Interviews Archive

Albert Wilson Makes Impact Through Philanthropy, Community Service Initiatives

Friday, November 22nd, 2019
Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson hosts an annual Youth Skills Camp in his hometown of Fort Pierce, Fla. Image Credit: AWF – ithinkisee12.com

In Week 8, Dolfans NYC raised over $250 through raffles and donated a total of $500 to The Albert Wilson Foundation, which is committed to creating opportunities that will enhance the lives of children in foster care. 

After spending much of his childhood in the South Florida foster care system, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Albert Wilson understands, as well as anyone, the importance of giving back to youth in his community and helping to improve the lives of those less fortunate. 

So whether he’s devoting his time or money through the foundation he founded in 2016, Wilson begins each day by asking himself the same central question. 

“How can I make a foster kid’s day better?” 

That objective entails free, year-round activities for foster children, including youth camps, book drives and holiday giveaways. Wilson, who earned an athletic scholarship to Georgia State, also hopes to open doors for children seeking to continue their education outside of Florida. 

“Growing up in foster care, and (having) the opportunity to go to Georgia State, I feel like that was my opportunity to grow and become a better person,” he said. “I don’t want to limit the people in foster care, so our main goal is to get out-of-state scholarships to foster kids.” 

As an advocate for foster children, the Fort Pierce, Fla. native recognizes he can make a difference through face-to-face conversations with youngsters in need of guidance from someone who, not too long ago, was in their shoes. 

“If it’s just me going over and saying, ‘Hey,’ or if I have to go to a home and talk to the kids, or be that distant role model or that distant big brother for them,” he said, “I just try to (help) any way I can.” 

The stories he hears resonate with the 27-year-old, who’s experienced the same frustration and the same despair. 

Wilson was placed in foster care twice: for several months at age 6, and again from 12 until he aged out of the system at 18. During those years, while his parents were incarcerated, he shuttled between group homes and foster homes, too many to keep track, until finding security with the Bailey family in Port St. Lucie. 

“I love those guys. I met them, maybe a couple of days after the second time I went into the foster care system, when I was in eighth grade,” Wilson said. “I ended up living with them for maybe a year and some change; I want to say (until) my (sophomore) year of high school. They’re a great family. They took in tons of kids and ended up adopting eight.” 

When he speaks to foster parents nowadays, Wilson leans on his ongoing relationship with the Baileys, caring people who “do it the right way,” to provide a guideline of how the foster care system is ideally designed to work. 

During his stay, he found comfort and support, and more importantly, quickly learned to not blame himself for his circumstances. 

“(It’s important) to let the kids know that it’s not their fault that they’re in foster care,” Wilson said. “A lot of kids feel like it’s something they did wrong or they feel like they got the short end of the stick. I want to be out there and let them know that it’s totally the opposite. It’s not their fault and they definitely have the long end of the stick because someone who didn’t know you the day before had the faith and the love to bring you into their home and try to do their best to raise you.” 

In 10th grade, he moved in with Robert and Sherri Brown, parents of a high school friend, who he later learned were his cousins. By then, his parents were released from prison, but once Sherri completed her certification to become a foster parent, Wilson opted to remain with her, in Port St. Lucie, in order to stay in the same high school.  

Wilson knew returning to Fort Pierce, a city that, at the time, had one of the highest crime rates in the state, could jeopardize his long-held goal of reaching the NFL. As a dual-threat quarterback at Port St. Lucie, he began attracting college scouts at games.  

“Fort Pierce is a low-class neighborhood; everybody was just trying to survive and make ends meet,” he said. “Football was pretty much always my escape from that. Football was that one thing that was consistent to me.” 

Undrafted out of college, the 5-foot-9 speedster impressed at Chiefs rookie camp and earned his first contract. Four years later, he returned to South Florida, this time as a member of the Dolphins, with the platform to help foster children in the same kinds of unstable situations he once faced. 

Looking back, Wilson knows he’s one of the lucky ones, that few find one, much less two families as inviting and nurturing as the Baileys and Browns, without whom he likely never would’ve reached the pros. 

“For me, knowing how it is to be with a family, and just having that family support, it was awesome,” he said. “I’m trying to break the line to where (being in foster care) feels like family and doesn’t feel like you’re in a stranger’s home for years.” 

Wilson, an inspiration to innumerable adolescents, relays a simple message he hopes serves as motivation during challenging times. 

