Ryan Michael's Exclusive Interview with Johnny U's Grandson J.C. Unitas
With but one single word, it is as if a story has been told.
Word association really as this iconic last name has become a symbol in and of itself.
It’s rare to be able to say that.
As a fan of professional football and more importantly, a fan of the Indianapolis Colts, there is but one classic legend that stands tall above all the rest.
Some might know him as Johnny U, others as number 19, but for the sake of professionalism, I’m going to refer to him simply as Johnny Unitas.
The legend of Johnny Unitas is but one topic for which I feel as if I could write a novel.
It would also be one of the few subject in which I would likely never run out of material or enthusiasm for.
But with as much as I could say about Johnny Unitas from a fan’s perspective, this article (with all due respect of course) is not going to revolve around the Baltimore legend who helped construct and elevate professional football as we know it.
If one were to take a close look at the Unitas family-tree, you wouldn’t have to look far before you found the great gentleman whom I had the privilege to speak with.
Johnny Unitas III (better known as J. C. Unitas) was kind enough to take the time to do an exclusive interview with me.
And as much as everyone reading this article is bound to be familiar with his grandfather Johnny Unitas, I implore you to take a moment to learn about this man’s story.
From the moment I contacted him, he was nothing but a class act and I was so fortunate as to be able to do this interview and to have received responses in such candid fashion.
Without any further adieu, I present to you my first exclusive interview with J. C. Unitas.
Note to the Editor: Please do not edit any of the content within this interview. Since the interview contains the conversation between myself and Unitas, it is important for nothing to be taken out of context and for the interview to remain un-altered. Thank you.
A lot of people know you as Johnny Unitas’ grandson. (I’m sure you get that a lot). Is there anything that you would like the people to know about you as an individual that extends past your family legacy?
It’s kind of interesting that you ask that.
When I first started playing football, people knew me as JC, Which is why I go by JC because John Unitas is such a well known name.
It’s kind of funny because you’d assume that JC would turn some heads but it really doesn’t. Unless someone knows the last name but if I introduce myself as Johnny Unitas, always the next question is “are you related to the football player?” so I always found now in my later years that if I say JC Unitas, people just don’t really associate the two.
When I started playing football, it was kind of interesting to see how my teammates and everyone started knowing me and when I attended Villanova University for the two years that I did, my first week in football summer-camp, I was known as Johnny U which at the time really bothered me.
Then the team started knowing me as JC.
People would assume that I’m all football’ed-out.
I don’t know what your predisposition or presumptions would be but I’m just a regular old college kid. I’m a Junior right now about to be a Senior at the end of this summer-session.
I just kind of see myself as JC Unitas, normal kid.
My next question is, back during your recruitment process, how was it for you and what made you decide to go to Villanova?
That’s actually a very interesting question.
I grew up playing golf, lacrosse, and soccer. My mom’s side of the family is from Argentina so football for them is soccer. So soccer, golf, lacrosse, basketball, I never really played football.
My grandfather, I would call him “Pop-op” and he would always say “stick with golf, you don’t get hit”. Same with lacrosse, he would say “Why do you want to get hit with a stick? Why don’t you just play a little bit of golf? You can make some money and you won’t get hurt”.
But of course with me being hard-headed, I decided to play football and I fell in love with it.
It was a big passion of mine going through High School. I started my freshman year and didn’t really have any aspirations of playing college football.
I remember being a sophomore and getting brought up to varsity during practice because the varsity quarterbacks really didn’t get it done.
It was that day early in my sophomore year in the fall at St. Paul’s High School that I decided “I’m pretty good and I think I can take this to the next level”.
I just love the game of football, I love touching a football, I love being on the field and working out. I’m still a meat-head to this day regardless of whether I still play football or not.
I mean that in a good way.
It just turned out that a couple of the schools that were really looking at me, James Madison, William & Marry, Delaware, Georgetown was actually looking at me but I didn’t want to become a Warrior and I kind of had a very negative-stigma associated with Georgetown.
That’s a whole different story.
But it came down to JMU, William & Marry, and Villanova came into the picture late.
I decided to take a visit there. (They have) a heck of an education so I couldn’t turn that down so I thought that I might as well throw them on the list.
I ended up really falling in love with JMU and I went on a visit there.
JMU had everything I wanted. 60-percent girls, 40-percent guys, so that’s heaven right there.
I ended up shattering my collarbone at the beginning of Senior-year in a scrimmage. I played well all through summer-camp and I had some really great backing from the coaches at JMU but as soon as I broke my collarbone, things really fell through with James Madison.
Villanova came to the game late and decided to say “Hey, we understand that you are a good player”. The film I had gotten which was about two or three game’s worth was good enough for them to say “We can get you a preferred walk-on”, so there it was.
