Maurice Jones-Drew didn't decide to wear No. 32 for sentimental reasons. It was more of a reminder of just how many NFL teams passed at least once on him before he was selected by Jacksonville in the second round of the 2006 draft.
Week by week, the former UCLA standout exacted his revenge. He scored 16 touchdowns, had two outstanding games against eventual champion Indianapolis, and outplayed college rival Reggie Bush for most of the season.
Few people would have been surprised had Jones-Drew beaten out Tennessee quarterback Vince Young for rookie-of-the-year honors.
In a phone interview last week, Jones-Drew talked about his rookie year, what lies ahead, UCLA's victory over USC last season and how he's motivated by all the respect he doesn't get.
Question: Did you ever imagine your rookie season would be as productive as it was?
Answer: I wasn't surprised, because I knew all the hard work I put in, all the things people don't see me do in the off-season at the facility, it all came into play. Then with the coaching I had, everything meshed together and it was something great. ... My thing was to go out there and prove the Jaguars didn't make a mistake last year. They gave me a chance, and I wanted to let them know they made the right decision.
Q: What kind of feedback did you get last season from the people closest to you?
A: A lot of people back home in the Bay Area and in L.A. would call and say, 'You're having a great year.' But I didn't think that it was good enough, because we weren't winning games. I got a lot of phone calls. But there's a lot of work to be done.
Q: What's your theory on lasting until the 60th pick in the draft?
A: People just thought because I was 5-7 that I couldn't play in the NFL, even though I've been playing football since I was 7. Fifteen years in the game and I can't play it because I'm 5-7? That's something that made me very upset. For someone to basically, because of what I look like, say I can't play. People still do it now, even after the year I had last year. People still think it's a fluke. It's going to be hard to change people, but I'm not worried about them. As long as my teammates and coaches respect me, that's all that matters.
Q: In many respects you outplayed Reggie Bush last season, yet he has at least nine national sponsorship deals. Do you feel like a forgotten man?
A: It's always been that way. At the end of the day, it will all turn out. But I've got to take a tougher road than a lot of other people. When I ask my agent to call people, they laugh in his face when he asks if they have any sponsorship deals. They're like, "Why would we want to use Maurice?" It's a business, which is fine, but don't forget that I don't forget what they're saying. I have a list of anyone that said anything bad about me. I look at that list and it keeps me motivated.
Q: We spoke before the last UCLA-USC game, and you were convinced that UCLA was going to win. What did you see?
A: I wasn't convinced, I knew. I was in Miami waiting to play the Dolphins, and I was in a sports bar watching it with friends and USC cracked. That's all it was.
Q: When you watched the Bruins last season, was there any part of you -- 1 percent of you -- that thought, "I wish I were still playing college football"?
A: Not at all. That was a great time in my life, but I've started another journey and I'm testing my skills at a higher level. I had fun while I was there, but I love where I'm at now.
Q: You mentioned the hard work you put in during the off-season. What's your regimen?
A: I play with my dog a lot and I work out four to five hours a day, five days a week. Because I'm not that talented, I just try to work harder than everybody else, that's all.
Q: What, in particular, can you improve upon this season?
A: There's a lot of areas: route running, and I missed a lot of reads last year and left a lot of yards on the field. I almost rushed for 1,000, but there are a lot of things I can improve on.
Q: You had a memorable touchdown celebration last season when you pulled up your jersey to show off your Superman T-shirt. What's your philosophy about end-zone antics?
A: People always say, "When you get to the end zone, act like you've been there before." But you're only in this league for so long, and if you're not having fun it's a waste of time.
Q: You seem to be having fun now. How are you approaching your second season?
A: My whole thing is I feel I have to make the team. I have to show them something. If you don't, you'll get released. Look at [former Jaguars safety] Donovin Darius. He got released during the off-season and he was a great player. He was a 10-year player, only played in Jacksonville, and they released him. So you've always got to show everybody something. If I make the team, then I go on from there. You can't take anything for granted. Because once you do that, that's when you get burned.
Q: You and Reggie Bush played in L.A. at the same time and both left school after your junior seasons. Do you feel like your careers are entwined?
A: Not at all. A lot of people tried to say we run the same plays, but we do totally different things. Our running styles are totally different. People always want to try to compare us, but it's a pretty tough comparison because we use different ways. Reggie Bush with the ball in his hands is out of control. I'm a running back; I run the ball. I can catch out of the backfield and do other things, but I'm a running back. He gets the ball in his hands and he makes plays.
Q: So would you say you're more of a classic, traditional running back?
A: I wouldn't say traditional. The way I run is basically get the ball, find the read, make the cut. And score.