Friday, December 9, 2016

Pro Football: Q&A With Fullback Kyle Juszczyk of the Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore fullback, Kyle Juszczyk (Photo / Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens)

Former Harvard Crimson H-back Kyle Juszczyk now plies his trade for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens. He entered his fourth season in 2016 and will have a key role in the Ravens' late-season bid to secure an AFC North title or wildcard berth. Baltimore is currently 7-5 and tied with the Steelers for the divisional lead.

The 6-1 240 lb. Juszczyk is an outstanding blocker and reliable receiver for the Ravens, and in 2014 his efforts were recognized by a selection to the Pro Bowl as a first alternate. In his four years in the league, he's compiled 87 receptions and five touchdowns.

The Medina, Ohio native was selected by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2013 NFL Draft after an outstanding undergraduate career with the Crimson. Earlier this season I had the opportunity to interview Kyle and ask about his leap to the NFL from the Ivy League, his career progress to date, and his goals for this year and beyond. - TF

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Fieldhouse: When did you first start thinking about the possibility of the NFL?

Juszczyk: Deep down in my heart it was always a goal of mine. I always felt that I could make it happen one day. I didn't really vocalize it until my last two years in college, but it became a reality to me after my sophomore year of college.

Fieldhouse: What made it more real then?

Juszczyk: We used to have what we called exit interviews at the end of spring ball. Each one of us would meet personally with the head coach [Tim Murphy] and he would lay out his expectations for you, what he thought of you as a player, and what you could improve on. 

That year he said, "Juice [Juszczyk's nickname], you have a legitimate shot at becoming an NFL-caliber player. Just keep doing what you're doing and getting better every year and that could become a reality."  

Having the reassurance from him just drove me to work that much harder and make it a reality.

(Photo / Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens)

Fieldhouse: I've read that you're interested in being a high school football coach when your playing career is over. Given the impact that conversation with Coach Murphy had on you, I presume that's part of the reason. 

Juszczyk: That's definitely a motivation to one day be a coach because I've experienced in my life what a huge impact they can have on you and really how they can change your life. 

Especially when you're working with high school players you can really mold those people and develop the right mentality with them, just by how you coach and how you push them to grow. That's a really cool thing and something that I want to be a part of one day.  

Fieldhouse: You showed a lot of versatility in college in your role as an H-back in the Harvard offense, which often set up like a tight end in their scheme but required you to do other things as well. I presume that helped you get on some draft boards and I would think is helping you now.

Juszczyk: I feel like I had an advantage in college because our head coach was also my position coach. So when we were in tight end meetings we weren't just going over the tight end's duties and what they needed to do, we were going over the entire offense.

Just being in those meetings for four years, I learned that offense inside and out, and it put me in a position where I could play anywhere. We utilized that in my last two or three years and they had me playing in a lot of different roles, and I think it just carried over to the NFL, where I'm doing a similar thing here.

Fieldhouse: You obviously block some big bodies in the Ravens' scheme, but you also need to get some separation on your routes out of the backfield and get upfield after a short catch. Do you have to keep a close eye on your optimal weight to fill those different roles?

Juszczyk: In today's day and age you have to be able to do all those things. You have to be very health conscious and be able to find the right weight where you can run but at the same time take on those bigger players. It's not all just about being a big battering ram anymore   you've still got to be able to move out there. I think at this point in my career I've found that good weight.

Fieldhouse: With this your fourth year in the NFL, it's not the same as being in your fourth year of college exactly, but the expectations are higher for you now as a younger veteran. What are your goals for yourself and your contributions to the team?

Juszczyk: As an individual, I plan to go out there and continue to grow and build on what I've done in my first three years. Being in your fourth year in the NFL is a little bit like being a senior in college - here you're on that borderline of being a veteran while still being a young guy. I have enough experience on the field in my first three years that I feel like a veteran out there. 

Individually, I want to be able to keep building on what I've been doing. For the team, I want to be able to help any way that I can and just win. That's what it all comes down to. 

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Juszczyk and the Ravens face the 10-2 New England Patriots in Foxborough this Monday night in what should prove a critical conference matchup.


(Photo / Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens)

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