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The Jets Connection: Q&A with Thomas Morstead

GGN’s Thomas Christopher discusses the Jets, football, and life with Jets punter Thomas Morstead

Tennessee Titans v New York Jets Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

If you want to talk about a guy who just gets it, that man is Thomas Morstead. After all, this year with the New York Jets will be Morstead’s 15th in the NFL. Yet that hasn’t stopped the 37-year old from putting up some of the best seasons of his career in the last couple of years. I was lucky to catch up with the Jets’ new starting punter. We discussed his trajectory in the NFL, his time with the New Orleans Saints, and of course, the New York Jets. Below is the transcript of the interview that took place. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

Thomas Christopher: You are going into your fifteenth year in the NFL, and you’ve chosen to re-sign with the New York Jets. Is there any specific reason you chose to sign with the Jets?

Thomas Morstead: Familiarity. When you go get a player in free agency, you don’t always know how well things are going to click if you’re a team. Even if they’ve had success elsewhere. And I’ve already been there, and have had plenty of success with those guys so I’m sure they felt confident about that. And for me, working with the same special teams coordinator and Thomas Hennessy the (long) snapper. There’s always a question on those things, and I don’t have those questions. I know exactly who I’m dealing with. Just continuity.

It was a standard veteran salary benefit deal, which was really team-friendly on the cap. The fact that they guaranteed as much as they could - essentially made it a guaranteed one-year deal. Which for me and the point I’m at in my career, with my family and being able to plan and all that stuff, that was more exciting than signing a deal for a little more with a lot less guaranteed. Basically by guaranteeing the deal it says ‘hey you’re our guy’, and not that I’m afraid to compete, but it just allows us to plan as a family which is really nice.

TC: I completely understand that. I want to backtrack a little bit because although a lot of Jet fans know who you are based on your time with the team in 2021, they may not be too familiar with your story itself. What made you get into football? Did you always know that you wanted to be a football player? Or were you going on a different path and then found yourself going on the journey to the NFL?

TM: I wouldn’t say that I always wanted to be a football player. I mean, I was always a fan of football. I was a tiny kid going into high school, so you know, athletics, as much as I love them and love competing, I just really couldn’t compete at that time. I went to a big 5A high school. I didn’t even weigh 100 pounds when I (first) went into high school. I had not grown in any way and I just couldn’t compete. I kicked a little bit on the freshman team and then I broke my leg on the first scrimmage in ninth grade. I couldn’t play after that - I was always a soccer guy. But really I was super academically focused.

I ended up getting an engineering scholarship to go to SMU. That (scholarship) paid about one-third of the cost which made it comparable to going to a big state school at the time so that made the difference for me to go there.

I did go out for the (football) team my senior year (of high school) - I had grown a lot by then. You know, I just wanted to have a good senior year of high school experience. I had no thought of going to college with it. But when the season ended, I got pulled out of class three times the following week by my high school head coach with schools that wanted to talk to me about potentially wanting to be a walk-on. That was the first time I ever thought ‘maybe I could play college football’.

I walked on at SMU. I found the weight room. After about a month, month and a half of freshman year, once I got used to being sore and realizing I needed to eat more and started figuring things out, the ball started going further. I realized this is what it takes to get better. I just continued to commit myself more and more through college and earned a full scholarship in my third, fourth, and fifth year. At the end of my redshirt junior year I was the top-ranked college specialist prospect going into my senior year.

I think my priorities shifted in college. I was very academically focused in the first half. I had to keep up with a certain grade point average to keep my engineering scholarship. Then once I started seeing the lights turn on with football, even before I had started at SMU, I realized I was this unrefined, talented kid who had a long way to go but there was a lot of potential. And those thoughts kind of crossed over to where I was still doing well in school.

I was making all A’s through my first year, then they later turned into B’s and C’s the back three years. But I would tell myself if I had the chance to go pro, I didn’t want to be one of those guys who said ‘oh I could have done that’, but didn’t commit all the way. So I went all in - I never did any internships or anything to be ready for a job out of college with an engineering degree. So I knew I’d be behind the eight ball, but I owed it to myself to see how far I could take it. I went all in, and I’m glad I did.