“I try to tell them it’s possible; that I did it, and your dreams can happen,” he said. “(I’m hopeful) I can (convince) them to go down the right path, and grow up and be whatever they want to be.” 

Dolphins’ Jason Sanders: ‘You Have to Accept the Pressure’ of Kicking in NFL

Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders smiles after kicking his first game-winning field goal last season. Image Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Moments after recovering his own onside kick against the Bills, Jason Sanders, typically reserved and even-keeled, emerged with the football from the pile, pumped his fist and sprinted ahead to high-fives and pats on the helmet from his Dolphins teammates.

“You want to bring emotion to the game,” he said. “You want to use that as a momentum change in the game, as well, so if they see your kicker getting pumped, it might be a chain effect where we’re all pumped now.” 

Sanders’ rare display of enthusiasm was certainly understandable. Entering Week 11, NFL teams were successful on just one of the previous 29 onside-kick attempts; the Dolphins had two previous recoveries negated by offside penalties earlier this season. 

Despite running the play countless times in practice, Sanders wasn’t certain it would work in a game situation, considering the ball had to travel a precise distance, and bounce just right, for him to have a chance to seize it. But catching Buffalo off guard worked in his favor. 

“It’s designed to be a surprise kick, so if you get the frontline to take a step backwards, then you’re going to have a good step on it,” he said. “But the ball still has to go 10 yards … say, if I kicked it 13, 14 yards, that might’ve been too far and I might not have been able to get it.” 

Although Miami wasn’t able to capitalize on its next possession, No. 7’s clutch kick was the latest in a young career that’s already distinguished by standout performances. 

Last season, he converted on 18-of-20 field goal attempts (90 percent), the eighth-best percentage in the league and fifth-highest in Dolphins history. In Week 6 against the Bears, he nailed a 47-yarder on the final play of overtime to cap a Dolphins comeback victory. 

After making three kicks longer than 45 yards in a win against the Colts on Nov. 10, Sanders earned his first AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. 

“I’ve been looking for a game like this this season, where it’s kind of, maybe a breakthrough to get things rolling, start getting on a little streak, maybe,” Sanders told MiamiDolphins.com. “I’m coming off, I’d like to say, a good year, so I’m trying to keep everything possible, the same. I know it’s worked and it helped me out [Week 10].” 

A 7th-round pick (229th overall) by Miami in 2018, the New Mexico alum seized the starting job after winning a training camp battle with fellow rookie Greg Joseph. Sanders learned early to block out all outside distractions and proved he wouldn’t get overwhelmed by any situation. 

“If you focus on yourself and focus on one kick at a time, you’re going to try to find good results,” he said. “You can’t worry about the competition or what’s happening outside of the ball coming off your foot.” 

A high-school soccer star, Sanders had his sights set on a career in the MLS, but decided to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Andrew, the starting kicker on the football team. 

“My freshman teacher, who was also the (football) coach, liked how my brother was kicking, so he wanted me to go out there and try it,” said Sanders, who became the full-time kicker and punter as a junior. “All I did was play soccer growing up, and I thought that was going to be my route.” 

Sanders, in fact, expected to revert to soccer in college, but turned his full attention to the gridiron after earning a football scholarship offer from New Mexico, one of five schools to recruit him. 

The NFL may have seemed like a longshot early on, as Sanders didn’t attempt a single field goal as a backup in his first season, and connected on just 3-of-7 attempts as a sophomore. 

“My freshman year, I was only hitting kickoffs and I wanted to hit field goals, so that next year, I was focusing on trying to be the field goal kicker,” he said. “I think that kind of helped me, being in the present.” 

The following season, Sanders was nearly flawless, making 12-of-13 field goals, including 6-of-6 from 40 yards or more. As a senior, he hit 10-of-15, but nailed two game-winners from over 50 yards. 

Former Dolphins special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi saw potential in Sanders, who demonstrated his strong leg on long-distance field-goals, as well as booting the ball downfield on kickoffs; over his last two seasons at New Mexico, only 22 of his 132 kickoffs were returned. 

“I think I had a good mindset going my whole four years of college,” Sanders said. “I wasn’t thinking ahead, I wasn’t thinking about the future (in the NFL). I was focusing on what was happening now.” 

The second-year special-teamer hasn’t had as many chances to impress in 2019; his 13 field goal attempts and 14 extra-point tries are tied for 26th and 29th in the league, respectively.