I really went in blind.
It was a really great school.
The coaches that I met assured me that what I took was enough for me to say “This is too good of an opportunity to pass up with my situation, a bum-shoulder and a messed up collarbone”.
So I just took it and ran. Things didn’t really work out for the best but I can assume that that would be the next question.
Yeah, my next question was to ask what your current stance is with your football situation and do you think you will ever have any interest in playing again?
No, not at all.
I’m having a blast doing what I’m doing right now and Villanova kind of left a sour taste in my mouth as far as college football is concerned.
I think now days, college football is a really watered-down version of the NFL.
A while back, I always said that college football was the last bit of football that you can play before it becomes the money-pit cesspool that it is really. I’m going to revert that statement back to there being no such thing as pure-football anymore except for high school football.
College football now is such a diluted version of the NFL.
The NFL we all know is driven by money. It doesn’t matter what you do on or off the field. You’re going to get paid your money and score your touchdowns.
I don’t want to take anything away from some great players like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Those guys, they really bust their a** and do what they’re supposed to, to get their teams to where they are supposed to be and those are the teams that are successful.
My stance on college football is that it was fun for me while it lasted but right now I can look back and take a step back and really understand everything and what went into it.
I knew I was never going to play at Villanova but that’s because Villanova had invested their full scholarships on two other guys.
No one is ever on a level playing field in college football and that’s one of my biggest issues.
But right now I’m down at the University of Tampa in Florida and I’m having a blast. Right now, I am working a pretty tremendous job and my life is just great and better than any other 21-year old I know.
Sure, as long as you’re happy, I don’t think that anyone really has the right to question you about it.
The funny thing is, it’s kind of hard for me to convince people that I actually played college football.
My playing weight, I was six-feet even and I weight probably 170 to 185 pounds.
Now, I probably weigh about 160 pounds and that’s just from not having to lift weights and eat pizza and subs and all that stuff just to keep it on and not get hurt, you know what I’m saying?
Sure, and I definitely see where you’re coming from in terms of college football but I have to ask, are you a fan of the NFL?
That’s another interesting question.
Let me kind of clear the subject.
I’m a fan of college football but more importantly, I’m a fan of competition and whether that’s basketball, football, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, right now I’m watching the USA vs. China in Volleyball.
I’m a fan of good competition.
So, do I have a favorite NFL team? No. Do I have a favorite college football team? No. But do I like watching a great game with players that are going to leave it all on the field? Yes, I love that.
The NFL for me is, right now I have mixed reviews. I really like the new player-personnel guy they appointed. His name is slipping my mind right now…
Yes, and I think that what he is doing for the league is tremendous.
I think that they are trying to clean it up right now.
I don’t want to name-drop or name players that are in trouble or anything like that. I think the league does need to clean up. It’s terrible to see what people can get away with in the league and still play. You know what I’m saying?
Think about it. If you worked for IBM and you were out at a corporate party and you are distributing drugs or doing something like that. You would never get to work for IBM again. So if IBM is not going to allow such behavior, why should the NFL?
Does that make sense?
It makes a lot of sense.
But obviously the NFL has a lot of “bad boys” so to speak. Are there any NFL players currently who have good character that you admire for their character, their play on the field, or both?
There are players that are just tremendous assets, athletes, family members; the list goes on and on. Because of who they are and what they are for their team.
I’m a huge, huge supporter of Peyton Manning, what he has accomplished in Indianapolis. Indianapolis is going through hard times as far as player and personnel are concerned right now. He just wants to win games.
Jeff Garcia, I love that guy.
I heard a statement from him today on Mike & Mike in The Morning and he said that the best quarterback has got to start. I believe that competitors, guys that go out there and they bust their butt; those are the guys that give the NFL a good name.
This past year at the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, I had a chance to speak a long time with Texas Tech’s head coach who is just the funniest guy ever.
I don’t know if you saw him on 60 Minutes but he was a trip to hang out with.
The funniest thing I ever heard from any college football coach or anybody that I’ve ever talked to about football with, he said that “Your football team is only as good as the dumbest person on the field”.
Which is hilarious if you think about it because he’s totally right.
If one person messes up, it may go well but chances are that it’s not going to go as planned.
I thought that was brilliant.
When I was at Villanova the two years I was there, the players all loved each other and we all busted our butts for each other.
The senior groups that I had the chance to be with during my freshman and sophomore years were just great guys. They really did try their hardest to play and that gets me back to high school and the guys I played with.
I think that’s when football in the NFL or college shines as it should.
Are there any memories that you’d like to share about your grandfather? They don’t have to be football-related.
Just hanging out on his farm.
I used to go to my grandfather’s farm all the time.
