Let’s face it—Vernon Gholston is massive. There’s really no better way to put it. And what’s more, the word is appropriate whether you’re describing his body frame (6’4”, 264lbs of pure muscle) or his talent for making big plays on the football field. With his considerable stature in mind, it hardly came as a surprise when the New York Jets selected him as the 6th overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft.
Gholston first entered the national ether as a linebacker for the Ohio State University. Though he was red-shirted his freshman year due to a broken hand, he wasted little time proving himself on the field and getting his name in the record books. In his tenure as a Buckeye, he’s tied records for the most quarterback sacks in a game, been named First-team All-Big Ten, First-team Pro Football Weekly All-American, was awarded Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year in 2007 and remains the only player to record a quarterback sack against two-time consensus All-American and 2008 NFL Draft number one overall selection Jake Long. That last record is particularly sweet for Buckeye fans as Long was a standout player for arch-rival Michigan.
At this year’s NFL combine, Gholston tied the highest bench press score with 37 repetitions at 225 pounds—which isn’t at all surprising considering that as a teen, he was interested in bodybuilding and working out before starting to play football. We caught up with Gholston this month to learn more about the man behind the statistics—to talk about his past experiences, reminisce about his accomplishments and get the inside track on what he’s envisioning for his future.
What part of your game do you feel most people overlook?
Who is the best player you’ve played with throughout your school career?
Being at Ohio State, we have a lot of great ones.
What are your pre-game rituals?
A lot of stretching. I usually go out on the field to get used to the atmosphere. Also, listening to music—Isley Brothers and Lil’ Wayne—and just relaxing.
What advice do you have for young players who want to play college football?
It all goes back to the hard work. What you put into it is what you get out of it.
Was your performance at the combine what you expected?
No, I expected to be a lot better. I did better at my pro day. Ran 4:58 and a 42-inch vertical in standing jump, but I pulled my hamstring so that’s all I did.
Who do you aspire to be like in the National Football League?
I want to win... I want to be like the Giants this last year.
Which position: LB or DE?
What’s the first thing you’re going to buy with your first paycheck?
I had to buy a house in Jersey… 4,000 sq. ft.
What’s your signature move?
Who has hit you the hardest?
Trevor Robinson on Ohio State my freshman year... I was lining up to do a kick return and he knocked the crap out of me. I haven’t gotten a chance to hit him back, but I will one day.
Would you rather knock a running back’s helmet off, or knock a quarterback’s helmet off?
Definitely the quarterback.
What was your favorite game at OSU?
I got my last sack during the Michigan game as a senior.
How do you feel you match up against a tackle like Jake Long?
I feel like I have the attributes to be unstoppable, so matching up against any tackle shouldn’t be a problem.
What ex-Buckeye do you most admire and why?
Bill Willis because of his history.
You’re from Michigan. What made you pick OSU instead of Michigan or Michigan State?
It was just the place for me. Watching that national championship, I definitely saw it was a school that I wanted to play for.
So, you started playing football at 16. What the hell was a smart, intense guy like you doing before football?
I was getting all A’s in school.
Were most of your peers afraid of you in high school?
No, I was a pretty good guy.
How old were you when you first bench pressed 300?
My first lift was 225 as a sophomore in high school. Three months later, I got 300.
Explain your workout in middle school? High school? College? Combine?
I started out pre-high school with push-ups, pull-ups and sit-ups. Then, in high school, it was weightlifting. In college, the weight-lifting focused on the body groups and muscle groups. In the pros, it’s about getting the proper rest and letting your muscles recover instead of breaking them down all the time.
So you broke Vrabel’s single season sack record—14 in 13 games. Explain the method of your madness—clearly you are a massive menace to QB’s.
When it’s time to get the QB in 3rd and long, you go get them! The game slows down, but it is more about you speeding up to go get them. It’s all in real time; I just take it one step faster.
Jake Long was chosen first in the draft. How bad do you want to crash skulls with him in front of a world audience?
I already did that. I proved that once.
We’ll give you the discipline; you tell us the most you’ve put up in each:
455 for 20. It’s a big legacy at OSU. When they added it up, it came to 730 lbs. or something.
- Dead lift?
Got a lady?
Break these down:
2/3rds of the Frosted Flakes box.
A foot-long Subway sub.
