Out of the Shadows
At 6 a.m. on Tuesday, hours after having the best rushing night of his NFL career, Justin Forsett’s best attempts at cramming in a few more hours of sleep were thwarted by his nearly 2-year-old son, Judah. “He came in with a big, heavy diaper,” Forsett says, “and sat on my pillow. That woke me up.” Talk about being brought back down to earth, even though Forsett isn’t one who needs such grounding. The Ravens running back has spent most of his football career “in the shadows,” as he puts it, overlooked or undervalued for reasons that begin with his 5-foot-8 frame. Until this season, his seventh in the NFL, when he stepped into the starting role vacated by Ray Rice and has run with the opportunity. He did so to the tune of 182 rushing yards against New Orleans on Monday night, setting a career-high just a few months after he thought his career might be over.
VRENTAS: You got off to a fast start in Monday night’s game. Did you know right away you could do some damage on the ground against the Saints?
FORSETT: The first play of the game that we had on offense, when we were able to run the ball out of a backed up situation [for 38 yards], I knew we were going to have some success. We knew coming into the game that we should be able to run the ball. We saw that Cincinnati had some success the week before running the ball, and we pride ourselves on being a good run team, so we knew there were going to be some opportunities.
VRENTAS: When you were cut by Jacksonville in March, did you wonder if you would have another opportunity to play in the NFL?
FORSETT: Yeah, definitely. I wondered if any other team was going to allow me to come in, and allow me a chance to compete. I was thinking if football didn’t work out, what I was going to go into. I’m interested in working in player development at the NFL level or the college level. Being able to impact peoples’ lives, helping players off the field, and still being around the game—that’s something I would definitely love to get into. So I did some job shadowing, back at my school, Cal, in the player development role. I also went to a conference in Phoenix where the NFL and the college player development staffs meet and go over different ways to help the players that they are working with. I spoke there and got to network with a lot of people. I was getting ready to try to seize opportunities in that realm. I was ready for the transition, if it was going to come to that.
VRENTAS: What was it like facing the possibility that your time playing the game might be over?
FORSETT: I was at a point in my career where I had been through so much, and had been in the shadows for so long, I was really at peace in knowing that I was going to be successful, whether it be in football or out of football. That was a credit to my faith, just trusting that God was going to open up something for me and I was going to be able to excel at it. I was ready.
VRENTAS: What role did Gary Kubiak play in bringing you to Baltimore?
FORSETT: Me having had a relationship with him in Houston and having had success there, and him knowing what kind of guy I am and what kind of worker I am, was key when they were looking for some depth at the running back position. For him to go out and tell Ozzie [Newsome] and John [Harbaugh], ‘Hey, this guy can play,’ was key for me to get a shot, to even get a call.
VRENTAS: There was nearly a month between when you were cut by the Jaguars and when you signed with the Ravens. What happened during that time?
FORSETT: It was crazy because at first, when I got cut, we heard from [the Ravens] that there may be some interest, and then weeks and weeks went by and we hadn’t heard anything. So I didn’t know if it was going to come to fruition. I was still working out and training for that opportunity, working as hard as I ever did. But I was also exploring that other realm of things I was interested in. And then I finally got that call. I don’t remember what day it was, but I was just leaving Cal from training, and [my agent] called me and said, ‘We got an offer for you.’
VRENTAS: What is it about Kubiak’s offensive scheme that creates a successful running game, and why are you such a good fit for it?
FORSETT: In the zone running scheme, you are trying to get the defense to move horizontal, which creates space and lanes. I’m a decisive runner. I like to get my foot downhill, and make that one cut and go. It’s perfect in that scheme, because I get to choose my lanes and really have the option of where I want to go. And we have success with it. I have been in it for a long time, maybe six years of my career have been in that type of offense, so it’s repetition, patience. And you’ve got to be tough; you’ve got to be physical to be able to run inside and outside, so it’s something that I pride myself in being able to do.
VRENTAS: You, Kubiak and Steve Smith were all let go by your previous teams, and you all have been a huge part of the Ravens’ success. Is there a shared feeling of wanting to prove people wrong?
FORSETT: You definitely get a chip on your shoulder. For me, I’ve been fired a lot. Those other guys, that’s probably the first time they have really been let go, fired from a team. I’ve always had that chip on my shoulder and always wanted to go out and show what I can do. I’m just thankful for this time and this moment, that I’m able to go out and display that.
VRENTAS: Playing for five teams in seven years, how have you and your family handled the nomadic lifestyle?
FORSETT: I thank God for my wife, Angela, because she is understanding. She grew up in the NBA lifestyle. Her dad, Paul Pressey, was a player and is now an assistant coach for the Lakers. They always moved, so she was accustomed to it. [My father-in-law] has always been there to give his advice and give an ear as well, just on how to be a man off the field or off the court, and how to take care of your family and handle different situations. And at the beginning of our marriage, my wife was on the USA Volleyball Team, so she was doing her thing and traveling, while I was moving around.
VRENTAS: So she must be pretty tall, having played volleyball?
FORSETT: Nah, she’s 5-7. She played outside hitter. She had a great career. Unlike me, she was highly heralded (laughs). She was one of the top recruits coming out of high school and was an All-American in college, and then went on to play for USA Volleyball, so she definitely had a lot of success. She actually jumps higher than me. She has a 36-inch vertical, so she is pretty athletic.
