Veterans Day is just around the corner, and this week the NFL honors America's veterans with Salute to Service events happening across the country. Teams and players are visiting hospitals and teaming up with organizations like the Wounded Warrior Project to thank veterans for their service to the country.
One of the players participating in the week's events is Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jarvis Jones. The Steelers' first-round pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and a Subway Restaurants Famous Fan stopped by the Southwestern Veterans Center in Pittsburgh on Tuesday to meet and have lunch with veterans who fought in World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.
Jones talked to Sports Illustrated Kids after his visit about the experience of meeting some of America's older veterans, the disappointing season the Steelers are having, and what he thinks about the bullying controversy in Miami.
How was your afternoon at the veterans center?
It’s been great. Got to talk to the vets. They learned a lot about me today, and I learned a little about them. We enjoyed ourselves, man. We ate some fresh Subway — they got to eat Subway for lunch, so they really enjoyed that. We had fun.
Being veterans in Pittsburgh, I bet getting a visit from a Steeler or the Steelers is a pretty big deal.
They definitely had fun. They had all their Steelers gear on. They had their Terrible Towels and things. They were excited. They were ready, and they were excited to see me. And I was more excited to see them. It was amazing to be here and be a part of this.
Why were you so excited to be a part of this event?
Because of what they stand for and what they’ve done for our country, man. They’re the reason that things are they way they are today. The reason I’m in the position I am today and probably the reason you’re in your position today is they opened so many doors for us, to go over there and fight and put their lives on the line, and they survived, you know? They came back home, they’re still living here. What better opportunity is there to meet someone, you know, that stood out there and fought for our lives so things can be the way they are today? And me coming and giving some of my time today to make their day, I’d do it any chance I can.
Did any of the veterans tell you any stories about their service?
No, I tried to ask them some questions about them, but they were more interested in learning about me. I think it was, like, 50 or 60 of them, and they all just asked me questions.
What kind of stuff did they ask you about?
How do I like playing outside linebacker? Can I see myself playing inside linebacker? How I feel to be in Pittsburgh? How Pittsburgh has been for me? How it’s been being a rookie? Some of the biggest challenges of being rookie?
So what is it like playing in Pittsburgh?
It’s great, man. Our fans here are going to support us regardless, and it’s just a great town, man. It’s a football town. They love their black and yellow. And it’s just been great, man. People love the Steelers. It’s a great city. I mean, pretty much anything you need you can get around and get to it. And the people are just real nice here. It gets cold, though. I’m not used to this.
Yeah, I bet. This is a weird season for the Steelers. A 2-6 record at the midpoint of the season isn’t normal. What’s the mood been like in the locker room?
I mean, you just got to stay positive, man. You know, I think when you play this game for so long, you’ve got to understand that things don’t always go the way that you want it to. If we could be 8-0 right now, we definitely would be. But, you know, things just haven’t gone our way. But we’re still focused, we’re still saying positive about it, got all the confidence in the world. We just have to continue to work, continue to believe in ourselves, and do the things we need to do to win.
What’s the experience been like for you, personally, as a rookie in the NFL?
It’s challenging, man. Not physically, but mentally. There’s a big step from college to the NFL. You’re here with the cream of the crop, the guys are the best of the best. There’s a challenge every week. Nothing is ever given to you. You’ve got to go out there and take it.
What are some of the things you’ve learned about playing in the NFL so far this season?
You’ve got to have good technique in this league. Guys really, really hone in on their technique. You’ve got to become a student of the game. And that’s something I’m trying to learn now. You’ve got to become a student of the game and learn the small details and techniques and things to be great here, you just can’t play off athletic ability. You’ve got to understand what’s going on in the game situations and make plays.
You mentioned technique. Something that gets talked about a lot is hitting lower, not going for upper body, areas close to the head. Does that affect how you play?
I play on the line of scrimmage, so I really don’t get to hit people low like that because I’m on the line most of the time. So a lot of my hits are midwaist and up, so as far as hitting people low, I really don’t... Plus I’m a linebacker. We don’t hit nobody low. We hit people in the mouth.
For kids who play, there’s a lot effort going in to making sure they learn how to tackle properly. What kind of advice would you give to a kid who’s just learning the game on how to tackle safely but also effectively?
Technique is everything, man. You get a lot cases where people get neck injuries or all kinds of stuff, concussions, the biggest part is you have to start with technique. You got to see what you hit. And I think younger people, they always try to go for the big hit, and the thing I learned from playing at this stage is about getting people on the ground. It ain’t about how you hit them or how hard you can hit or anything here because you can hit them as hard as you want… Take [Adrian Peterson]. You can hit AP hard as you can and he’ll bounce off you if you don’t wrap him up. You’ve got to wrap up and get people on the ground in this league. If you don’t, they’re going to bounce off of you.
I wanted to ask you about what’s going on in Miami with the stories about hazing and bullying in the Dolphins' locker room. What’s your reaction been to that story, and what’s your experience been like in the locker room?
I mean, my reaction to that was, “Wow. I’m glad we don’t do things the way they do things down there.” I can’t really speak on it because I actually don’t know what’s really going on, but I think our organization, we don’t do stuff like that. We’re all about playing football and getting better. Grooming ourselves to improve to win a Super Bowl, and that’s what we’re about. I think our guys have fun. They might do something as far as putting popcorn in your car or something like that, but we’re all about football. We’re a unit, we’re a team, we do things together, we have fun, we enjoy each other, and it’s all about getting better together. We don’t try to break no guy down, mentally or physically. And I think our coaches in our organization do a good job of bringing in guys who want to be there.
There was a story earlier in the season that veteran Steelers told younger guys they couldn’t play ping pong or the other games in the locker room. Is that a kind of bullying?
No, that’s not bullying. And it ain’t younger guys can’t play, can’t nobody do it.
Right. Coaches have said no one can play games in the locker room now. But before that, the veterans said, “You can’t do this. Only the veterans can play these things."
As far as playing pool and ping pong, they wanted us to come in and focus. If you look at our team, we got a lot of older guys and they know what it takes to be great. They know what it takes to be a professional. We come in to work, and they wanted us to focus strictly on working and doing the things we need to do to get better.
You’re a big guy, so I imagine it hasn’t happened to you, but have you ever been bullied?
(laughs) No, man, that’s the first thing. I’m a grown man. Ain’t another man going to bully me.
Yeah, I mean as a kid, though.
No, ain’t no other man going to bully me.
What would you say to a kid who might be in a situation like that where they’re being bullied?
I’d first tell them let your parents know. Let somebody or authority know that someone is bullying you. And don’t let it be an ongoing thing where you just get tired of it and you just feel like you’ve got to do something or do something to yourself. Let someone know so someone can help you handle it.
What advice would you give to kids who want to play football?
Man, you know, go out there and give it everything you got. Football teaches you a lot, man, It teaches you to be accountable, dedicated, it teaches you how to work with other people because it’s a team sport. It’s one of the games that you can’t just go out there and do the things by yourself. You need everyone that’s around with you. It’s a team sport and it teaches you a lot of stuff, man. And it carries over, as far as the workforce, as far as going to school, as far as doing a lot of things, just being accountable and being respectful and dedicated to something.
Photos: courtesy Subway, Justin K. Aller/Getty Images, Jason Pohuski/CalSport Media