Ribs, potatoes--anything home-cooked.
Chocolate chip cookies.
You have a couple weeks off of work. What three things would you do if you could do anything?
I’d vacation to some island (doesn’t matter which one, just somewhere nice), jet-ski and fish.
What did you study at OSU?
What one thing do you believe is your greatest achievement?
Becoming successful from where I came from, and making my mom proud.
What would have been your other career choice?
Your biggest pet peeve?
You get to choose the next law, what is it?
We don’t have to pay taxes.
Biggest mistake you ever made was...?
Doing something different to cause the last 2 championship losses.
How much does size matter?
The size of the heart is all that matters.
Which designer owns the most real estate in your closet?
I’m kind of all over the place. Ohio State and building up on the Jets stuff and whatever else looks good.
What fires you up? Pisses you off? Makes you cry?
I get fired up whenever people think I can’t do something I know I can do... It pisses me off when a guy has to cheat to win... And I cry when I fail because I didn’t do absolutely everything I could to achieve my goals.
Fondest memory growing up?
Being with my family and friends back in Detroit--whether it was a birthday party or just having the family over.
You can have any talent. Pick one.
If I were 5 or 6 inches taller, I would be an NBA star.
How do you relax after work?
Chillin’ in the bed watching TV.
What’s your worst extravagance?
I take it to the extreme when I’m working out. Whatever the cost, I’ll pay the price to be the best at what I do.
Columbus lacks _______ more than it is prepared to admit.
You’re walking down death row. What was your last meal?
I would make that meal never end. I would have chocolate chip cookies, my mom’s ribs, my aunt’s mac and cheese...
The most annoying thing about your business is...?
The outside scrutiny.
What’s your drink of choice?
Patron... it takes you there quick.
Promises are for...?
People who need reminding.
What was the most important resolution you ever made?
I’m not big on resolutions. I always strive, rather than just at the beginning of the year.
Name one thing Columbus offers that no city around us can match.
Ohio State Football.
Who is the most overpaid person in all of sports?
Hopefully it will be me.
The one book all Americans should read before they die is...?
You can have a drink with any figure in history. With whom are you drinking and what’s your poison?
Michael Jordan drinking Patron.
What are your vices? Virtues?
Seizing all opportunities and pride are vices. Believing “hard work pays off” is one of my virtues.
Did you ever secretly wish you could choreograph your own victory dance for the end zone?
I had some celebrations lined up, but I didn’t want to get comfortable.
What is the most insane way you’ve seen someone get pumped up for a game?
The guy that plays for the Jaguars, John Henderson. He gets a slap from his trainer before every game.
Which is better when it comes to football—pure talent or pure heart?
Tofu or tofurkey?
Hyde Park or Morton’s?
Jay-Z or Tupac?
Eminem or 50?
Eminem, because he is from Detroit.
Pantera or Metallica?
What is the single most pivotal event of your life?
My first start at Ohio State.
Is there any sort of social responsibility implicit in being a pro athlete?
I definitely think there should be, but at the same time, we are human, too.
What one thing would you like to forget in the course of your life?
The last two national championship losses.
Name any real-life event that could benefit from play-by-play and color commentary.
What is the dumbest rule in all of sports?
Hitting the quarterback late.
If the best offense is a good defense, what is the best defense?
If you had to drive cross-country, but you could only have one CD and the radio antenna was broken off, what CD would you want?
Definitely Isley Brothers.
Root beer or cream soda?
Neither one. I would replace it with a tall glass of lemonade.
Who is your favorite movie monster of all time?
Freddy Krueger. I used to watch a lot of Freddy Krueger movies.
What is the hardest kind of music to dance to?
Being a guy…techno.
What is the easiest?
Slow jams with a woman.
If you could invent a candy bar, what would it be and what would it be called?
The Hunka Bar. It would have some ice cream, nuts, cherries, chocolate and chocolate chip cookies. You’d probably die just eating one bite of it.
They televise competitive eating, but is there any sport too stupid to broadcast?
I’m a fan of the hotdog-eating contest… but I can’t think of a sport. If it floats your boat, then hey, I’m all for it.
If you could hire any person in history to assassinate any other person in history, who would you hire to assassinate whom?
Oh man. I don’t know. I don’t hate anyone that much. I am the assassin.
Football is nothing more than...?