VRENTAS: Your opportunity this season came through unusual circumstances, after Ray Rice was suspended by the league and cut by the Ravens. When the team released Rice, how did you respond to the news?
FORSETT: Well, for me, it was tough because I have known Ray for a long time. It was emotional, and I was just worried about him and his family. But as a professional athlete and a guy within this organization, our job is to go out and win games, so we just had to focus in and lock in and try to go out there and win games. That was my mindset.
VRENTAS: You understand firsthand how tough the market is for veteran running backs. With all the events involving Rice, do you think he will get another chance in the NFL?
FORSETT: I don’t know. There is so much going on, whether it is [discipline from] the commissioner, or if Ray wants to come back. We’ll see. Time will tell.
VRENTAS: Do you know what Rice thinks of the job you’ve done stepping into his role?
FORSETT: Yeah. I have talked to him. He is proud of me. He says, ‘Man this is a great opportunity,’ and he is happy for me. We will always have a relationship, when football is done, my family and his family, so I am just wishing the best for him.
VRENTAS: When you were coming out of high school, is it true that Notre Dame pulled a scholarship offer from you at the last minute, and Texas overlooked you because of your size? How did you end up at Cal?
FORSETT: Notre Dame took the offer back. They had some other running backs that I guess committed to them, and there was no longer any room for me, so they went in a different direction. As far as Texas, they thought I was too small and that I wouldn’t be able to withstand Division I football. I went to all their camps, had some success, but it wasn’t meant to be. After the Notre Dame thing, that happened almost a week before signing day, and I didn’t know what I was going to do. So we sent out some tape to some West Coast schools, and Cal was one of those schools. They looked at the tape, and they just happened to have a spot open up when a guy got hurt, and they got back to me and offered me a scholarship. Our running backs coach at Cal, coach [Ron] Gould, was the one who looked at the tape and called my dad. I didn’t sign until after the spring game, so it was a while.
VRENTAS: How much has your height impacted your career?
FORSETT: I think that a lot of teams have placed me in a box for most of my career just because of my height. When I walk in a building, they automatically think, He can only do certain things. He’s a third-down back, or he is a scatback. So just to break out of that box has been a tough part of my career. That’s why I’m just so thankful and appreciative of this opportunity [with the Ravens], because they didn’t put any limits on me. They allowed me to go out there and be the complete back that I am, and now I’m just trying to run with it.
VRENTAS: Sometimes you hear shorter running backs say there are positives to their size, whether it be a lower center of gravity or more elusiveness. Are there ways in which your size has helped you?
FORSETT: Oh, definitely. I hear all the time that some [defenders] can’t see me until it is too late because I am low to the ground behind the linemen. And in pass protection, they say low pad wins in this game, and usually I am the lower pad. So that has definitely helped me out in being able to withstand the pass protection part of my job. I try to take care of my body and work out as hard as I can, because I know there are those labels out there about smaller backs. I am always out there trying to break them. I want to be physical. I want to be tough for my team, and be a spark for my team, and I don’t want to let my size or my frame get in the way of that.
VRENTAS: You played with Marshawn Lynch in both college and the NFL. What have you taken from the way he plays?
FORSETT: He goes out there and he is smiling and laughing and doesn’t take himself too seriously. Just going out there before every game and realizing, this is a game. This is a sport that we play. Have fun at it, because it doesn’t last forever. That mentality of his rubbed off on me. He called me [Monday] night after the game, and we talked for a bit, and he was telling me how proud he is of me. He let me know that he always knew I had it. It was good to hear from him.
VRENTAS: The AFC North is a tight race. What makes you think Baltimore can end up on top?
FORSETT: It’s a tough division. If we want to be a championship team, we have to win in November and December, and we have to take care of our own business. If we do that, in the end, it doesn’t matter what everyone else does. I think we will be right where we want to be. I think we are in a good spot right now, and I think the sky is the limit for us.
VRENTAS: You are playing on a one-year deal. Has the organization had any talks with you about bringing you back?
FORSETT: No, I haven’t had any talks with anybody. Not as of yet.
VRENTAS: Do you want to return to Baltimore?
FORSETT: Sure. I would love to be in Baltimore. My whole thing is, I want to be wanted, I want somebody to commit to me. Throughout my whole career, I have kind of been stuck in the ‘friend zone’ with teams. They told me they like what I can do, but it’s just not something that we want to do long-term. I would love to be at a place that wants me and likes what I can provide.
VRENTAS: Do you think Baltimore might be that place?
FORSETT: I think so. Only time will tell.
VRENTAS: Do you think you’ll be considered for any of the postseason awards? Pro Bowl? Comeback Player of the Year, even?
FORSETT: I don’t know, possibly. That’s always been a dream of mine to go to the Pro Bowl. But if I don’t, it’s OK. I’m just thankful for this opportunity I’ve got.
VRENTAS: You’ve never in your career gotten the attention that you are getting now. How are you handling it?
FORSETT: It just puts things all in perspective, because when I was in those shadows and working out and no one was noticing for the most part, you feel like you can go out there and play. I was able to hone my skills, I was able to prepare my body for the opportunity, and now that I have the opportunity and the spotlight is on, I know that it can easily be taken away. I know that it doesn’t last forever. And I know that the window is closing. So I may have the spotlight now, but it won’t last, and right now, I am just going to try to make an impact while I can.
[widget widget_name="SI Newsletter Widget”]