In the Shadow of Greatness, Akil Blount's Journey to Become an NFL Linebacker

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystJuly 5, 2016

Florida A&M linebacker Akil Blount before an NCAA college football game against South Florida Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

Akil Blount aims to be his own man. Although, this goal isn't as simple as it sounds when you're the son of Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount. 

For most kids, the chance to play in the NFL isn't simply their dream; it's also their father's. Most fathers aspire to see their sons achieve more than they did. 

This perspective drastically changes when your father was named to the Pro Bowl five times, received All-Pro honors six times, won four Super Bowls, revolutionized the way the game is played and became enshrined in the Hall of Fame years before you were even born. 

Former Pittsburgh Steelers CB Mel Blount
Former Pittsburgh Steelers CB Mel BlountGeorge Gojkovich/Getty Images

For Akil Blount, Mel Blount is simply "dad," and the linebacker is concentrating on his opportunity to make an impact in the NFL. 

The younger Blount played at Florida A&M and signed with the Miami Dolphins as an undrafted free agent after this year's NFL draft. A year ago, three undrafted linebackers—Zach Vigil, Mike Hull and Neville Hewitt—made the roster. But a new staff is in place under first-year head coach Adam Gase. Any time a new staff takes over a team, this provides every player on the roster a second chance or an opportunity to make a good first impression.

Akil Blount is ready to move beyond the questions about his father, work hard and become a valuable member of the Dolphins roster with a good training camp. 

Bleacher Report: With a famous football name, has it ever been a negative or do you view it purely as a positive?

Akil Blount: It's never been a negative. I've always said it's something I've embraced. There's never been too much pressure. It's my name just like everyone else has a name.

My dad has always been very supportive of what I've done. He's been my biggest fan, and it's good to know I've always had his support.

B/R: How much of a presence is your father as it pertains to your career?

AB: He's been a great father figure and role model for 21 years. He's everything I want to be as a man. Even though I never got to see him play football, I've heard plenty of stories.

Even more than on the football field, he set the standard for me as a man: how to be a father, husband, treat a woman right and raise a family. Those are the biggest things I've taken from him.

I know everyone on the outside looks at football and thinks he's played a big role there—he has—but I want people to understand he's played a bigger role as my father, role model and man.

B/R: Obviously, every man should strive to be a father to their son(s). I've previously spoke with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward, whose father also played in the NFL. He said it wasn't as much about his dad telling him what to do on the field; his influence had more to do with being a professional.

Can the same be said for you with your father?

AB:  Yes, sir. He always stressed hard work. He wanted to instill the respect of what it takes on a daily process. The basic core values of life is what he taught me that transferred to the football field.

I grew up and worked on a farm. It's something I loved to do. It's more than work.

Now, it's more about loving the process to be successful in football. It shouldn't be considered work.

On the farm in Georgia, it's just natural to embrace the hard work it takes to excel in whatever area of life you're trying to be successful. I believe that transfers to the football field.

It's not like we sat down and watched film together. He came to games and offered tips on what I could work on. Other fathers are more involved in coaching and stuff like that. He's never done that. Instead, he's my support system.

B/R: With your father present at games, did you ever feel undue pressure to perform based on his greatness as a player?

AB: Not really. From the outside looking in, those are the things people assume. I didn't have the pressure to do something spectacular. As you get older and start to mature, you tend to focus on the moment and the process. The big plays can come from that.

My father might be sitting there, but when there are 100,000 people in a stadium, I can't worry about him.

When I did make a big play, he was always there and thrilled for my success. In our homecoming game last year during the fourth quarter, I returned an interception for a touchdown. We made eye contact after the play. Afterwards, he couldn't stop telling everyone about it for the next three weeks.

But I've never really thought of the pressure. He's my dad more than he is a football player. I never got to see him play or enjoy his greatness. My brothers and I tend to forget or even joke about it. But when we go out with him, people are always coming up to my father to show their respect.

B/R: He's your father and it's not a big deal to you, but have you ever stood in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, looked at his bust and ever come to the realization your dad is just a little bit different than everyone else?

AB: He always gets a lot of respect when we went to Steelers games. When we go to the Hall of Fame and he's surrounded by great players that I've watched on TV, it opens my eyes to see just how successful he was and how much he accomplished.

Former Steelers CB Mel Blount working out on the farm.
Former Steelers CB Mel Blount working out on the farm.Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

To this day, I hear stories of how hard he worked in the offseason. It's encouraging and aspiring.

B/R: What was the thought process behind your decision to attend Florida A&M?

AB: This is what's great about coming out of a small high school and college: I didn't have a lot of options. I didn't go to a big school in Florida or Ohio. I went to a small school where you can count how many players had a chance to play in the NFL on one hand.

Being around guys who went to bigger schools, I'm proud to say I'm sitting in the same spot as they are despite where I came from. I take pride in the fact I had to work twice as hard.

