Miami Dolphins Pro Bowl defensive end Cam Wake reminds himself every day of the path he walked to get to the NFL. Specifically, there's the footwear. The 33-year-old toiled in Canada, playing two seasons for the CFL's BC Lions, before becoming one of the top pass-rushers in the game over the past six years.
This season, Wake gets to play next to a guy who reminds him of how special it is to be in the NFL. The Dolphins are hoping the tag team of Wake at left end and Ndamukong Suh at left defensive tackle will create havoc around the league.
While Wake obviously hopes for that outcome, he's taking a little more of a wait-and-see approach to the situation. There's much to be done in the coming months. Bleacher Report recently talked with Wake about his thoughts for 2015 after Miami signed Suh to a six-year, $114.4 million contract.
Bleacher Report: What's the one thing you miss about playing in the CFL?
Cam Wake: I think the purity of the game, the reason that everybody played. Because there are not $100 million contracts and endorsements, and the business aspect is so much different. … Literally, you had most of us playing for $40,000 or $50,000 a season. That's enough that you can go do something nice once in a while. But really you were playing for the love of the game, not because of the money.
You can't replicate that feeling, and it's hard to ignore. A lot of guys had jobs in the offseason, including jobs where you made more money doing something else. But those guys would still show up for the season because they really wanted to play. The guys would really stick together. We played together, worked out together, stayed in the same part of town together. At the NFL level, it's just different. Everybody goes home to their wife and kids here when the day is over.
B/R: As you go through this now in the NFL, make more money and play next to guys who make a lot more, that obviously amps up the expectations. Do you try to remind yourself of those days back in the CFL?
Wake: Every day. We just finished up a workout, and I put my slippers, my shower shoes, on. They have the CFL logo on them. It reminds me every day of how different it was. The facilities were…you just can't compare them. The meal room we have here compared to the one in the CFL—it was more like a counter with bread and cereal. In the CFL, you do your own laundry. Convenience-wise, it's so different, and that ingrained a value in me. The gym down the street from our facility was better than what we had. We had maybe one squat rack. But you appreciate it because it was the way it was. All the things guys take for granted, you have to do on your own. Guys would have to get together themselves to go run hills or work out.
There was just a different aspect to it. The way it worked there, you would play a game and then you would stay over in the city you played in and take a flight the next day. So you'd get to know a lot more of the guys around the league because you'd hang out together after the game. The league was much smaller and you knew probably half the guys in the league because you'd call them and say, "Hey, let's go have dinner and hang out after the game." It was just way different.
B/R: From an X's and O's standpoint, how much thought have you put into how you will play now that you're next to Suh on a regular basis?
Wake: I've thought about it a little, but after the season it's generally time to hit the reset button, spend time with the family, enjoy things that you maybe can't do in the season, like take a world trip or whatever. So I generally stay out of the rumors, the ideas and the concepts about what can happen. If we're signing or losing a guy, that's one thing, but I don't really care too much about who is signing with what team. But with Suh, once the word started to get around, I definitely was paying attention to that.
As far as what to expect other teams will do against us, we're going to spend a lot of time obviously considering all the things we're going to do. At the same time, football doesn't usually work at all like the way you think it's going to work. Forty percent of what you plan to have happen doesn't happen the way you think it's going to.
B/R: So you don't dream about how cool it might be if Suh takes a lot of double-teams and leaves you one-on-one more often?
Wake: I think about it, but then I pinch myself. A dream is empty until you spend the time to do what's necessary to make it happen. I spent a lot of my time in the past five, six or seven years dreaming about [having] a nice house, taking trips around the world, going to Pro Bowls. But it's useless unless you put the work into it. The [offense] obviously can't block everybody, but until the work has been put in, that's just...dreams. Get back to me in Week 8 or 9 of the season and see if we've made any plays to make those dreams worth something.
Wake (laughing): Ah, the age-old question of the lesser of two evils…Jets fans or Pats fans? The last couple of years, I think we've split the games with all the teams pretty much, so that's how it is in this division. I guess it's really that I dislike all of the fans equally in this division.
B/R: Speaking of the division, this has been quite an arms buildup between what the Dolphins did in getting Suh and Jordan Cameron, the Jets getting Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie and the Bills getting LeSean McCoy. Did that surprise you at all?
Wake: I will say that I was paying attention to the ticker one day, and I was watching some of the moves that all the teams in our division made. I think it's pretty clear that the whole division is putting the chips on the table. It's another proof of the sentiment that this is the best division to play in, and it just means that we have to come together as a defense and as a team. Talking about it and dreaming about it aren't going to make it happen.
B/R: You won the Dolphins' leadership award last season, and I was told you were frustrated with what happened with wide receiver Mike Wallace in the final game of last season, when he took himself out of the game and then created a scene during the postgame interview. Is that the case, and do you think the offseason changes will solve that problem?
Wake: At the time, I didn't have a reason to be frustrated with it because I didn't see it. But football is a passion sport—and if you don't have it, you're not going to do well. You have a lot of people with passion, and you have to direct that passion in the best way possible. I don't know what happened [with Wallace], but I hope anybody who puts on a jersey for the Miami Dolphins or any team in the NFL represents this game in the best possible way. You don't want to deal with the negativity.
B/R: I know it has only been a short time, but is there anything that has surprised you so far about Suh?
Wake: He's not so outspoken. He's pretty mellow, similar to things people say about me. Kind of reserved. Despite what some people might think, I don't think it's his style to be out there. I think he takes his time to assess the situation before he puts himself out there.
B/R: So is there a difference between the mindset it takes to get to the league from the mindset it takes to succeed in the league?
Wake: Honestly, the way I approach it is the same way. I get goose bumps just thinking about it. I remember sitting on my couch. I had maybe $300 to my name. I was working at a gym, and I had this dream that I was going to get on an NFL roster, just get my foot in the door, then I was going to become a starter. I had that dream the whole time, and I would do whatever to chase it. Get to bed early, go work out, get rest, stay focused.
I had all these people were laughing in my face. I was 23 years old and had a Bally's Gym membership and people were saying, "Don't do it, it's too hard, get a real job." Now, I just switch the dream as I move on. I made a roster and then it was about sticking on the team. Then it was about becoming a starter. Then about making the Pro Bowl, become a Player of the Year.
Now, I've had some personal success, but the biggest letdown has been team-wise, because there has always been one or two games out of every season that we have not stepped up and played a complete game the way we can. We can stop the run. We have stopped the pass. We have forced turnovers. We have done all of those things and sometimes done them all at once. But then we have had games where we missed one of those things, and that's frustrating. It's more frustrating to fail at something you know you can do than at something you can't do.
B/R: You have a choice: You have a clean shot at Tom Brady in which you know you will hit him so hard that you will knock him out for the rest of the game. Or you are running toward the opposing sideline and can't get out of the way as you crash into Bill Belichick, knocking him out for the half the season. Which do you choose?
Wake (laughing): Man, that's a hard one. You know what, I want to beat Tom Brady at his best and healthiest. I want Bill Belichick at his best with every advantage he can think of, and still go out and beat him. It's just like I want to beat Usain Bolt, on steroids. I want to beat him at his best. I don't want to beat some broken-down Brady or Belichick. I want them at the top. That's just the way I am.
Jason Cole covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.