TC: Absolutely. You springboarded that into a great career. Speaking of that, not too many players have that longevity. We’ve seen some kickers achieve it before, but not many. Do you have a secret, a training regimen, a diet, that keeps you at the top of your game?

TM: I don’t know if it’s a secret, but when people talk about being a 24 hour-a-day athlete, that’s me. Everything I do, all my processes, my workouts, recovery, nutrition, sleep, everything is consistently dedicated with a high-end goal to playing football at the highest level.

If you have that growth mindset, you keep going after it and keep trying to find ways to get better and find ways to stave off some of the aging process that’s happening, you just fall in love with the process of seeing how far you can take something. That’s really where I’ve been at for a long time now. It’s been the journey of a lifetime. It sounds super cliche, but at the end of the day, I love doing everything it takes to be good at this job. I love the cold tubs, the training, running with the guys, training on my own, it’s just a passion of mine.

I would say I’ve had an elite level of consistency when it comes to the way I live my life, and I think that’s translated to my performances. It just runs into all areas in your life. How you treat people, how you work with people, how you communicate. I didn’t know if three years ago was going to be my last year, or if last year was going to be my last year, or if this is my last year, or if I have four, five, or six more to go. I just love doing it all.

The nice thing for me is that I feel I lost some of my twitchiness when I was about 32, 33 years old. Whatever went away at that point, I didn’t feel like I’ve been tracking downward, if that makes sense. Now it’s kind of like, okay, whatever extra twitch I had in my 20s and early 30s, that kind of went away.

But in ‘21 I had a good year with the Jets and Falcons. And then last year I had a better season down in Miami. It’s cool to be at my age and feel like I’m kind of ascending in my trajectory of getting better and being more efficient. It’s super exciting.

TC: You’re clearly doing something right. Not many people can boast that they’ve spent over a decade in the league. So, you were drafted in the fifth round by the Saints, getting to work with Sean Payton, and later Mike Westhoff in 2017. Is there anything specific you took away from those guys, whether as a person or a football player?

TM: I’ve learned so many lessons. Sean made everybody feel uncomfortable in their position status if that makes sense. No one’s ever ‘arrived’, no one has it made. It gave a level of urgency. You better be finding ways to get better because if you’re not, they’re going to find someone else. That sort of mindset and urgency that he created was something that I had not been around much in my career - or life. That certainly crush some people, you know, but it’s forged me into who I am, I think.

As far as Mike Westhoff, me and him talk every few weeks. I love Mike Westhoff. He’s an arrogant son of a gun. He’s one of the greatest to ever do it, and he’ll tell you that. It also happens to be true. I remember when he came into our team in ‘17. He just had such swagger and energy; for somebody at his age, it was quite unique. He’s very demanding of everyone around him. I loved it. I had the best two years of my career during that time. We’ve really stayed in touch. I consider him a friend. I’m very grateful that I got to play with him. He just continued to raise the bar on expectations, and I loved it. Definitely grateful I got to play for him.

TC: That’s great. Are you excited to see those guys again this upcoming year?

TM: Yeah, yeah I think we’re at Denver this year. That’ll be circled on the calendar, for sure.

TC: Are there any guys on the Jets that you’re excited to play with again on special teams?

TM: Justin Hardee. We played together for four years down in New Orleans. I still remember being in training camp practicing against the Texans for a few days and he beat the shit out of all of our special team’s guys over a few days of practice. The Texans released him and we claimed him.

He went on to have a phenomenal four years in New Orleans. He just kept getting better every year. Between him and J.T. Gray I think the team decided they weren’t going to spend to keep both of them. They let Justin test the waters and that’s how he ended up in New York. He’s obviously continued to grow and just made his first Pro Bowl which is super cool.

I’m excited to be around him. We always said we eat together, we start together; we kind of heavily depend on each other to be successful. We had a great relationship. I’m looking forward to being around him again.

TC: When you’re looking at the schedule, is there a specific way you prepare for the game? Looking at opposing special team units, the weather, things like that?

TM: I’m obviously aware of where we’re playing and when we’re playing there. Certain games you have to keep your eyes on the weather. I really don’t spend too much time keeping my eyes on the weather in terms of whether it’s going to be rainy or windy or anything like that. But if it’s a temperature deal, you really want to have a good idea of what you’re going to be playing in. Just so you make sure you have all the gear you need.

