Even though he started every game he played in at the University of Arizona, Wilrey Fontenot lived in the shadow of Antoine Cason, a first-round draft pick in April’s NFL draft. But he didn’t let himself slip through the cracks. By taking advantage of the extra opportunities he got on Saturdays, Fontenot proved he could handle being tested and finished his Wildcat career with seven interceptions and more than 170 tackles. The Falcons took him in the seventh round, and during the team’s June OTA workouts, Fontenot spoke with Times sports editor Brent Holloway about adjusting to life in the NFL and competing for a spot in Atlanta’s young defensive backfield.
Question: What can you tell me about your hometown?
Answer: Humble, Texas is a very big football town or city or whatever you want to call it. In high school there it’s like what you’d expect for Texas football. What you see on TV was basically what it was like there. I enjoyed it a lot. I’m actually starting to miss it. I guess the older you get, the more you miss back home. But it’s a great town; great people there.
Q: How big is the town?
A: In the actual city limits it’s a town of about 15,000 people, but we had 4,000 students at the high school. It’s growing a lot.
Q: What do you like to do outside of football?
A: I’m more of just a relaxed person. I don’t play video games or anything like that, I just like to use my time to relax, because most of the time when you’re (with the team), you’re working. So I just use my time to wind down and keep to myself and hang out with family and friends.
Q: So out here when you’re away from all your family and your friends from college, what are you doing?
A: Just getting to know new people; hanging out with my teammates and getting to know some of them better, getting closer with them, because basically those are going to be the people you’re going to be with for the next six months of the year. So you have to get closer with them because that builds a better bond and builds a better relationship on the field, and that just makes everything go.
Q: For the most part, y’all are a pretty young group back there in the secondary. What’s that like?
A: It’s a different experience. You know, usually in high school or college you have all your upperclassmen. Here, we have a good leader in Lawyer Milloy. He’s a seasoned vet, so we try to learn from him and Von (Hutchins) also. We just take what they’re showing us and go with it and learn how to be professionals.
Q: With so many young guys fighting for positions, are you forming a bond or is it more competitive?
A: I’d say it’s a competitive bond. You’ve got to take it for what it is — it’s a job and everybody’s trying to go out and do the same thing. So you can’t have too much tied up in that. You’ve just got to go out and play football.
Q: So when did you start playing football?
A: I started playing in fourth grade. So I was 9 years old, playing Pop Warner football.
Q: At what point did you know you were good at it?
A: Really it was when I started getting letters from colleges. When schools start getting in touch and letting you know that they’re interested in you, that lets you know that you’ve got a little bit of talent. Basically from then on it was like, ‘OK, if this is what you want, you’ve got to work for it and just go for it.’
Q: So once you got to Arizona, how long did it take you to break into the starting lineup?
A: After I redshirted, I started the next year and started the rest of the time I was there.
Q: So what has life in the NFL been like so far?
A: You know, I heard things, but you can’t really know about it until you’re actually here. But people tell you this all the time: The biggest thing is learning your playbook. There’s so many different adjustments compared to college. College is simple.
It’s just ‘this is what we’re going to do, now go.’ (In the NFL), it’s like ‘if he does this, you adjust to this. If he motions here, you motion here. If he stacks here in this alignment, then you do this.’ And everything is flowing through your head; everything you’re being taught is just going through your head at 100 miles per hour.
Q: Well, now that you’ve been here a little while, do you feel like you’re starting to get your feet underneath you, so to speak?
A: Yeah, it’s getting better. It’s still going to take a lot of studying the playbook because at this point we’re not even done installing everything. So I’ll still have to learn to incorporate the new stuff with all the stuff we’ve learned before.