But Sanders stays ready, no matter if he’s asked to split the uprights from 50 yards out, or give his team an extra possession with an onside kick.

“I’m just focusing on kicking a good ball,” he said. “No matter (the situation), you have to do your job and accept the pressure when you’re a kicker in the NFL.”

Kenyan Drake Making Global Impact, One Smile at a Time

Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

Dolphins fans, far and wide, were all smiles when Kenyan Drake sprinted into the end zone as time expired to stun the Patriots last December. Over the summer, the fourth-year running back capitalized on the lasting popularity of the play since hailed as the “Miami Miracle” to put smiles on the faces of hundreds of children who may have never seen him play a single down.

Drake has served as an ambassador for Smile Train, a nonprofit organization that provides free cleft and palate repair surgery in more than 85 developing countries, for the last two years. During that time, he’s visited hospitals and local homes in Mexico and Brazil, hosted a cocktail dinner in downtown Miami, and led a three-mile walk in Long Island, N.Y. to raise awareness for the charity.

During his recent trip to Rio de Janeiro treatment centers, the 25-year-old, in conjunction with Smile Train, came up with a way to utilize his elevated NFL platform to get more people involved in the cause. He posted an offer to his 150,000-plus Twitter followers: anyone who’d donate at least $15 to his fundraiser over a five-day span would receive an autographed photo of his biggest football moment.

With Week 2 bringing the Patriots back to Miami for the first time since Drake’s miraculous score, Dolfans NYC is using the opportunity to assist his philanthropic initiative. On Sep. 15, Slattery’s Midtown Pub will hold a pledge drive and raffle off memorabilia, collect unused dental items and make “get well soon” cards that will be distributed to children who’ve recently undergone cleft operations. All proceeds will go directly to Smile Train.

Drake, who also wore custom shoes representing the charity during the NFL’s “My Cause My Cleats” campaign last season, was inspired to join Smile Train after learning about its mission and recognizing how he could make a difference.

“A smile is the first thing you notice, and I just like to use my opportunity to go out there and really help people see their potential,” he said. “I feel like I’m a champion for the vulnerable and for people who don’t have a lot of the things that people in other countries may have just because of the circumstances they were born in.”

Drake, a Smile Train ambassador, hosted a Miami event to help raise awareness and funds for children with untreated clefts. (Photo credit: Kenyan Drake / Twitter)

While touring international medical centers, he observed surgeries first-hand and helped spread positivity to children and their parents.

“When you go out there and give time and effort,” he said, “it gives them the ability to have a great (experience).”

In the days following his social-media campaign, the contributions, from the minimum $15 to over $250, kept pouring in, so Drake stayed busy signing in his free time, inscribing his name across stacks and stacks of 8×10 prints. There were too many to count, he said, but consider that just last week, he prepared the final 500 photos for delivery.

Drake set a $10,000 goal, enough to cover up to 40 surgeries; he raised nearly $14,000, and proceeded to personally match the total.

“I wanted to do that with my own funds to just show how invested I am in it,” he said. “I feel like my (position) definitely gives me the ability to impact the world.”

Among the prizes in Dolfans NYC’s upcoming raffle is a Dolphins mini helmet signed by No. 32. In addition, for every donated item and made card, members will receive a separate raffle ticket for a chance to win a football signed by Jason Taylor and Zach Thomas at the end of the season.

“It’s pretty cool to just be involved in that,” Drake said. “I feel that it’s definitely something worthwhile.”

Away from Cameras, Dolphins Give Back to Communities

Thursday, November 22nd, 2018

Kenny Stills signs autographs for young fans. (The Palm Beach Post)

For Dolphins players, the job of a professional athlete doesn’t end when the gameday cameras stop rolling and the pads are hung up in the lockers.

During their free time, many give back to the communities that raised them, using their platforms and voices to make a difference in the lives of less-privileged families.

In addition to participating in nearly every philanthropic event the team has hosted since he arrived in South Florida four years ago, wide receiver Kenny Stills – a nominee for the 2017 NFL Walter Payton Man of the Year Award – has spent each off day during the season working on innumerable charitable efforts.

“On any Tuesday, if you try to get a hold of him, you’re going to have to wait until five or six o’clock because he’s doing community stuff all day,” said Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase. “I’ve been impressed with how he’s made himself available, how much he tries to do.”