I used to go there and ride his go-kart. He used to be cutting the grass.
That was his favorite thing to do. He used to cut the grass every weekend and he had a huge, huge lawn. He used to have four or five different tractors and he used to cut the grass for about six hours, I kid you not.
He used to be out there whistling and he’d have a blue polo shirt with a towel to keep the sun off of his neck and a busted up pair of old corduroys.
He would just cut the grass all day.
The funniest thing, it reminded me of Jake Delhomme saying that the first thing he was going to do after he went to the Super Bowl was to buy a John Deere tractor.
That always made me laugh.
Sitting down at the dinner table with him. Talking to him, being with him in the same room. He was quick-witted, really interesting, quiet, well-spoken.
He was just a really great guy to be around.
The fondest memories, sitting in a limo coming back from parks.
He couldn’t sit not facing the back if that makes any sense. He always had to sit facing forward in the limo or he’d get sick, which I thought was hilarious.
One time my dad and him were outside and he was yelling at my Uncle Joey because he couldn’t throw a football properly and it was just kind of like one of those things. It was funny.
It’s a shame, I feel like when there’s such a monumental death or passing, you don’t generally remember what was fun and happy, you just remember the last day of your association with them as they were.
When I sit down, I can only remember bits of the funeral.
Just pictures in my head like a flash-card.
But in the general scope of things, he was an awesome grandfather.
To be honest with you, if he was still alive when I had broken my collarbone, he would have said as I walked off the field with a busted up collarbone “I told you to play golf”.
Hearing you talk about your grandfather, I kind of get the impression that most people taking to you would just assume that any bit of your relationship with him would have to be football related because he’s usually just known as Johnny Unitas the football player.
Do you ever get kind of offended when the only thing you really hear about him is football related?
I could sit down and write a book about my grandfather playing football.
But just as well, you could look it up on Wikipedia or Google and you’re going to learn everything that book is going to say. I think that one of the biggest things that really pisses me off is when all people want to know is about Johnny U the football player.
What is so good about Johnny U the football player is what I’m asking?
You can look it up online. You can go to the Baltimore Legends Sports Museum. You can go find out the amount of touchdown passes he threw, the records he broke, the this and that, you know what I mean?
I find it more interesting when people want to know about just the question you’re asking.
What was Johnny Unitas like beyond being a football player, how did it affect me being Johnny Unitas’ grandson?
People always think that whenever I would show up that I’m all about football. But there are a lot of interests that I have outside of football.
One of the biggest things that I like is photography. I love art, I love drawing, and I love painting. I’m taking an Art-History class right now at the University of Tampa, that’s something I love. I love cooking, I love food, I love wine, I love things that you don’t generally associate with football.
But it just so happens that that is the stigma you get being in a football-family.
It’s weird because everyone just assumes that it’s cool being Johnny Unitas’ grandson and playing football. But no one ever asks about what the pressure is like playing football being Johnny Unitas’ grandson.
One of my good buddies in high school was asking me if it was tough playing football and I said that “It is really tough, you got stadiums chanting Johnny U this and Unitas that” and my friend Daily sits there and says “That’s like being Jesus’ brother, c’mon you can’t walk on water” and of course that’s a hyperbole, a great exaggeration but it’s true.
I never took the number 19, never accepted the number 19. Even in high school my coach saved the number 19 for me and I gave it back to him and said that I wanted 12 or 11 or four because I don’t want 19.
I always wanted to be me and the pressure of playing being Johnny Unitas’ grandson is just…I never experienced it in high school because everyone knew and people knew me as JC before they knew me as JC the football player.
But when I got to college, they expected me to know things, they expected me to figure things out, and they expected me to have this immense football knowledge when mine was really rudimentary at best.
I was just a kid that could throw a football. I wasn’t any brilliant genius whose grandfather sat down and broke down film with.
I remember as soon as I quit, and I was actually bitter at the time.
Not once did it ever go through my mind that I was letting my family down because like I said, I don’t think my grandfather wanted me to play football anyways. He would have been proud of me if I wanted to play Rugby or something like that, he wouldn’t have cared as long as I was happy.
I remember a teacher saying “Just wait your turn and someone’s going to interview you and you’ll be able to tell them everything that happened to you at Villanova” and at that time I felt like I couldn’t wait to stick it to the man like “Oh man, I’m just going to totally bash the coaches” but of course I’ve grown up since then.
I’ve been waiting for an interview that really tries to put the spotlight on what happened to me. Just for the fear of negative-hype and the fear of negativity surrounding me as how I entered and exited football.
I think it’s important for you to get the chance to tell your story about it because I know how the media in general can be.
