Brian sits down with former New Orleans Saints defensive tackle, Brandon Villarreal, to discuss his journey from Purdue University to the NFL. Brandon discusses the importance of habits and mindset as it relates to success in professional football.
You will learn…
- What Brandon learned from playing alongside future HOF quarterback Drew Brees.
- The habits that propelled him from Purdue to the New Orleans Saints.
- Developing an NFL mindset.
- And much more…
Follow Andrew on Twitter @brandonvilla55
If I know that one of my better defensive players is in the weight room first before everybody else, is the last one to leave, and is making sure that everybody else is getting their sets and their reps done, that means I know I can count on him to be a leader on the field. Because if he is doing something after school when coaches aren’t necessarily harping on them on every single thing that they’re doing but he’s able to push his teammates, I know that when the coaches are out there and eyes are on them at all times that they’re going to get the job done just as well.
Cain: Hey, how are you doing? Brian Cain, your Peak Performance Coach, here with the Peak Performance Podcast. Today our guest is Brandon Villarreal. He’s a former defensive tackle for the Purdue Boilermakers, where in his career – his standout career there – he ranks 16th in career tackles for a loss, 20th in sacks, and in his senior campaign he was an honorable mention All-Big Ten player while starting all 12 games. He would finish the year ranked 3rd in the Big Ten in tackles for a loss and 9th in sacks. He was also named the Sun Bowl Most Valuable Lineman. Brandon went on to play defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints and he is currently the defensive coordinator at McKinney North High School in McKinney, Texas. Please welcome to the Peak Performance Podcast Brandon Villarreal.
Villarreal: Well, Brian, I really appreciate it. I’m going to have you walk around with me at all times now because with that kind of entrance I think I want to have you with me every time I meet somebody. That would be kind of fun. So I appreciate that.
Cain: I’ll cut the recording. I’ll send it to you so you can have it on – you can pull out your phone and it’ll play.
Cain: Brandon, I appreciate you making time out of your hectic schedule to sit down with us and talk a little bit about kind of the influence that athletics has had on your life as a player and then on into college and the NFL and now giving back coaching high school football. I’m sure a lot of that in your performance has been around strength and conditioning and all the time you’ve invested in the weight room. Talk a little bit about your experience as an athlete in coming up through the Performance Course and really the role and strength and conditioning in athletic development.
Villarreal: Sure. Well, when I was growing up – and obviously there are way more avenues for kids to be around strength and conditioning. But when I was younger prior to getting into high school, really in middle school, I had no idea what really truly strength and conditioning was. I had never been in a weight room. I had always just kind of run around with my buddies around the neighborhood. But once I headed into middle school age and I started picking up with Performance Course and stuff, it really opened my eyes to the importance that strength and conditioning has on an athlete both on and off the field.
What I mean by that is the strength part of it – the lifting weights – a lot of people think, well, all you’re doing is going in there and you’re just trying to get strong and trying to build muscle. Well, that’s not just the case. Building muscle and strengthening your muscles is a way to prevent injury. Strong muscles aren’t necessarily pulled muscles all the time. Now yes, it can happen, but it’s injury prevention. It’s not 100%, but it definitely increases your ability to push through a potential injury.
Then the condition part of it obviously is to not only get your body in condition but to get your mind in condition. It’s something that when you’re going through the drills – whether it’s 100 yard sprints, if it’s 5-10-5 pro-agility drills – it’s something that’s going to have to push you through when your body tells you, ”Hey, I can’t handle any more” and your mind is sitting there telling you, ”Yes I can, and I’m letting you know right now if you push through this I promise you you can do better.” So it’s really an overall physical and mental transformation that an athlete takes through the strength and conditioning program, and with Performance Course it’s something that it kept me accountable.
I’m naturally – or at least I was for the most part – a really lazy kid. What I mean by that is it’s not that I couldn’t do something. It’s just that if I was around other people, other guys my age, I was more likely to get something done and I wanted to compete to do better. So not only does it prepare you physically and mentally, it gets you ready to compete not only against other teams but against your teammates. If you can’t beat out a teammate in the weight room, on the football field, how are you going to be able to beat somebody else on another team if you’re not on the field? So overall I think the strength and conditioning plays a huge role in the physical and mental development of a player both on and off the field.
Cain: What about the role of confidence? We talk a lot about how confidence comes from preparation and the confidence that you get from just investing the time into the weight room and into your preparation, how that confidence then translates to on-field performance. How important is confidence do you think in athletic success?
