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Q&A with New Orleans Saints fullback John Kuhn

Talking offseason, small-college football and the evolution of the fullback position.

How have things been during the offseason?
Everything has been fantastic. Just enjoying some great weather down here in New Orleans and getting to know the city a little bit.

A little bit different from a Wisconsin winter, isn't it?
Yeah, you can kind of kick it outside a little bit. Come in to the facility, get your workout in, like I'd be doing at home, but in my spare time, I can get other activities done…. Getting out around the city, seeing some of the nice sites. I've been to the aquarium since the season has been over, so it's been fun.

Congratulations on resigning with the Saints
Thank you. Towards the end of the season, I thought this could be a place where I could play another year or two and really enjoy myself. The locker room has been fantastic and I think the team is ready to ascend here moving forward. I'm really thankful for this opportunity.

It sure seemed like you were comfortable in the locker room…
I did feel very comfortable. It was primarily because the guys in the locker room are so welcoming. They're all about business and they want to win. You want guys in here you want to work their tails off and you want to work with them. I made myself at home, started grinding the same way they do, and they started respecting me for it. And I couldn't respect them any more for it and accepting me the way they did.

What is this football-less time of the year like for you?
For me, it's kind of refreshing because we work so hard during the season. To have not football to watch, I'm split on it because I do enjoy watching football, but at the same time, I don't like watching football when we're not playing. So it's a tough thing to try and settle in your stomach when you're watching these teams go further in the playoffs than you. I watched some of the Grammys and checked out when the other award shows are, I guess we're in award season now, so we'll have some of them, then we'll have some of the All-Star game down here., so I'm looking forward to that.

Will you take part in NBA All-Star activities?
I don't have anything firm yet, but I can imagine I'll be touching base here or there.

When you're not watching or playing football, what sports do you like to take part in?
I like all sports, to tell you the truth. I do enjoy watching basketball. Baseball in the fall. That season is so long, I like watching towards the end of the year when there are races, pennant races going on. I enjoy watching everything: soccer, hockey, college basketball is the one I really get in to once our season is over.

Which college basketball teams do you follow? Do you root for Shippensburg? Or a bigger college?
Oh, yeah. I root mostly for Penn State and Wisconsin sports because that's where I grew up and spent a majority of my professional life. I really root the Badgers on and Penn State, when they're on TV and get the chance to see. Shippensburg, though, they're having themselves a season. They were top-five, number one in the country, so I'm rooting hard for the Red Raiders.

How was the transition between small-school college football and the NFL?
It was big because I switched positions. I was more of a running back in college, so I had to learn the technique and the footwork to be able to play fullback in the NFL. It took me a little bit of time. That kind of slowed me down in my process, but I had a great teacher in Dan Kreider who was a fullback in Pittsburgh. He kind of took me in under his wing and showed me the ropes to show me how to do it as a professional in the NFL.

What are some things that big-school guys can't relate to you about coming from a small school?
The scheduling was far different. On our road trips, we took a bus, we left a day before the game. There were a few games that were close enough that we left the day of the game. Staying in team hotels, we weren't doing any of that, especially for home games. None of us had full scholarships. We had to make due with about $80,000 dollars for the whole football team, so we really had to spread that around well, so that took a lot of manufacturing of dollars by our coaches. Just the little things. We were very much a part of the student body. We were students before we were athletes. At a bigger school, I'd say they were athletes a little bit before they were students.

Will your family be partaking in Mardi Gras activities?
Absolutely. Mardi Gras gets kind of a bad break with the rest of the country. I always thought it was one of those crazy, party, dirty atmospheres, but as soon as they said it's family-friendly, go to Uptown and really enjoy yourself with the set ups and other families. We definitely had to stick around for this one.

You'll probably get the chance to tailgate some as well…
That's another thing some of the big-school guys didn't get to do. When I was in college, we would find ways to go to other teams' games and tailgate in Happy Valley and stuff.

How did you do that?
When they would have a night game, we would play our game during the day and as soon as our game was over, we'd pack up in the car and get up there as quick as we could.

What is it like to do a Lambeau leap?
I'm pretty notorious for my failed leap in 2012, but that was the cameraman's fault, not mine. I'll maintain that until the day I die. You got to hoist yourself, you got to figure out where you're going before you attempt to make the leap. They have to be welcoming. Some guys will stick their arms out, but they're more of a road block and kind of knock you down. You have to be strategic.

How tall is that wall?
It's about as tall as me, around six feet tall. For guys like myself, who doesn't have the amazing 45-inch vertical jump like the receivers, you got to get your steps right, jump and get your arm up and hoist from there.

That'd be nerve-wracking to jump into the arms of strangers…
It's fun. I kind of compare it to crowd surfing like a rock star. That's our one chance to be a rock star and get up into the stands and make the fans go crazy. You get beer, popcorn, hot dogs, mustard, ketchup, just about everything gets on you, but that's OK. You go to the sideline and the equipment manager cleans you off, it's a heck of the time.

Regarding touchdown celebrations, what's your take on what should and should not happen after a score?
If you're not being vulgar, not taunting and it's all in good fun, I think it should be allowed to go. This is a game, at the same time we're considered entertainment, so let us entertain. If we want to have some fun, let the guys do some antics and express their personality as long as they're not offending anyone else.

When do you start thinking about the football season?
That'll probably come up here quicker than I want it to. We come back April 17th, so definitely on the 16th it'll start creeping into my mind. That's the offseason program. When you're in the offseason program, you know it's only a short jump away until the season starts. You make a lot of strides during the offseason. As a team, you talk about building chemistry. As a unit, offensively, we're going to start putting in some wrinkles at a certain point and time, master them and get the ball rolling on that.

When is a safe time to think about "This is what this team really has?"
I'd say around the second week of October, a quarter-way into the season. I know that sounds a lot later than what fans or analysts want to say. Everyone wants to predict. You got to let the first quarter of the season go by. I talk about implementing new things, building chemistry in the locker room, those things aren't fine-tuned until the first quarter of the season is over.

What does that mean about the first quarter of the season?
Depends on how your record is. If you're 4-0, it's important. If you're 1-3, relax. It's a state of mind, but the teams who can come out and be hot at the beginning of the year can have an advantage on other teams because they have a lead on figuring other things out.

What is the evolution of the fullback position?
I think it's still an important position. It's a position that's needed situationally. Short-yardage, goal-line, certain times during the games where you have to break out packages, without getting too football-talky, you create mismatches with personnel groups. The fullback position has transitioned from being a blocker, to being more versatile. You also have to chip in on special teams. It has really changed over the last decade.

How have the running backs grown?
With just the body of work being last season, probably the confidence. The confidence in the room went from the mindset of knowing we have talent, but not knowing if we could do this every single day, to at the end of the season, we're going to lead and we're going to make big plays. Our goals only increased as the season went on to the point of knowing they were unrealistic. That mindset of reaching for the starts and landing on the moon was something we weren't going to shy away from.

What's the rest of the offseason looking like?
We took a little trip to Florida. Got some fishing, got some golfing in. We're back here through Mardi Gras. We got to get home, I haven't been home since August. I got to get home before the offseason programs begins in April to get some things squared away and enjoy time with friends and family. When you have little kids, everything is about family and we have some family we want to go home and see.

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