In the coming weeks, Stills plans to give away presents on “10 Days of Stillsmas,” an initiative he personally launched last season to spread more joy to his fans.

“This will be the second year we try and sponsor families that need help,” said Stills, who personally selects and pays for the presents. “We usually do a meal and then give gifts for 10 kids. We’re in the process of finding and selecting the families. I’m sure there are other things that will come up for Thanksgiving, too. I’ll be sure to share those things on my social media.”

Nearly a year ago, linebacker Kiko Alonso watched helplessly as Puerto Rico, his father’s birthplace, was devastated by Hurricane Maria. No. 47 immediately started a fundraising campaign to help victims in both Puerto Rico and Miami, with a goal of $150,000. Alonso pledged the first $25,000, which was subsequently matched by the Miami Dolphins Foundation; in all, the relief fund generated over $165,000.

The recovery efforts are still ongoing, and Alonso stresses the importance of lending a helping hand, whether it’s for those impacted by natural disasters or unable to find food and shelter in local townships.

“There’s just people out there who need help everywhere, and there are a lot of people out there who aren’t as fortunate as some of us,” he said. “Everybody in the NFL is very blessed, so I think it’s important for anybody in our shoes to give back. I think it’s just the least we can do.”

Hosting food drives, supporting Boys and Girls Clubs or working with police departments may not generate as many headlines as game-winning touchdowns, but players recognize that even a gesture as small as tossing a football with a group of kids can leave a lasting impression.

“You always want to pay it forward,” said safety T.J. McDonald, who has regularly partaken in team community efforts, including the Dade vs. Broward All-Star Game and the Dolphins Cancer Challenge, as well as numerous other events during his time with the Rams.

“We get a lot of fame … (for) what we do and who we are, (but) we wouldn’t be who we are without other people. So, it’s very important to be that positive influence that some of us had when we were young. Just being that face there, it lets them know that it’s possible. That was big for guys like me growing up.”

Cornerback Walt Aikens understands the importance of having that kind of support and guidance first-hand.

Beginning at age six, the Charlotte, N.C. native played youth football for the Police Athletic/Activities League, which aims to strengthen character, build bridges between police and communities, and prevent juvenile crime through recreational, mentoring and educational opportunities.

Aikens credits the organization for playing a critical role in his on- and off-field development, and for keeping him on the straight and narrow path as an adolescent.

“It helped me in so many ways,” he said. “What PAL does is help kids like me stay out of trouble.”

In May, the 27-year-old was named an official spokesperson for National PAL, and proudly serves as an inspiration for impressionable children – including his younger cousin – who faces similar kinds of hardships or roadblocks.

“I can now go and talk to kids all over the place and just share my testimony with them, because it wasn’t always easy,” he said. “I persevered and made it to where I am today, and I just want to give back to them and let them know they can do whatever they want to do. It doesn’t even have to be sports, it can be anything.”

As Stills explains, the opportunity to impact the lives of others isn’t just something that comes with the territory of being an NFL star.

Said No. 10: “It’s everything.”

Flo Rida Makes Hard Rock Stadium His House

Wednesday, October 24th, 2018

Chart-topping rapper Flo Rida performed at a Dolphins game for the first time in his career.

Backstage in a nondescript dressing room, past the players’ locker rooms at the end of a winding, field-level corridor, Flo Rida scans the crowd from behind his diamond-encrusted, orange Gucci sunglasses and motions his two dancers to join him at each side for a post-concert interview.

Over the years, the Grammy-award-nominee has performed at countless sports venues, but there’s no doubt that playing a medley of his biggest hits during Sunday’s halftime show in front of his hometown fans, decked in an aqua No. 1 jersey bearing his name, is special.

Or as the “My House” rapper himself calls it, “epic.”

“To be home in the 305, I anticipated coming out here for a very long time,” he said. “I think this may be a pre-Super Bowl halftime performance for the Dolphins, you know what I’m saying? We have it down in the 305. It was so much fun.”

Born and raised in neighboring Carol City, Fla. – located 15 miles outside of Miami – the rapper, singer and songwriter was discovered by 2 Live Crew’s Fresh Kid Ice, who signed him as his hype man and later featured him as a guest on his 2004 album, “Freaky Chinese.”

Just three years later, Flo Rida’s breakout, chart-topping single, “Low” – the most-downloaded song of the decade – made him a household name. He’s since become one of the best-selling artists in the world, topping one billion plays on Spotify, with dozens of infectious party anthems.

