Tom Nalen was chosen as the center on the Globe’s All-Time All-Scholastic football team. As part of the project, he discussed his football life with us. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: As a smaller lineman, how’d you figure out how to block the bigger guys? Did you have a certain strategy?
TN: Holding. It was the only way. I mean, I didn’t have the body weight of the girth or anything like that to hold up against them. So I basically just kind of learned to hold and hold on for dear life. Just try to make it to the next day. It wasn’t a lot of fun. But, I mean, they were paying for my school, so I had to do it.
Q: When they told you to put on more weight in college, did they just have you eating as many meals as possible? Or how did that work?
TN: No, it was on the meal plan. It’s a little different than, I assume, college today. It was me trying to save up my meals to eat some subs at night on campus. There was a place in upper campus at BC that had these Italian subs and that’s what I would eat. It was either that or get my [backside] kicked everyday for the next five years.
Q: When did you know you could make it to the NFL?
TN: I had no idea. Then I played in like a couple all-star games after my senior year at BC and I was like, “Oh, I can play with these guys.” It’s 1993, the world was different. The NFL scouting combine, draft, all that stuff was completely different than it is now. I got an agent and he’s like, “You could get drafted.” I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know.”
I do remember the Patriots calling me during the draft. They had drafted a center already, it was like the sixth round and I didn’t have ESPN2, which was the only channel that the later rounds were on, so I didn’t have any idea what was going on in the draft. The Patriots were where I wanted to play. It’d be easy. I could live in my mom’s basement. It would just be simple. And they called me during the draft and said “When you’re not drafted, we’d like you to sign with us as a free agent.” And I was like “First of all, you said ‘when.’ Second of all, you just drafted a center in the third round and gave him a bunch of money, so I’m not going to New England.” I was like “If I don’t get drafted, I’m done playing football.”
I got drafted by Denver in the seventh round and their center had gotten knee surgery. He had gotten in a ski racing accident, had an ACL surgery, and it didn’t go well. So I think they kind of drafted me as an insurance policy. I didn’t know that until I got to Denver, but they were going to give me $18,000 to sign. I figured I would spend some time in Denver for a couple of weeks and get cut. So I thought why not? I’m glad I took their money.
Q: Now that you’ve had a good amount of time away from the game, how do you think about your career?
TN: I don’t think about it much. It’s a season in my life that kind of came and went and I try to move on to other things. I only think about it when I’m asked about it because it’s a very selfish career. It’s not like you’re helping a lot of people. Yeah, there’s a fan base and all, but you’re really not contributing much to the community. I retired and I had no real skills for the real world. It was 15 years in the NFL just kind of maintaining adolescence.
Read more about the Globe’s all-time All-Scholastic football team
- Meet the Globe’s all-time All-Scholastic football team
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- If Mike Croel played in today’s NFL, he thinks he might be ‘ejected out of every game’
- Q&A with Pete Cronan: Football was ‘the first thing I did that people thought I was doing well’
- ‘My mother was the athlete of the family:’ Darren Flutie talks about a life centered on sports
- Art Graham explains what made him a deep-threat receiver for the Patriots
- Gosder Cherilus reflects on the life lessons learned at Boston College and the NFL
- Al Louis-Jean in his own words: Leaving BC early ‘made me into the noble man I am right now’
- Pat Hughes reflects on how he landed at Boston University, and other aspects of his football career
- What was Tom Nalen’s strategy for blocking bigger opponents? ‘Holding. It was the only way.’