“Hard Knocks” – One Year Later with the Atlanta Falcons’ Tyler Starr

Atlanta Falcons, Hard Knocks

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“HARD KNOCKS: TRAINING CAMP WITH THE HOUSTON TEXANS” 
PREMIERES TUESDAY, AUGUST 11th at 10pmET/9pmC  on HBO

By Richard Owens

Your muscles burn. The sun beats down and there’s no escape from its suffocating heat. You’ve been pushed to the limit. Every fiber of your mind is telling you to quit.

Such is the challenge of training camp; five weeks designed to extract every possible ounce of fight out of a football team. “It’s not quite as strict and disciplined, but something along the boot camp lines”, says Tyler Starr. “When you’re sore and beaten down and it’s hot and it’s the last day of training camp, it’s that dog in you that makes you make that 3rd or 4th down play. It’s those kinds of guys you want on your team.”

Building a final roster of 53 of those guys is what training camp is all about. Last spring when they drafted him, the Atlanta Falcons hoped Starr would become one of those guys.  Last August, training camp revealed his mettle as they’d hoped.  HARD KNOCKS: Training Camp with the Atlanta Falcons documented Starr’s training camp journey, and how it wasn’t always smooth.  The second-to-last player selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, Starr didn’t enter the league to great fanfare.  But Hard Knocks changed all of that. Starr was thrust into the spotlight as he fought for a roster spot.

star intro

Click above to see Tyler Starr’s first appearance on Hard Knocks, working out at the University of South Dakota before the start of Falcons training camp.

Was it a challenge?  “I think, yeah, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. I don’t want to be known as ‘the guy on Hard Knocks.’  I want to be known as Tyler Starr, the guy who plays outside linebacker for the Atlanta Falcons, making plays on Sundays.”

Starr says it was a good feeling making “the 53”, but he wants more. “I want to be out there with my teammates making plays and fighting for each game. I’m a tough guy, I want to be involved.”

starr makes team

In this scene from the final episode of last season’s Hard Knocks, Tyler Starr learns if he’ll be an Atlanta Falcon.

During the 2014 regular season, Starr did not see as much action as he would have liked.  Still, he continued to learn from the Falcons around him what it takes to be a pro football player. Starr’s fondest memory from last season was an over-time strip by safety William Moore that set up the game-winning field goal against the Saints in week one. “Just watching that guy play and seeing how much passion he has. He knew we needed that ball back and he went out and did it. That’s the power of someone who wants something that badly.”

Starr’s evolution continued at the end of last season, when in an exit interview with linebackers coach Mark Collins, Starr was given some direct advice on how to improve:  “put your face on people”.  “I’m a more physical, in your face, run-through someone kind of player now.  I realized what I have to do to be a part of this league and I’m going to do everything I can to do it.”

But as a testament to the difficulty of making it in the NFL, Starr’s biggest hurdle hasn’t even been physical, but mental, and not with the X’s and O’s.  “I was convincing myself that I was tired and that I was going to screw up and once you lose that battle you may as well not be here.” It’s that battle of wills that to Starr, is what helps define a pro football player.  “It’s a continuous struggle to always push yourself harder”, says Starr, “especially with OTA’s and training camp you have to tell yourself you’re not tired.  Your body is so much more capable than what your mind is telling you.”

When players and coaches discuss the challenges of pro football, there are certain ordinary words that take on an almost existential importance.  “Process” is one of those words, and it’s defined by Starr as such:  “The process to me is a bit like the pursuit of happiness.  If you ever come to a time where you are ever satisfied with who you are that’s all you’ll ever be and the story ends there.  The great individuals in life and on the football field are the ones who enjoy the process and do the little things…going that extra mile and trying to better yourself at everything you do.”

Starr proved last summer that he was willing and able to go that extra mile; to follow the process to its core. And now, in the blistering heat of August, thousands of prospective and established football players alike do the same. Starr is the latest in a line of gritty ‘Hard Knocks heroes’ to have earned a place in the NFL. Others, such as Danny Amendola—last minute cut of the Cowboys in 2008—went on to develop large roles in the league, even win Super Bowl rings.  They prove that there’s no limit to what a player can accomplish once he’s conquered the rigors of training camp.

amendola

Before he won a Super Bowl ring with the Patriots in 2014, Danny Amendola was featured on Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Dallas Cowboys in 2008.  Click above to revisit one of his most memorable scenes.

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