His international success and penchant for penning smash hits have allowed him to celebrate with the Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos in 2016, as well as kick off the 2017 NFL season at Gillette Stadium, but if there was any doubt his football allegiance still lies with the Dolphins, the 39-year-old quickly puts that to rest.

The locally-born-and-raised musician lists off a handful of his childhood favorites with a wide grin – Dan Marino, Mark Duper and Mark Clayton – and has close ties to a Coral Gables High School graduate and University of Miami alumnus currently suiting up for the Dolphins.

“Frank Gore, that’s my boy,” the rapper said. “I said, ‘What’s up?’ to him when we were out there on the field. It’s always a pleasure to see hometown (players) out here, representing, as well.”

Like all Dolphins fans, Flo Rida has enjoyed the team’s early-season success, and hopes that the next time he returns to the big stage in the Sunshine State, his favorite team will be playing in Super Bowl LIV at Hard Rock Stadium.

“This is something that, being a fan of the Dolphins, we always anticipate and we want to happen, so I’m definitely enjoying (this season),” he said. “We pray that the Dolphins are in the Super Bowl.”

Dolphins Stars Appreciate ‘Awesome’ Dolfans NYC Reception

Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Dolphins DB Minkah Fitzpatrick Celebrates a defensive stop.
Photo: Allen Eyestone/The Palm Beach Post

A native of Old Bridge Township, N.J., Dolphins defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick expected to see around 30 close friends and family members in the lower-level seats at nearby MetLife Stadium.

The standout rookie didn’t envision over 1,000 aqua-and-orange-decked fans cheering for him and his teammates from the upper deck, their raucous reception rendering the return to his home state even more special.

“It was awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “I saw a lot of people out there. At one point, they were chanting, ‘Go Dolphins!’ That was really cool hearing them, and that somebody at the stadium started that chant. It was a lot of fun.”

Fellow first-year player Jerome Baker, in awe of the inescapable crowd noise, reached out to Renzo Sheppard, Dolphins Football Communications Manager, to find out why Miami had such an overwhelming presence on an opposing team’s home turf.

“Even just pulling in, you could see the tailgating, you could see our fans were there, and I was just surprised by that,” Baker said. “Being that far north and having our fans there, it’s just a blessing. In the NFL, I really didn’t expect our fans to travel that well … I asked Zo, he ended up telling me (about Dolfans NYC), and I just decided to say something.”

“We feed off of their energy just like they feed off of ours,” Baker continued. “When we – the defense – were up there doing our thing, our fans were yelling, too. I wouldn’t say it felt like a home game, but you could definitely feel our fans.”

For two of the Dolphins’ top offensive stars, the ringing celebrations following Miami’s scoring drives didn’t go unrecognized.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” exclaimed wide receiver Albert Wilson when asked if he heard the cheers after his second-quarter touchdown catch gave Miami a 14-0 lead. “After the game, I did a message to everybody who came out. It was great to get so many Dolphins fans on the road. When you get there and you quiet the crowd, and you have your fans going loud, it definitely gives us a spark.”

Running back Kenyan Drake, who found the end zone on a six-yard run in the first quarter, echoed a similar sentiment.

“It was good to score one in front of the many fans we had up there,” he said. “Dolphins fans travel anywhere and everywhere, especially for a divisional-rivalry game such as the Jets. I feel like they make it a key thing to go up there and really try to pack out MetLife Stadium. It was cool just feeling that vibe when I was up there.”

Drake, much like his other teammates, reiterated his appreciation for the support, and hopes to capitalize on the positive momentum as the Dolphins head to Foxboro for a pivotal matchup against the Patriots on Sunday.

What’s his message to Dolfans NYC?

“Let’s keep it going! We’re 3-0, baby. Just enjoy the ride.”

Dolphins Honor SAVE Executive Director, LGBTQ Activist Tony Lima

Monday, September 24th, 2018

SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima (right) poses with Dolphins senior executive Jason Jenkins.

On Sunday, in a pregame ceremony on the Hard Rock Stadium field, the Miami Dolphins named SAVE Executive Director Tony Lima as the recipient of the NFL Hispanic Heritage Leadership Award.

