Ask Virgil Green what he misses most about Tulare and the answer might be more pungent than what you were expecting.
“I love that cow smell,” the Denver Broncos tight end replied with a grin. “I love it. It’s home.”
Even though the Tulare High alum lives in Denver these days, his nose can always tell the difference.
“The smell lets me know that I’m back home,” Green said. “I can rest easy. I’m at my parents’ house, and I don’t have a worry in the world. It sounds crazy, but it’s true.”
Unlike Green, Carolina Panthers linebacker Ben Jacobs doesn’t equate the central San Joaquin Valley to any particular smell.
Still, the former Fresno State standout from Las Vegas returns to Fresno every offseason to train with former teammate Nick Bates, whom Jacobs called his “best friend,” and Bulldogs strength and conditioning coach E.J. Jackson.
Why? It’s a similar sense of comfort.
“I’m a guy who needs to trust who’s training me, and I have a ton of trust in those guys,” Jacobs said.
Green and Jacobs are not superstars on their respective teams, who will meet Sunday in Super Bowl 50 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
I love that cow smell. I love it. It’s home.
Virgil Green, on what he misses most about Tulare
They are not assigned their own interview podiums at media availabilities. They do not have hordes of reporters pawing and pressing at them. But for every Cam Newton or Peyton Manning, there are dozens of players whose contributions often go unnoticed – even when the spotlight is as bright as it this week.
“People get caught up in superstars and guys who put up big numbers in fantasy,” Broncos tight ends coach Brian Pariani said. “But to have a championship team, you have to have more of the everyday players who support those superstars.”
Although Pariani was referring to Green, his statement applies equally to Jacobs. Both occupy similar niches.
In his fifth season with the Broncos, Green caught a career-high 12 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown. They aren’t gaudy statistics, to be sure. Nor do they accurately gauge the 27-year-old’s contributions.
You can put him anywhere on the field and he knows what to do.
Broncos special teams coach Brian Pariani on Virgil Green
“Virgil is a very versatile player,” Pariani said. “He can catch, he can block and he can protect. Plus he’s smart and tough. He has all the qualities you’re looking for to play tight end in this offense.”
Although Green would like to catch more passes and score more touchdowns – who wouldn’t? – he understands his role and wasn’t put off when the Broncos acquired Owen Daniels and Vernon Davis, two veterans who play the same position.
“I know what I do for this team is appreciated, and I know what I do for this team helps,” Green said. “I don’t think it’s difficult. I play a lot and I have my opportunities. I know who I am as a player, and I’m confident in that.”
A free agent last offseason, Green could’ve signed elsewhere. Instead he chose to return to the team that drafted him in the seventh round in 2011 out of Nevada.
“I’ve made a lot of great relationships off the field in Denver in terms of the work I do with kids with the United Way and NFL Play 60,” Green said. “Plus the area is marvelous, and the people there are so nice.”
Two years ago, Green was a member of the Broncos team that got throttled 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
Two years ago, Green was a member of the Broncos team that got throttled 43-8 by the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII.
This time, in more comfortable surroundings, he’s hoping for a different outcome.
“My parents can drive up here, my brother will be up here,” Green said. “It’s great to have all that support, not just from the Central Valley but from the Reno area as well. I’m kind of in the middle of everything, and it’s all great.”
Green and Jacobs faced each other four times during their college days. If they meet on the field Sunday it’ll likely be on special teams where Jacobs has carved out himself a role for the NFC champion Panthers.
Carolina special teams coach Bruce DeHaven called Jacobs “one of our best special teamers” and someone “who studies harder than anyone.”
He’s turned himself into one of our best special teamers.
Panthers special teams coach Bruce DeHaven on Ben Jacobs
“The only thing with him is he’s so intense that sometimes you’ve got to make sure he doesn’t go over the edge,” DeHaven said.
Jacobs has long been known for his intensity. It’s a quality that helped make him the third-leading tackler in Fresno State history.
Asked about DeHaven’s comment, the 27-year-old breaks into a smile that barely gets past his bushy beard.
“I’m a big believer that football is an emotional game,” Jacobs said. “I try to go out there and dominate my opponent in every way possible, and if I do I want to let him know about it. I was taught to celebrate all wins.
“I’ve got to find a way to do it in not such an imposing way, I guess.”
In a late November game against Washington, Jacobs drew a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness – which resulted in a little talk between player and coach.
“He’s like, ‘Coach, I know when to step back,’ ” DeHaven said. “Well, then we get a 15-yard penalty, so maybe you don’t know as much as you think you do. But I love him. He’s tough and is probably as smart a guy as we have.”
Special teams are how I’m still in this league.
Jacobs knows emotions occasionally get the better of him. But in the next breath he admits that’s not likely to change.
“Sometimes I do get a little carried away,” he said. “The coaches want me to play to the whistle and walk away. But that’s not the easiest thing for me to do.”
An undrafted free agent, Jacobs’ NFL career has hardly been a smooth ride. He appeared in five games as a rookie for the Panthers in 2011 and was on the Browns’ and Bengals’ practice squads in 2012 before spending two stints on the Panthers’ practice squad in 2013.
In each of the past two seasons with Carolina, however, he’s appeared in all 16 games.
“That’s the story for a lot guys,” Jacobs said. “This is the NFL and the competition is just that good. Everyone wants to be in this league. Unfortunately, a lot of guys that are deserving never get the opportunity.”
Green and Jacobs, two NFL players with Valley ties, are getting that opportunity on pro football’s grandest stage.