B/R: Former Steelers, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions linebacker Earl Holmes served as your head coach for a couple seasons, how invaluable was he to your growth as a player?

AB: I learned a lot. When he told me he wanted me to play linebacker, I was upset. I wanted to play offense. I just had a big year playing tight end in high school.

Now, I can't do anything but thank him, because he saw my potential. He placed me in the best possible position, which allowed me to be where I'm currently at.

He had a lot to do with establishing a certain mindset. He told us stories from his career at Florida A&M and when he played for the Steelers. He talked a lot about the attitude those defenses had.

He actually played a bigger part on the football side than my dad, because he was the coach. I learned more about the game from him every day. My father stayed in the supportive role and didn't get too involved.

Coach Holmes served as a second father figure, and I'll always be grateful to him.

B/R: What's the single most important thing Coach Holmes taught you in your transition from tight end to linebacker?

AB: He really taught us the understanding of the game. Your responsibilities only count as one among 11 players on the field. He shared the attitude in which he played the game. It rubbed off on all of us. Those Steelers defenses had an attitude that naturally carried with him.

B/R: Did you take advantage of the opportunity to sit down with him, watch his professional film and see how to do things the correct way?

AB: It wasn't a weekly occurrence, but we watched his highlights. Levon Kirkland is another former Steelers linebacker who worked with the staff. You really couldn't ask for better professional linebacker role models.

B/R: After leading the team in tackles as a junior and providing multiple interceptions, the production was obvious. Even so, there must have been an urgency to prove yourself at the school's pro day, and you certainly put on a show.

[At 6'2" and 245 pounds, Blount ran a 4.60-second 40-yard dash, posted 31 reps of 225 pounds on bench and jumped 40 inches in the vertical, according to Nationalmockdrafts on Twitter.]

How important did your pro day performance become to draw interest from NFL teams?

AB: Everything is important coming from a small schoolwhether it's your film, staying out of trouble or your pro day. I feel I did all of those things. It provided me with this opportunity.

B/R: As an undrafted free agent, the Dolphins and Steelers both offered contracts. Why did you pick Miami over your dad's old team?

AB: The Steelers are deeper at linebacker and didn't present as good of an offer.

My goal is to make the team, and I saw a better opportunity in Miami.

Uncredited/Associated Press

B/R: You made your way through rookie camp, OTAs and minicamp. Where do you believe you fit into the Dolphins linebacker corps?

AB: The most important thing right now as a rookie is understanding the scheme and coaches' expectations. Special teams are also vitally important for a rookie trying to make the team.

Once the coaches realize you understand the scheme and start to build faith in you, you'll start to get reps and opportunities. Those will legitimately start in training camp.

On special teams, it's really about want-to and effort. Those are things I bring to the table having blocked multiple kicks in college.

B/R: Beyond special teams, what type of linebacker are you and how can you be used in Vance Joseph's new defensive scheme?

AB: I realized I fit in immediately from a physical standpoint. I have the speed and athletic ability. I believe I excel in coverage, which is good because we're going to run a lot of nickel-and-dime sub-packages.

There is always room for improvement, though. When you start rookie camp and OTAs, you immediately realize how much better you can get. At the same time, I'm more than sure I can play at this level.

I was told they brought me in to "run around, blitz and make plays."

B/R: What was your first impression of Coach Joseph and what he expects of this year's defense?

AB: We'll be an aggressive and attacking defense with multiple different looks. I really like our staff as a whole, especially on the defensive side of the ball.

I've already bought in completely. It's a great scheme Coach had success with in Cincinnati. We'll run some similar stuff. It's a great fit.

B/R: Was it a little bit overwhelming meeting Ndamukong Suh and Mario Williams for the first time?

AB: No. Obviously, they're really big dudes. That's the first thing you notice. But they're also leaders on the team.

A lot of what you see on the field is one thing because players need a certain edge to play the game. Off the field, they're completely different people.

Ndamukong is a really great guy and role model. Too many go by what they've seen on TV, and they never get to know these guys personally. Fortunately, I do.

B/R: Finally, how do you get to the point where you're finally out from your father's shadow?

AB: The only way to do that is by making plays. People will then start talking about what you've done and not what someone who came before you did.

That's my goal.

It became important before I started high school. In college, it was the same thing before I started to make plays. It'll be the same in the NFL. At every level, it's been the same.

It's not anything I can control or focus on. People will wonder, but my main focus is learning the playbook and understanding it. As we go into the training camp and if I make the team, the recognition I'll receive will answer all of these questions.

Everyone wants to be the best player they can be. You never want to look back and think you wasted an opportunity. You want to make the team and have an impact. That's what every player should strive to do.

All quotes obtained firsthand by Brent Sobleski, who covers the NFL for Bleacher Report, unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.

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