Surrounded by members of SAVE – South Florida’s leading organization dedicated to protecting people of the LGBTQ community against discrimination – and Dolphins Senior V.P. of Communications and Community Affairs Jason Jenkins, Lima proudly help up a crystal glass trophy and aqua No. 18 jersey bearing his last name on the back.

“As the longest-serving LGBT rights organization in the state, for SAVE, this is a huge honor,” Lima said. “We’ve been working so hard for the last 25 years to bring full equality to Floridians. With the Football Unites program, the Dolphins are not only celebrating and (being) inclusive of the LGBT community, but … are helping other organizations with incredible diversity, work on social justice as a whole.”

With a bigger platform to shine a light on longstanding issues of inequality and discrimination, Lima is hopeful the recognition will allow SAVE to reach an even wider audience.

“What’s most exciting for me, is that the Dolphins did this in front of 70,000 people who may not know that SAVE is out there doing the work that we do,” he said. “They may now have more of an open heart and an open mind to understand why it’s important to be inclusive of the LBGT community.”

During his five-year tenure with the organization, Lima, a Miami-born Cuban American, has focused on community outreach and advocating for policy change. Through the Prejudice Reduction Program, SAVE has spread its core mission of positive change through educational forums and business meetings.

Under Lima’s leadership, SAVE has made its most significant strides toward achieving equal rights for persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities throughout the organization’s 25-year history. In 2015, Lima championed SAVE in its successful federal suit against the state of Florida to legalize same-sex marriage, and in the year prior, lobbied for nondiscrimination protections for transgender individuals at the Miami-Dade County Commission.

SAVE has helped elect a record 75 pro-equality government leaders, as well as implemented a groundbreaking, nationally-recognized model aimed to reduce prejudice against the community.

“The model that we came up with is a deep-canvasing model, where in 12- to 15-minute conversations with a voter, it’s been proven scientifically that we can change their hearts and minds,” Lima said. “Just by having inclusive conversations, where people understand that they may have been discriminated (against) at some point, as well, and can see the connection between that and discriminating against the community. The great thing is that model is being used now across the country for not only LGBT rights, but women’s rights and immigrant rights, on a bunch of different levels and issues.”

SAVE is a grant recipient of the Dolphins Football Unites program, created by Owner Stephen Ross and players to help South Florida individuals and organizations maximize their impact and engagement. Through the launch of the program, the team is supporting SAVE’s campaign to reduce prejudice and expand the list of supportive community members.

“In this day and age, in this political climate, it’s not only about one community,” Lima said. “It’s about all the intersections that make up our community, whether that’s being a person of color, being a woman or being an immigrant. We have to stand together, shoulder to shoulder, and help uplift each other’s narratives.”

To learn more and make a donation, visit save.lgbt or connect with SAVE on Facebook.

Dolfans NYC Support is ‘Big-Time’ for Dolphins

Thursday, September 13th, 2018

When the Dolphins take the field in East Rutherford, N.J. on Sunday, players know the inter-division tilt won’t feel like a typical road game.

Not with over 1,000 aqua-and-orange-clad fans spread across four sections at MetLife Stadium, whose boisterous chanting and unwavering celebrations have left a lasting impression.

“It’s big-time,” said Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills. “It’s not too often that you go on the road and you have such a heavy presence in another stadium, so we always appreciate them.’”

For wide receiver and kick returner Jakeem Grant, the warm reception from one of the most significant contingents of Miami fans he’s witnessed at an away game has inspired him and his teammates.

“We feed off them,” Grant said. “They basically give us that momentum, with them cheering if we make a big play. We’re like, ‘Man, we can continue to do this!’ With the fans traveling with us and doing all those things, we greatly appreciate that.”

Throughout the eight previous #MetLifeTakeover games – especially the six triumphs – the loudest cheers have come from Dolphins faithful in attendance, who’ve shouted after every first down and belted out the team fight song following each touchdown.

 

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“I remember in the past, we’ve seen some good support there,” said linebacker Kiko Alonso. “It’s definitely critical to have our fans come to those games.”

Alonso won’t be disappointed on Sunday afternoon, as Dolphins supporters’ voices will echo through the stadium, rooting for him to come up with a game-changing interception and Stills to beat his defender for a crucial score.

The applause emanating from Sections 344 to 347 is not only audible on telecasts, but travels all the way down to the Dolphins sideline.