You’ll see the headline “Johnny Unitas’ Grandson Quits Football” and its all negativity. But until you’ve actually heard the story from the person themself, I don’t think it’s really fair to make any kind of judgment.
I read a Wild-Cat forum and it was all like “Unitas quit, did he think he ever could have played?” and that really irked me.
I can think of certain instances where things were said and lines were crossed from the coaching staff.
Respect wasn’t given to me so I didn’t reciprocate.
So of course that’s always going to leave a stale aura around an individual.
You could go to the Alumni and have them say that Unitas is a disrespectful individual but you’re only hearing one side of the story.
It’s not that I thought I wasn’t good enough to play and maybe wasn’t even good enough to play but was I ever pushed to the point of finding that out? No, never.
I was never given the means to figure to succeed.
Every quarterback when they get into a high school or college system is given the means to succeed.
Which means that the head coach will sit there and push that player which means he will break them down as much as they need to be broken down but then build them up at the same time.
I was never being built up, I was always being broken down.
I can remember when I got to Villanova; it was my goal to be the only face up on the strength-boards.
If you were the top at your position, you’re picture was up there regardless of whether you were a starter or not. I was up there for squats, bench-press, and hang-clean. I still can remember.
That was my biggest accomplishment and I remember being in a meeting the next day and we were all very close and joking around with the other quarterbacks. Antoine Young said “These pictures are just pretty faces up in the weight-room” and everyone just started laughing.
I remember the coach said “That’s not really that important”.
And that was really kind of the turning point there as far as “Why am I busting my a**?”.
It was like because they weren’t giving me a chance on the field, I tried to earn myself some form of respect in the realm of the football team and I still wasn’t getting it.
That was the point where I peaked and now I’m going back down the other side of the pyramid. I got to the top and then as soon as that happened, I started just walking back down the other side.
You know you’d think that most people would say that because of your lineage, you had more opportunities than other people.
Would you feel like its fair to say that it actually made things a bit more difficult for you due to the pressure?
I was always told by one of the best teachers I ever had, my English teacher all through high school, Ed Brown that “Things are going to be given to you and you are going to receive special treatment because of your last name” and I would be lying if I said that stuff like that didn’t happen.
That’s just how it is, that’s how life is.
In the football community, it’s completely the opposite.
I’ve been really fortunate to have some really great teachers and great individuals in my life throughout the last five years.
It has really just opened my eyes and taught me so much.
You have to think that the mind-set of a football coach in dealing with Johnny Unitas’ grandson is that they are going to try to discipline you for stupid things.
They feel like you should know it.
They are going to go back to their other coaching buddies and say “I had a chance to tell Unitas today that he was wrong” when in all actuality, I didn’t even know. I had no clue.
But they thought that I knew when I didn’t.
Like I said, I was just a kid who could throw a football.
Right, I totally understand where you’re coming from.
Every year the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award happens now in Baltimore which is really great. They moved it from Kentucky, my dad did, and I always try to talk with the guys.
The first year I went, it was Jason White, the Oklahoma quarterback and the next year it was Matt Leinart.
Then I believe it was Brady Quinn and it was awesome.
Matt Ryan was a really cool guy and then Graham Harrell.
I always try to talk to them and Matt Leinart was probably the coolest.
I was just getting into the recruiting process and he was being real California-cool and told me to “Just take it easy, it’s just football and always remember that it’s just football”.
Graham Harrell was a really great, really soft-spoken guy.
Every single person I talked to, even Brady Quinn was like “It’s just supposed to be fun”.
So I guess players can see it, but generally coaches can’t.
I had a great relationship with everyone at Villanova and it was all in the team and it just didn’t correlate within the coaching staff.
If you could deliver one final message to anyone out there, it could be fans of yours; it could be critics or anyone in the media, just one final message that you would like everyone to know about you?
If I had fans, that would be pretty cool. I haven’t met them yet.
Well you got one today.
I don’t know. I couldn’t really think of a final message. I’m not really that big into existentialist quotes or anything like that.
That’s okay because over the course of this entire interview, you’ve answered everything really well.
Definitely, it was a pleasure.
And so brought a close to my interview with J. C. Unitas.
He was a pleasure to be able to work with and I truly enjoyed having the opportunity to interview him.
When he first agreed to do the interview with me, I was excited to be able to interact with the grandson of a man whom I admired so much.
After having completed the interview, I was excited for having had the chance to work with J. C. Unitas the individual, not just the descendant of a football legend.
With as much as I respect his family lineage, it was equally exiting to be able to talk sports with someone so knowledgeable.
I can only hope that J. C. Unitas will have interest in doing another interview sometime in the future.
I’ve always been a fan of Johnny Unitas but after having completed this interview, I instantly became a fan of J. C. Unitas as well.
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