you did against Iowa. That’s unacceptable. They don’t have as much talent and they pounded you. You just hope for the best with them, but I’ve learned not to get my expectations too high. I want them to work hard and be proud of putting on that jersey and going out and playing in front of the best fans in the world. Sometimes I think they got it too good. They show up on Monday, and they’re still in their sweat suits, still on their iPads, there’s still something new. In order for these young guys to get the point, sometimes you gotta cut them off. Give it to them at the end of the year. I know it’s a keeping up with the Jones’s kind of thing with recruiting, but at some point, what’s more important? The kids having the best iPads, or us hanging another conference championship or national championship on the board?

AC: I don’t hate what you’re saying at all. I feel like I should let you babysit my kids at some point. They go to the gym and I pick them up, and they get a sticker every day. My one year olds are already trained to go get a sticker and I started saying No. The people at the gym look at me like I’m the devil incarnate. I’m like, no. For going to the gym, not dying and leaving, they don’t need to get something every day. Anyway, I’m with ya, I’m on the same page, and as far as the trenches, I love what you said, because offense puts butts in the seats, defense wins games, the trenches win championships. In my opinion. I’m completely with you there.

I want to thank you for joining me, and if you ever need anything, just hit me up. And Husker Nation, if you haven’t already, check out the Carriker Chronicle email notifications. Until Fast Friday, Go Big Red, and always remember….