“We definitely hear it,” Stills said. “It’s nice to have our fans with us on the road … I always make sure to go over there and dap everybody up and tell them face to face, ‘Thank you for being here.’”

DolfansNYC Q&A: Rishard Matthews

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Rishard_Matthews_DolfansNYC
Photo: Bryan Hoffman/DolfansNYC

Buried on the depth chart and limited to special teams for much of his first three NFL seasons, Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews acknowledges he momentarily let his emotions get the best of him during the offseason, before a pivotal conversation with a team legend reversed his outlook.

“I talk to Rishard probably once a month … he’s my favorite receiver,” says recently-named Top 50 All-Time Dolphins player O.J. McDuffie. “The things he was going through off the field this year – about the trade talks, the wanting to get released thing – I just told him, ‘Stick to the grind. Continue doing what you’re doing and working hard.’ He came in to the OTAs, mini-camp and training camp with a whole new attitude, and he can’t be denied on the football field now.”

Matthews – who entered his fourth-year campaign as one of only two incumbent wideouts on Miami’s revamped receiving corps – cemented a starting role, separating himself from his peers by utilizing his size and strength as both a pass-catcher and blocker.

“I’m a bigger receiver, so I do more when it comes to coming out of breaks and I take pride in catching the ball over the middle,” he says. “If somebody tries to lay a big hit on me, it doesn’t really affect me. I try to make them feel it more than I feel it.”

Originally a seventh-round draft pick in 2012, Matthews showed flashes of his immense potential early in his career – hauling in 11 catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns in Week 10 of the 2013 season – setting the stage for his eye-opening start to 2015.

“I think people forget that this is my fourth year,” he says smiling. “I was here two years ago when (Brandon) Gibson went down and I contributed a lot. People are acting like it’s the first time I’ve made catches or done something. It’s good to still be here … (be) a part of this great organization, great people and great staff.”

The University of Nevada product has started all six games – already matching his total from his first 38 NFL appearances – and is on pace to not only shatter his career highs in nearly every statistical category, but rack up the fifth-most single-season receiving yards (1,168) and touchdowns (11) in franchise history.

DolfansNYC caught up with No. 18 to discuss his remarkable success, adjusting to fantasy football stardom, enjoying family life and more.

What do you feel have been the biggest keys to your breakout season?

“I would just say opportunity and consistency. I was just able to capitalize on my opportunity when DeVante (Parker) went down (with a foot injury). That’s really the reason I was able to make it hard for the coaches to put me back on the bench.

“When given the opportunity, I’ve taken advantage of it and just continued to be consistent from there. I think the coaches have just gained a lot of trust in me, and I’m going to try to continue to do that.”

Have you set out to accomplish any personal goals this season and beyond?

“I want to start every game, but (if not), play as much as I can and never miss a practice. I’ll just try to keep that (mindset) going in my career.”

How often do you hear fans say you’re on their fantasy teams?

“I’ve been hearing it a lot recently. The other day, I was actually walking in the mall and somebody said the same thing – ‘Oh, I’m starting you!’ It’s new, but I just say, ‘Don’t get mad if I don’t ever get you points.’”

Who were players you admired growing up and modeled your own game after?

“I wouldn’t say (he’s a player I) built my game around, but I really like Anquan Boldin. I think he’s kind of the same receiver as I am – I try to be like him, at least. He does a great job of breaking tackles and whatnot.”

What have been the biggest differences for you and the team since Dan Campbell took over as head coach?

“(He’s) just changing the culture up a little bit – just bringing the fun back to football. Not saying that it wasn’t fun before, but he’s just changing it up. We all understood what happened and with change, you have to make sure you get the attention of the team. He’s done a great job of that during practices and in the locker room.”

I’ve read he’s a big Metallica fan. Does he play any heavy metal music in the locker room?

(Laughs) “Is he? I could see it, now that you said that. That’s crazy though. I didn’t know that.”

What kind of music do you listen to before games?

“I like hip-hop. My favorite artist is Drake.”

What are some of your favorite off-the-field hobbies?

“I just had a son, so I hang out with my son and my dogs. I’m kind of a homebody, so I don’t do too much.”

Congratulations! How old is your son?

“Thank you. He’s seven weeks, so it’s a lot (of responsibility).”

It must be even tougher now to go on the road, but how much does it mean to you to have fan support across the country?

“It means a lot. I’ve seen it a lot. It shows us – and especially the new players who come (to the Dolphins) – that wherever we go, we have love everywhere. You have to be ready, embrace their presence and feed off of it.”

