April 18, 2016
By Brad Muller | More Features
Captain Munnerlyn has a lot to smile about, and he smiles a lot. When you meet the former South Carolina defensive back who is preparing for his eighth year in the NFL, you can’t help but smile back. Munnerlyn overcame a tough childhood growing up in Holly Hills, Ala., and when it comes to his longevity in the NFL, he is all business noting that the keys to his success are hard work, being responsible, and staying healthy.
“I never let myself get out of shape,” Munnerlyn said. “It’s all about working hard and being a professional. You have to treat it like you would a regular, real job. When I have to be there at 8 a.m., I’m going to be there at 7:45. I work really hard, and I’m feisty. I see a lot of guys come in each year, and they want to take my job.”
Munnerlyn is preparing for this third year with the Minnesota Vikings following five years with the Carolina Panthers, where he was a seventh round draft pick in 2009 after earning All-SEC honors during his career with the Gamecocks. Life in the NFL is never easy, and Munnerlyn recalls how some veteran mentoring early in his career helped him push through.
“When I was with Carolina, (linebacker) Thomas Davis took me under his wing and showed me the ropes,” Munnerlyn said. “He showed me the ropes not only on the field, but off the field, showing me how you are supposed to conduct yourself as an NFL player. He talked a lot about how to be a father to your kids.
“Even though he went to Georgia,” Munnerlyn paused to chuckle about the SEC rivalry. “He showed me a lot of great things. You look at this guy who is having a terrific career, and he has come back from three torn ACLs. He’s the first person in NFL history to do that.”
Despite a solid career so far, Munnerlyn admits he did have his “Welcome to the NFL” moments when he was a rookie.
“The pranks and things like that in the NFL happen all the time,” Munnerlyn said. “You have to pick up certain bills at dinner and things like that. On the field, I was the punt returner as a rookie, and we were playing the Eagles. I called for a fair catch, and the guy still hit me. That was the hardest hit I ever took in my life, and I thought I was going to die. They did throw the flag, but he definitely did welcome me to the NFL.”
Just as he appreciated the mentoring he received, Munnerlyn is glad to pay it forward to younger players. He was back on campus recently for South Carolina’s NFL Pro Day.
“I hadn’t been back on campus for a while, and I just wanted to show my face and support the guys,” Munnerlyn said. “I know it’s big when you have guys who have played in the NFL to come back and talk to them. I wanted to let them know that I’m here for them.”
I love Coach Spurrier, and I was a part of his first recruiting class. He felt like a change was needed, and I think the new staff will helps us get to the top again.
Munnerlyn takes pride in seeing any Gamecock get a chance to play professionally, and has been especially proud of South Carolina earning a reputation as “Defensive Back University” or “DB-U” over the last couple of decades.
“That’s a point of pride because we have a lot of defensive backs in the NFL,” Munnerlyn said. “It’s a blessing to be a part of it. It seems like we’re putting another one out there every year. We’ve got longevity too. Look at guys like Jonathan Joseph and Sheldon Brown, and they played for a long time. You’ve got younger guys out there now like Stephon Gilmore (Buffalo Bills) and Darian Stewart (Denver Broncos). It just shows you how hard these coaches work here to get guys like that into the program.”
Munnerlyn is quick to point out that playing at South Carolina prepared him well for his professional career.
“It definitely took me to the next level,” Munnerlyn said. “In high school, I was just raw talent. I didn’t know much about the game. When I got here I learned all about different coverages, different techniques, and different philosophies to help me take my game to the next level and got me to the NFL.”
Looking back at his time in the Garnet and Black, Munnerlyn has plenty of great memories.
“One of the best memories would have to be that (2007) Kentucky game,” Munnerlyn said. “They came in ranked pretty high, and we beat them. I had an interception in the end zone.”
As he returned to campus for the first time in a while, he was pleasantly surprised by all of the renovations surrounding Williams-Brice Stadium in recent years.
“The Farmer’s Market (now Gamecock Park) used to be across the street when I was here, and when I drove up and saw what it looks like now, I was amazed,” Munnerlyn said. “It truly is one of the nicest campuses I’ve ever been, and it just has such a great SEC atmosphere now.”
Munnerlyn is also excited about the future of the program under new head coach Will Muschamp.
“I think they’re going to be fine,” Munnerlyn said. “I’m eager to see what they’ve got going on. I love Coach (Steve) Spurrier, and I was a part of his first recruiting class. He felt like a change was needed, and I think the new staff will helps us get to the top again.”
As for his own future, Munnerlyn and his fiancé, Lakisha, will be married in June. Then it won’t be long before it’s time to put the helmet back on for the 2016 season.
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