Villarreal: I think confidence plays a huge role in it. If you don’t believe in yourself or believe in your abilities, what is it to you to go out there and try to put your best foot forward? If you think to yourself, “Man I can’t do this,” you’re not going to give your fullest, or your best effort I should say. When you walk out there with the confidence and say, “Yes, I can do this, I can beat the guy across from me,” it gives you the ability to push through something you may not be able to do otherwise.
So if I know, okay, this guy – for instance, for me when I played defensive line, I weighed 280 pounds in college and the guys that I was lining up against were 6’5, 330 pounds and that’s across the line. Here I am barely 6’2 – I’m looking up going, “My gosh, what did I get myself into?” But I had the confidence from being in the weight room and being around the conditioning phase of the off-season to say, “Okay, my body is physically prepared, my mind is mentally ready to get this job done.” I knew that if I played the correct technique and I got where I was supposed to be, then I would make a play. Because ultimately when it comes down to it, preparation, when you prepare correctly and it meets the right situation, success happens. So absolutely, confidence plays a huge role in an athlete’s ability to get the job done.
Cain: You played in the Big Ten. You’ve played in the NFL. You’re now coaching in the best state in the country when it comes to high school football, in Texas. How do you see the weight room train people to be better leaders as well in terms of leading their team and sort of that opportunity for them to lead not just on the field but in the weight room as well?
Villarreal: Absolutely. Well, let’s be honest. Working out isn’t something that just is inherently easy to do or something that everybody likes to do. Even after playing football and being in the weight room and around it for 17+ years, that’s a grind. It’s a struggle to want to say, “Hey, let me go in there, push around a bunch of heavy weights, and make myself have to get stronger and faster and bigger.” It’s tough. Yeah, everybody wants to look like it, but it’s a very hard job to do.
Being a leader in the weight room is something that can transfer over to the field. If I know that one of my better defensive players is in the weight room first before everybody else, is the last one to leave, and is making sure that everybody else is getting their sets and their reps done, that means I know I can count on him to be a leader on the field. Because if he is doing something after school when coaches aren’t necessarily harping on them on every single thing that they’re doing but he’s able to push his teammates, I know that when the coaches are out there and eyes are on them at all times that they’re going to get the job done just as well.
So being a good leader in the weight room is something that transfers over to the field as well as off the field and in the classroom. Because if you’ve got a guy who won’t let another teammate skip a rep or skip a set, he’s not letting himself do the same thing, which means he has high character. So when he gets in the classroom, he’s going to turn his stuff in on time, he’s going to make sure he’s doing the best he can on each test. So when he gets out on the football field, I have the full trust in him to be a leader for the rest of our team.
Cain: Well, also effort. Do you think that athletes learn to give a better effort in competition when they’ve gone through a strength and conditioning program because they actually get to that point where they’re got to make a decision – alright, am I going to quit or am I going to push through this next rep? How does strength and conditioning affect effort that you see on the field?
Villarreal: Well, sure. Strength and conditioning is all part of an off-season training program, and training is also training your mind and your body to understand what it feels like. Okay, here is my before threshold; what did I do to push past that? When I was in my conditioning phase and I’m on the 18th 100 of 25 100s, what did my body feel like? Did it feel like it does in the third quarter or the fourth quarter? Was I able to push through to that overtime or to push through to make that last play to get the ball back to the offense or to score so our defense can do back-out and stop them again so we can go score again?
So when you’re going through the training phase of conditioning your body, again it’s not just physical but it is mental as well. When you’re training in the off-season, the more reps you do the easier it is for your body to adapt and adjust to it, so the more often you’re doing it the easier it becomes once you’re on the field and your body feels it. Like “I’ve got this, I can push through this.”
So again, it kind of goes back to what your previous question was: What gives you the confidence to push through? So as you’re training your body and you train your mind, step out on the football field or whatever sport it is you choose to do. You now have the confidence to push through because you know your body and your mind will work together to get the job done.
Cain: What is it that made you a consistent player through high school, through college, into the NFL? What would you say is the foundation of your consistency?
Villarreal: For me it was my mental approach to the game. That I wasn’t going to allow somebody else who was bigger than I was to take my job really in theory. When I was in high school, I was definitely one of the bigger kids. When I got to college, I was average at best. And when I got to the NFL, I was highly, highly undersized. So I knew that I always had to rely on my ability to learn the game as a student of the game. Not just saying “Okay, yeah, this is my job; on this play I blitz here or on this play when this gap opens up, I’m supposed to fill here and make the tackle.” Well, it wasn’t just about that. It was studying the other team’s offense. When a certain formation comes out, what are their plays that they run out of it? Out of a 3rd and long situation, what are the opportunities for them to run the ball or pass the ball? Are they high-percentage throws? Are they low-percentage throws? They’re trying to take shots down the field?