Dan Campbell Shares Keys to Winning Culture

Tuesday, October 27th, 2015

Dan Campbell Shares Keys to Winning Culture
Photo: Alan Diaz/AP

Six years removed from a decade-long NFL playing career, Miami Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell – his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-5 frame and intimidating biceps hard to miss as he rests his hands on his hips at the center of the team’s meeting room – still looks the part of a burly tight end, ready to lace up his cleats and lay out opposing linemen with crushing blocks.

“I have one more (game in me), but then you have to wait four weeks for me to recover, so that’s a problem,” he concedes with a chuckle. “If I could still play, I would be playing because I love the game.”

That same fiery, inspirational passion for football that has galvanized the rejuvenated Dolphins is unmistakable as he addresses a group of website administrators on a Friday afternoon, his booming voice echoing throughout the auditorium.

“Coach Campbell does a good job of getting (everything) out of the players,” says Dolphins fourth-year wide receiver Rishard Matthews. “He was a guy they brought up here a previous time to speak to the team. I think just when he talks – I don’t know how to explain it – you have to hear him speak for yourself … right when he’s done talking, you’re just ready to go.

“He played in the league – he’s more like a players’ coach. He understands when he needs to change it up a little and when he needs to get on us a little.”

It’s no wonder Campbell’s no-nonsense approach has quickly resonated and changed the collective mindset of his players, considering the 39-year-old – who’s younger than five current NFL starters – has experienced the gamut of exhilarating highs and devastating lows in the pros, which include reaching Super Bowl XXXV and later earning his first championship ring.

“I’ve been on winning teams,” says Campbell, a recipient of the 2005 Ed Block Courage Award. “I know what it looks like and what it should look like.”

The Texas native’s appreciation of a winning culture and yearning for on-field physicality trace back to his four-year Giants tenure, during which he helped lead the unified squad to the title game in 2000.

“First of all, we had a really good locker room – we had a majority of guys who bought in,” he recalls. “Guys would play for one another; guys would practice for one another. Our practices got heated. I remember (Michael) Strahan got fired up every day, it seemed like … Things would go back and forth (between offensive and defensive players), but we grew together and we competed, and when we rolled out there on Sunday, we were one.

“Once we got in a rhythm – I think we won seven in a row – the feeling was literally that we could do nothing wrong. At one point, I thought Kerry Collins would just throw it behind his back and it was going to be a completion. You really have a feeling of it doesn’t matter what happens today or what it looks like here, we’re going to win the game. That’s the flow that you have.”

Although Campbell was placed on injured reserve prior to his final NFL campaign, he spent the offseason and start of training camp with the 2009 champion Saints, learning the nuances of the game from an elite coach and future Hall of Fame quarterback.

“I know that head coach (Sean Payton) really well – I played under him for seven years. He is a genius, he’s an excellent motivator – he has all those tools,” says Campbell. “But one of the biggest factors is a guy named Drew Brees. Drew Brees is an ultimate leader. I’ve been around some really good players and some really good leaders, but nobody was like Drew Brees … and that’s one person, so imagine if you have a team full of those. That’s where you start changing things.”

Campbell’s experience in the Bayou was a far cry from a year prior, when he found himself on the opposite end of the NFL spectrum, suiting up for the lowly 0-16 Detroit Lions in 2008. Recognizing a similar disconnect in the Dolphins locker room, Campbell immediately set out to recapture the seamless magic he experienced in New York and New Orleans.

“When you’re not doing well, or you’re on a team where guys haven’t quite bought in, you feel like you can do no right,” he says. “So that’s what we’re trying to flip. We’ve kind of been that other team, (but) we’re trying to get it to where you just can’t do any wrong and things just start happening – turnovers, they become contagious. The ball is flying around, guys are on the ball. The more aggressive you play, the more those things start showing up.”

Not surprisingly, Miami has outscored its opponents 82-36, averaging 468 yards of offense while racking up 10 sacks and returning two interceptions for touchdowns en route to cruising to a 2-0 record under its new leader.

“We have a really good locker room and we have guys who want to win,” says Campbell. “They want to compete, and they’re beginning to take ownership of their team.

“I really believe in those guys. Everything has been about, ‘It’s a new season.’ It started last week. This (was) Week Two … of 12 weeks.”

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