I remember being a young player having some anxiousness before the game when you knew it was going to be nasty, and that doesn’t do anybody any good. So now I really have zero stress for what we’re showing up for. The other guys have to play in the same weather. My job is just to go out and execute better than him on that day. I’m aware of the weather and keep an eye on it, but I’m not checking it throughout the week leading up to Sunday.

I played for a great coach in college named Frank Gansz Sr, an all-time great, kind of a Westhoff type of guy. He came out of retirement to work at SMU my senior year. He had all these cool sayings. One of them was, ‘back in World War II we were getting our asses kicked by the Germans because we were training down in the Bahamas where it’s warm and sunny. Then they moved the naval base up to Annapolis in the North Atlantic where we started training the tough shit and then we started winning the war’. That was a cool analogy for me, which basically says, if you want to fight in the north, you need to train in the north. So if there’s a wind going one way in practice, I want to punt into the wind - whatever can make it harder in practice. I really couldn’t give a shit if they’re evaluating me or who’s charting me, I want to be thrown in the shit all the time. So when you get into games, if it’s great, you feel super confident, and if it’s shitty, then you know that you’re prepared to go deal with that.

TC: You mentioned that at one point you had some fears as a kicker. What was your biggest worry when you first started your career?

TM: So, there’s all different ways to evaluate players. A lot of the physical things you can see, but some of the mental stuff is harder to evaluate sometimes. For me, looking back, I was definitely a nervous guy. I wouldn’t say that in a positive way, you know. I was a nervous kid. I really did some work on that. Those jitters are still there, which is why I’m still playing, but I had a big flip in my mind for the purpose of that.

That purpose was the body’s fight or flight response. Whether you’re going into a game or a fight where there’s that real fear. Not everybody has that. For me, I hated that I had it. But I started looking at it differently. I read a sports psych book that was basically saying that the people who don’t have it, they’ll never be able to elevate their performances to different levels. So for the people who do have it, it can be a negative, but it can also be a huge positive, too.

I remember when it kind of clicked for me. I remember kicking off in my rookie year and when I got emotionally charged and could channel that nervousness into positive energy, my kickoffs would go five, six, seven, eight yards further than they would have ever gone in practice. It was just the adrenaline of the situation. Once I started viewing that as a positive aspect of my game, it changed.

I was told by somebody a long time ago that once that goes away, you should probably retire. That’s kind of how you know you’re done. But I still have that. I still get the pregame jitters. But that’s exciting; it means your body’s getting ready to go. If I feel sluggish or don’t have that energy during a game that actually puts me in a negative mind space. Like ‘damn, I’m not ready’. That’s just how I look at it.

TC: I completely agree. That was a great answer. I just have one last question. I wanted to get your take on Robert Saleh. When you think of Robert Saleh, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

TM: I would say that he’s not what I was expecting when I went to New York two years ago. I saw this coach running up and down the sidelines in San Francisco, screaming his head off, incredibly fiery. Then I experienced him on gameday in New York and he was calm and cool as a cucumber. It was not what I was expecting.

I wouldn’t say that doesn’t mean he still has that fire. He does, I’ve seen it. It seems he’s been operating a little differently since he’s been a head coach. I really enjoy it. I’ve had a few conversations with him about different things in his office when I was there a few years ago. Even when I got released I left on great terms, obviously, or I wouldn’t be back. I just have a lot of respect for him. I think he has an idea of how he wants to do things and a plan. I think he’s staying committed to that. It’s cool for me to be a part of a new coach’s first crack at the whip.

The thing I did think was really cool was involving the conversations we had. He was asking me some questions, you know? The guy’s like a leader, but he doesn’t yet have it all figured out. He’s constantly trying to learn, constantly trying to evolve. I’m sure going into this year, he’ll be a different coach again. I’m really looking forward to it. They treated me phenomenally when I was there. They let me know how much my presence as a mentor for the young guys in the locker room mattered to them. I think that’s the expectation that that’ll continue when I get up there this offseason.

TC: Thank you so much for your time, I truly appreciate it.