So I always took the approach that I was going to be the coach on the field as a player. That way I knew – because I wasn’t the biggest, I wasn’t the fastest, I wasn’t the strongest – that when I lined up against the guy across from me I was better prepared for that game than he was. Even if he had spent 10, 15, 20 more hours a week in the weight room than I did, my mind was getting workouts 20, 30, 40+ hours a week more than his was because when I was at home I was watching film. I wasn’t just going home and playing video games. I was going home and getting better.
Cain: And I know back when you were playing and I was playing they didn’t have Huddle. They didn’t have the opportunity to get all the film study at home.
Cain: Talk a little bit about Huddle and kind of the podcast that you run on the Huddle Network and some of the things that you guys talk about for the athletes listening to this. They might want to go get themselves a little bit more Brandon Villarreal on that Huddle Network.
Villarreal: Well, yeah. Huddle has taken football study to an entirely new level. Kind of like you said, when you and I were playing, I had to get a DVD or a tape. I had to get a DVD burned or a tape recorded to take home and put it in the player and I had to physically press rewind, which is no different than Huddle. But having it digital makes a huge difference. It takes zero time for those kids to get the updates, so as soon as it’s uploaded in the system after practice, which takes 20-30 minutes sometimes, it’s immediately shared with them and they can find it on their mobile device. They can go home and watch it on the computer. They can stream it over their television. So there is no excuse for why a kid can’t be mentally prepared for the team that they’re playing.
When you talk about the Huddle Network (which is a digital sports media company that I help run), we do a lot of podcasting on college football, but what I think is so great about how we operate it – and I know you have your own podcast as well – is that people are always on the go these days. How often do people really sit down and spend time saying “Okay, you know what? I’m going to go read an article” or “I’m going to go watch a television show.” Nobody really does that anymore. So having the ability to be streamed live any time, any place, is huge.
The Huddle Network over the past three years has really really grown. We’ve got big names such as Mike Golic, Jr. and Ricky Watters. We had Eric Crouch for a little while there as well – former Heisman Trophy winner. The whole purpose of it is to really bring college football to the fans from people who have done it before. That’s all of us that played college football. It’s a huge deal and if they want to get more, a larger dose of it, they obviously can go to www.TheHuddleNetwork.com. They can also go to iTunes and search “The Huddle Network” and get all of our podcasts.
We’ve got almost – I believe we’re up to almost 45 Huddles, which means, for instance, at the University of Texas we would have Player A and Player B who used to play there broadcasting and podcasting about University of Texas football. So if you check out our website, you can see all of those available and you can always have us ready to go anytime you want. You can download our podcast and listen at any time.
Cain: That’s awesome, man. I love that. What a great concept. You were with the Saints, you played at Purdue. You hear both the names the Saints and Purdue, you think of Drew Brees, who went on a similar path when you talk about mindset and the mental game. Would you talk about the best players that you’ve been around yourself, guys you’ve coached either at McKinney or guys you’ve played with in the league? What would you say is the mental game of football?
Villarreal: The first name you threw out there, Drew Brees – I have to be honest with you. He is the reason I chose to go to Purdue and I think it was either by a stroke of luck or the good Lord above that I ended up in New Orleans with an opportunity to play with him, because he is by far one of the best human beings overall that I’ve ever been with. But when you talk about a professional football player, he is what people call a “pro’s pro.”
In other words, he is – even though he is a 100+ million dollar man – he is the first person in the locker room every day, he is one of the last ones to leave, he knows everything about that offense, he knows how to make his players around him better, and there is nobody that is going to outwork him in the weight room either. You would say that as a quarterback – well, why is that? Well, it’s because he knows how to take care of his body and take care of his mind. He’s constantly studying. When you talk to him during football season, I hate to say it, but it’s kind of hard to get him to focus sometimes because I think his mind is just constantly on football.
So the mental approach that Drew has is that “nobody is going to be better than I am” and he’s in that mindset 24/7. He had people that doubted him coming out of high school, saying that he was too small, he couldn’t do this, he was too slow – and he set all kinds of records and blew the record book out of the water in the Big Ten and he has continued to do it in the NFL. So I think when you talk about the role that the mental approach takes and what kinds of players do that, you know who those players are.
