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May 8, 2013

Cunningham looks back



GamecockCentral.com went one-on-one with former South Carolina tight end and current Indianapolis Colt Justice Cunningham to look back on his career in Columbia and forward to his future as an NFL player.

GamecockCentral.com: "I want to go back to the recruiting process. You weren't one of these highly-rated guys with a ton of offers coming out of high school, yet you ended up having a very good career at South Carolina and just got drafted. Why do you think you flew under the radar so much?"

Justice Cunningham: "As far as my 40 time, when I went to a lot of the combines and stuff I went with a sprained ankle and still ran. My times and my 40 were not that good. I feel like that dropped me a lot. Plus with my high school team, my team probably threw the ball twice a game."

GCC: "When you think about your career at South Carolina, what would you say your favorite moment is?"

JC: "Probably my sophomore year. We played Clemson and I caught a wheel on the sideline. I remember the tight end coach at Clemson saying that I was too slow. I caught it on their sideline so it felt pretty good to get a big first down for the team."

GCC: "From a team perspective, what would you say the best was at USC?"

JC: "From a team perspective, winning 11 games back to back and beating Clemson four years in a row. We all wanted to come in and do something that was never done before. I'll always remember that about South Carolina. Our plan was to win a championship. We came close to that."

GCC: "As far as something that is, maybe not a regret, but something that you wished you could have done at USC, what would that have been? Would that have been winning the SEC?"

JC: "Definitely. That was the goal."

GCC: "We don't get to see what things are like in the locker room after big wins. What was the craziest locker room like during your time at USC?"

JC: "It has to be probably the Alabama game. It was crazy. It was a good time in the locker room and after the game."

GCC: "Tell me something you remember, whether it was on the field or off the field that was just a funny story."

JC: "We were practicing. They called a play and Matthew Grooms (former walk-on deep-snapper) had sniffed it out and made a good play on scout team and stopped it and I've never heard Coach (Steve) Spurrier cuss that much. He got pissed off and started going off. Two plays later, he ran it again. He told Grooms to run to the sideline and Grooms just took off the other way (laughing)."

GCC: "Coach Spurrier is an interesting guy. What are some other things he always did or said that made you laugh?"

JC: "Oh, he always says 'you didn't know that did you'. Or he will ask you why you dropped the ball, stuff like that."

GCC: "Who would you say the best player you ever played with at South Carolina was?"

JC: "I would have to probably say D.J. (Swearinger) and (Jadeveon) Clowney.

GCC: "What about the best player you've played against, someone from another team?"

JC: "I have to think on this one. The best player I've ever seen in game, his name was Jackson, my freshman year from Tennessee. He made me fumble. He had a ridiculous game. I heard some stuff that happened. I don't know where he's at now, but he could have been a good player. He was a hell of a player. He was 20 yards in front of the whole kickoff team."

Note: Janzen Jackson was dismissed from Tennessee's team in August 2011. He finished his career at McNeese State and after a short stint with the New York Giants as an undrafted free agent, is now with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

GCC: "The second year that your class won eleven games, last season, you did it by winning the Outback Bowl against Michigan. I want to ask you about the Clowney hit, but tell me about the play before where the official missed the first down spot. What were the players and coaching thinking and saying then?

JC: " In our heads, it was just us against the world at that point. We had some weird stuff that happened from the coin toss. Something didn't seem right. We were like "OK." At the coin toss, D.J. (Swearinger) said heads and it landed heads and they said you have to say it louder next time. He was like 'what?'"

GCC: "Have you ever seen a play like that hit?"

JC: "That was a hell of a play. That's Clowney."

GCC: "I asked you earlier about your best moment as a player, but what about your best individual play? It can be a block or a catch or whatever."

JC: "I have two, one block and one catch. The one against Vandy is probably my favorite catch. That was probably my coming out catch right there. I had a block against Jarvis Jones (first round NFL draft pick) my junior year against Georgia, drove him like ten yards down the field and pancaked him."

GCC: "Let's go to the draft process. You were invited to the NFL Combine, and I'm sure you did a lot of workouts leading up to that and afterwards. What was a typical day like? How much did you hear from teams leading up to the draft?"

JC: "I would just wake up, train, do what I do. Lift, go to sleep, and get ready for the next day. It was a little different because when I was in Atlanta, we probably worked out six hours in a row. I had a couple of private workouts, some teams flew me out and I would get phone calls every now and then from teams wanting to check on me and see how I was doing."

GCC: "What kind of questions did these teams ask during the interviews?"

JC: "They would ask questions like why do I play football, what I felt my strengths and weaknesses were, what my best and worst games were, what I can bring to the team."

GCC: "There are three days of the NFL Draft, what did you do each day? Did you sit by the TV, did you go do something else?"

JC: "I basically watched almost every pick of the draft. The first two days, I really knew I wouldn't get drafted so I just paid attention and watched where my teammates would get drafted. I just did what I regularly do the first two days."

GCC: "Watching your teammates, who was your bet for which one would come off the board first?"

JC: "I had a good feeling D.J. (Swearinger) would get drafted first."

GCC: "What was that like, sitting and seeing these guys who you played with and were friends with get drafted?"

JC: "I was very happy for them. I liked seeing their transition from when we first all went to South Carolina of how we worked to the bottom at the beginning of our career to where we are now, getting drafted."

GCC: "So you get into the seventh round and you know that's the final round. What are you thinking at that point?"

JC: "By then, me and my agent were getting a lot of calls from team wanting me as a free agent wanting me to sign with their team. I was interested but I still wanted to get drafted."

GCC: "The last pick of the draft is coming up and you're still not off the board. Did you think, 'OK, I'm going the free agent route' or did it ever cross your mind that your name was about to be called?

JC: "I had already left the room by then to clear my head a little bit to get my head focused on the team I was going to sign with. I got a phone call from the head coach (Chuck Pagano). I thought they were calling me about a free agent but he said he wanted me to know that just because it was the last pick doesn't mean they didn't want me and that I could contribute to the team. They like the way I played the past couple of years."

GCC: "How did it feel, just hearing your name called during the NFL Draft?"

JC: "It was a dream come true. Even though sometimes it's kind of better to go the free agent way so you can pick the team, to hear your name at the end of the day it's always a plus."

GCC: "What do you know about the Colts organization so far and what are you looking forward to about it?"

JC: "The Colts are known to be a winner. They're always making the playoffs, even this year with a young team. They played most of the year without their head coach and it seems like a very organization. I go there Thursday. It is rookie minicamp from Friday to Sunday, then the offseason."

GCC: "Finally, if you could give a message to South Carolina fans, what would it be?"

JC: "Sorry we didn't get that championship but I know these boys next year will. I gave it everything I had."

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