Shamar Stephen has gone from a seventh-round selection in May to playing in all seven regular season games for the Vikings this season. The 6-foot-5, 310-pound defensive tackle has worked on developing quicker hands and feet since arriving in Minnesota after being selected as captain and team MVP for the Connecticut Huskies in 2013. His last name is pronounced STEF-an, but he gives people "a little break" if they mess it up. "If you kind of get it right, I'll respond to you, but it is what it is. I don't have the easiest name to say," Stephen said when he took a Timeout for a Q & A with Vikings.com this week.
Q: Describe how you went from a seventh-round pick, with no guarantee of making the team, to a spot on the active roster?
Stephen: It was really just focusing on fundamentals and technique and just trying to stay after my craft, and knowing that would help me get on the team was the most important thing.
Q: People have a hard time of seeing what happens on the interior of the defensive line. What's it like down there?
Stephen: It's a little rough, but at the same time, you've got to focus in, try to handle your man and just shed blocks, get to the ball and try to make a play.
Q: Is it pretty noisy? Chaotic?
Stephen: It's a little chaotic, depending on what type of scheme the offense runs, but a lot of times, it's just if you can beat your man in front of you, beat your man.
Q: What's been the biggest lesson in the NFL so far?
Stephen: I think the biggest lesson is to be able to face adversity and try to, even when things aren't going your way, being able to handle it and do your job and try to stay after it every day. Just being humble and staying after it.
Q: You're averaging about 22 snaps a game, sometimes more, sometimes less. Is that a good amount for a defensive tackle.
Stephen: I'm just trying to fit in my role on the team and trying to give any effort I can. If I get 20, I get 20, if I get more, I get more, but I'm just trying to fit the role of what they want me to do and trying to play to the best of my ability.
Q: What goals do you have personally and as a unit the rest of the year?
Stephen: Definitely try to be the best d-line we can, try to dominate up front and show people that we can play up there with the top d-lines in the league.
Q: Do you have any pregame habits, meals, rituals?
Stephen: Not too many. It's really just eating a nice little breakfast (a little eggs and Pedialyte) and going to play.
Q: When's the last time you played hoops?
Stephen: The last time I played basketball was probably a little bit this summer — I probably wasn't even supposed to play but I shot around a little bit before camp, got a little cardio, trying to think I'm more of an athlete than I am.
Q: What's your range? 15-footers, 3-pointers?
Stephen: I can hit a 3 now and then, but I just try to shoot a little bit, stay away from too much athleticism. Shoot, play a little defense.
Q: I imagine it's a little hard to get a shot over you. Do you block them?
Stephen: I used to be alright, but not anymore.
Q: You teamed in high school with Tobias Harris (now with the Orlando Magic). Was it obvious that his talent level was so far ahead of other high school players?
Stephen: He's definitely bigger than most of the high schoolers he played. He's talented and athletic. I know he made it and worked hard for it, so I congratulate him on that.
Q: When did you think about playing professional football?
Stephen: It kind of hit me in college, seeing guys on my team make it and seeing how I compared to other guys. I was like, 'I really could do this.'
Q: What was the experience as a team captain and team MVP like for you at UConn?
Stephen: It was definitely great experience to be able to be a leader and show guys the right way to do things just to be able to be a leader and show guys the right way to do things and try to be on top of everything, try to lead by example and be a little vocal too, so it's definitely just trying to continue to go in the right direction.
Q: When you arrived here, did you shift from a leader to a learner?
Stephen: Most likely, yes, because I still have stuff to learn. I'm still new to this. I'm trying to do to the best of my ability and learn from other people and try to create a game that I can play into. It's definitely more of a learning experience, but I definitely see a place where I can still lead and just do the right thing and lead by example, do the right thing all the time, so it's a little bit of both, but more of a learning experience.
Q: You're locker is next to fellow rookie Jerick McKinnon's. Can you describe the bond that you and the other draft picks have?
Stephen: We are pretty close. We always hang out with each other and talk to each other, so it's a pretty close bond between all the draft picks. We all work together and always see each other, so it's a real good connection.
Q: How many times do people get your name wrong?
Stephen: They get my name wrong a lot. It doesn't matter. If you kind of get it right, I'll respond to you, but it is what it is. I don't have the easiest name to say. I give them a little break on that.