In high school it’s kind of hard to tell who they are because a lot of times in high school, especially if you play at a pretty dominant school, those kinds of players are not going to stick out because usually the bigger player can make an impact just based on the size and the strength. But I know for me personally I see it week in and week out during practice when a player is constantly making the right calls, when he is doing exactly what he is coached to do, when he is after practice coming up to me and saying, “Hey, coach, what can I do to get better this week as opposed to last week?”
So really what it is, is it’s somebody who constantly puts their self out there as “I’m not going to be beat, I’m the best that there is at this, but even though I am the best, I can’t stop because then if I do I’m taking a step back.” There is no staying the same. I either get better or I get worse. The mental approach, the mental game of football, is really saying I need to put in as much time as I possibly can because however much I put into it is how much I’m going to get out of it.
Cain: Can you also talk about that kind of importance of going one play at a time and having that short-term memory, whether you’ve got a guy wrapped up in the backfield and he gets away from you or a ref throws a flag that you disagree with or you make a tackle for a loss. The most important play is always the next one. Talk about that one-play-at-a-time mentality.
Villarreal: Man, I can’t tell you how tough that really can be. I think when you look at it from a defensive perspective, the position that has to have that mentality more than any other is quarterback. They can be beat over the top on one play for a touchdown 80 yards and then the next play they can have an interception for a touchdown themselves. But it’s one of those deals where if you can’t put yourself in a position to have a short mind – or excuse me a – what’s the word I’m looking for here? To really –
Cain: Short-term memory?
Villarreal: Short-term memory. Yeah. To have a short-memory on it, then really it’s going to take you out of your game. If you prepare week in and week out and saying, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do in this coverage, when he does this route this is what I do” then all of a sudden you’re busted, if you think, “Man, I screwed it up,” you’re going to take yourself out of your game. Then the next play you’re going to be like, “Crap, don’t do this wrong – oh wait, no, he did this now.” Well, you were thinking about the last play. You hit the nail on the head when you say that the next play is the most important play.
I’ve been fortunate, especially at McKinney North, to have a number of players who really do have a great next-play mentality. That goes for good and bad. It’s like you said. When you make a tackle on the backfield or you score a touchdown or an interception or just a big play in general, maybe a return or a kickoff, you have to say, “Alright, that was great and I can celebrate right then and there; as soon as it’s done, I’ve got to move on to the next play.” Because if you’re sitting there worried about what happened in the last play or you’re sitting there saying, “Look what I did last play,” you’re going to get hit in the mouth.
It kind of goes back to what Mike Tyson said: “Everybody’s got a plan until they get hit in the mouth.” That certainly is the case and we want to be the people that are “hitting the other people in the mouth” every single play.
Cain: Nothing better than a little Iron Mike philosophy on the podcast.
Villarreal: No kidding, right.
Cain: I love when he said that “If you want to be a beast, you have to do what beasts do.”
Villarreal: That’s right.
Cain: And it just shows him standing over somebody after knocking him out probably 30 seconds into the fight. Brandon, my last question for you here would be: If you could take the skullcap of every high school athlete listening to this podcast right now and open it up and drop one seed of success inside of their mind, something that made you a success that you’re like, “Man, if I could just give this to every person listening to this, I know they’re going to improve from where they are and get closer to where they want to be,” what would that one seed of success be?
Villarreal: Man, there are so many things I think that you can say based on the time that you’ve spent on this earth that you can say to the people that are younger than you and wish “Man, if I could just put this in your brain, this would make you better.” But I think if I had to choose one, I would really say that you have got to make sure that you give 100% effort in every single thing you do. It starts in the classroom. If you can’t get onto the field because of your grades, there is no chance of you playing. Then when you finally make that opportunity, you’ve got to play 100% effort on every practice play because your practice efforts transfer and translate into your game efforts.
We talk about building habits all the time. It sounds really cliché but the one thing I would say is always go 100% in everything you do. That way there is no doubt that you are doing everything you possibly can to be the best you can be.
Cain: Love that. That is absolutely big time, man. Have great habits, leave no doubt – with Brandon Villarreal. I appreciate you making time to be here on the Peak Performance Podcast. For the coaches and athletes listening to this, you can get yourself some more Brandon by checking him out on Twitter. It’s @BrandonVilla55 or @HuddleNetwork. Brandon, thanks for making time. I really appreciate you joining us here on the podcast.
Villarreal: Thanks, Brian. I really appreciate it.
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